Chantilly Arts & Elegance: French Cars Win The Ultimate French Concours

Images: Alizée Glavieux & Gautam Sen

So, two French cars won the Best of Shows at France’s most important concours—the Chantilly Arts & Elegance Richard Mille. You might say: so, what’s so surprising? The surprising bit was that the two French cars had very good competition and the results were cliff-hanging tight, and that it may interest you to know that the jury that made the final decision had more non-French members than French…

Corrado Lopresto's Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 won the class for pre-War Touring cars

More than anything else though, both cars were more than deserving. The Hispano-Suiza Dubonnet Xenia, owned by Peter and Merle Mullin (who did the elegant and gracious presenting), is undoubtedly one of the most significant pre-War cars in terms of technology and aesthetic refinement; the Talbot Lago, on the other hand, defined the shape (executed by a little known Italian coachbuilder Motto) of an entire generation of roadsters that followed, surely influencing the design and proportion of cars like the AC Cobra and many others.

At Chantilly this year there were as many as 99 cars for the concours d’état (therefore a competition that judged the condition of the car, as well as its elegance, its design and/or engineering significance, and its provenance).

Of course the ones to look out for were the Bugatti EB110s, with several belonging to collector Chris Hrabalek

And another nine cars for the concours d’élegance, the competition for judging the beauty of the design of a contemporary car and the fashion model accompanying it, as it used to be at the very beginnings of the idea, during the 1920s and 1930s, in France.

Amongst the open American sports car class dedicated to "Lady Betty" Kadoorie was this striking Kurtis Buick 500 X, which had nine overall wins to its credit

Therefore, the nine contenders were fresh concept cars and limited production designs from the likes of Aston Martin (DBR22), Bentley (Mulliner Batur), Bugatti (W16 Mistral), the new Delage D12, the recently revived De Tomaso (P72), DS (E-Tense Performance), McLaren (Artura), Renault’s R5 Turbo 3E and the strange VW Group’s Gen.Travel.

To judge so many cars, which were divided into 17 classes (judging time allotted was two hours on the Saturday preceding the day of the concours) almost 50 jury members were needed.

The list was a veritable who’s who of the automotive world and included, amongst others, Carlos Tavares (CEO of Stellantis) and Andrea Zagato (from the famous coachbuilding house of Zagato), current designers Laurens van den Acker and Ivo Groen, luminaries in the historic vehicle movement like Xavier Beaumartin, Paul Belmondo, Patrick Dimier, Stéphane Darracq, Mathias Doutreleau, Loic Duval, Pierre Fillon, Scott George, Romain Grabowski, Francesco Guasti, Julius Kruta, Pierre-Yves Laugier, Francois Melcion, James Nicholls, Christophe Pund, Rodolphe Rapetti, Paolo Tuminelli, Gianluigi Vignola, James Wood, and former FIVA President Patrick Rollet.

Main sponsor Richard Mille's amazing collection of BRM single-seater racers were on special display

Plus, a few journalists and authors such as Peter Larsen, Philip Rathgen, Mick Walsh and yours truly.

The sublimely beautiful Alfa Romeo 1900 SSC Touring Superleggera from 1954, which won the post-War Touring class

More noteworthy was the wonderful line-up of women in the jury: Margot Laffite (the daughter of F1 star Jacques Laffite, and a racer herself), Yasmin Le Bon (familiar to many Indian enthusiasts), Quirina Louwman (from Louwman Museum fame), Cici Muldoon and the feisty Gaby von Oppenheim.

Some of the jury members: (from third row left) Philip Kantor, Alexis Delicourt, Pierr-Yves Laugier, Philip Rathgen who can be seen caressing Gaby's head as Nicola von Donhoff pretends to look away... Front row: James Nicholls and Cici Muldoon

My jury group was made up of the famous Swiss historic vehicle dealer Christophe Grohe and author Ben Erickson and we had to figure out the class winner amongst five landmark De Tomasos. It wasn’t easy!

One of the l'il electric Bugs on the roundabout around the central pond

After having met and spoken to the owners (of three of the cars, and others representing the owner), and having learnt some of the amazing histories of these bolides—a gorgeous Mangusta, THE works Group IV Pantera which won the Giro Automobilistico d'Italia in 1973, the one and only Pantera 7X Montella designed by Tom Tjaarda to replace the Pantera, a 24-year-old 15,000km Guara in an as-good-as-new state and a Vallelunga—we decided to award the class win to the Pantera 7X owned by Corrado Lopresto (but presented by son Duccio and his girlfriend Francesca).

Lopresto sent a second car to Chantilly this year, an extremely pretty Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS by Touring, entered logically for the class pre-War Carrozzeria Touring class, and not surprisingly it won its class too.

The other post-War Best of Show winner: the Talbot-Lago T26 GSL with Motto barchetta body

In fact, it was a strong contender for pre-War Best of Show but was pipped at the post by the redoubtable Hispano Xenia (which had won the seven-strong Hispano-Suiza class, where some of the most important Hispanos of all times had been gathered).

The classes ranged from racing cars from 1905–1925 (won by our all-time favourite, the Ballot 3/8LC of Alexander and Esmeralda Schauffler) to 1990s Bugatti EB110s, including the class-winning car that competed in the 1994 24 Hours of Le Mans and now owned by Chris Hrabalek (who also owns most of  the other EB110s that were on display).

And oh yes, there were seven almost new (cars from 2004 to last year) Touring Superleggera-bodied cars in a class for them, but this was essentially as a tribute to FIVA Hall of Fame inductee Roland d’Ieteren, who passed away in 2020 due to COVID-19, and who had not only revived the great coachbuilding firm of Carrozzeria Touring but had also been a regular member of the jury at Chantilly.

With a third class for Touring-bodied cars from after WWII (won by the extraordinary Pegaso Z-102 ‘Thrill’) Chantilly’s organisers, the indubitable couple of Sylviane and Patrick Peter laid out a beautiful homage to a real gentleman and a true enthusiast, Roland d’Ieteren.

Two former FIVA presidents Francesco Guasti and Patrick Rollet flank current President Tiddo Bresters

Other classes of interest included two for cars from the 24 Hours of Le Mans (previewing celebrations next year for the 100th year of the race), one for the late Betty Kadoorie, the wife of Sir Michael Kadoorie, two preservation classes, one pre-War (won by André Plasch's extraordinary discovery, the 1904 Pipe Série E) and one post-War.

The Aston Martin DBR22 was Best of Show for the Concours d'Elegance, and the trophy was presented by Richard Mille's Marketing Director Timothée Malachard (on right) and Mathilde Chancerelle (third from right), who is the Prestige Key Account Manager at Pernod Ricard France with Perrier-Jouët Champagne

Plus, there was a class for iconoclastic cars (included the Meyers Manx which was in the movie The Thomas Crown Affair, and the famous Lamborghini Miura from The Italian Job).

Plus, there were classes for barchettas (roadsters) from the 1950s (won by the Best of Show Talbot-Lago), Bugatti Type 55s, Bentley Continentals (to celebrate the 70th anniversary), and Alpines (the racing machines).

Ah the pleasure of winning a trophy and sharing the moment with your grandchildren and dog...

All these cars were there in the main park of the chateau. And then there were another 600 cars from the various marque clubs and their members around the entrance to the chateau and on the sides… no, it was not possible to see them all, let alone appreciate the rare, the unusual and the extraordinary…

Echoing what someone (a certain Englishman) said during one of those sumptuous meals over three days of Chantilly Arts & Elegance to Patrick Peter: “This one was even better than all the ones before. I strongly believe that Chantilly is the best of all the concours in the world!”

One last look at the fabulous Xenia

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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