Exclusivity, decadence, elegance, luxury and top-notch cars. Those in layman’s terms might begin to describe the Salon Privé event at Blenheim Palace, near Oxford. This year’s event held over four days has a special significance, following the cancellation of Pebble Beach and Villa d’Este, the 2020 Salon Privé qualifies as one of the few high-end events in the world to open its doors to the public. As a result, it becomes the centrepiece for 20 car debuts attracting further accolade to the 14-year-old event.
Acting as a quintessentially English event along the lines of Ascot or Henley regatta, there are four distinct days to attend. These are Salon Privé Concours d’Elégance, Salon Privé Ladies’ Day, Salon Privé Bentley Masters, and Salon Privé Classic & Supercar. Car & Classic were invited on the press day, which allowed us to get a general feel for the cars and environment, as the outfits and choices of afternoon tea are unlikely to be of interest to readers on this occasion.
Among the world debuts is this astonishingly elegant Touring Superleggera Aero 3. Head designer, Louis de Fabribeckers was on hand to voice any questions, so we felt it would be prudent to find out a little more about the design process. It’s important to understand where his vision has come from, so it’s worth investigating de Fabribeckers portfolio, which includes the Maserati A8 GCS Berlinetta and the concept Alfa Romeo Disco Volante. One could see the Aero 3 as the latest instalment of the talented designers thought progression, combining his appreciation for proportion and balance. The continuous flow of lines combined with some lovely detailing results in a cohesive design that looks pleasing from every angle.
Retro styling wrapped around up-to-date technology is a regular theme to modern premium products these days. Two examples of these are illustrated by their respective connections to rally sport. The MAT Stratos concept is clearly based on the Lancia Stratos, and is an evolution of a one-off buck known as the ‘Fenomenon’ created for a German customer in the mid-2000s. Making its debut on a shortened Ferrari F430 Scuderia chassis now offers astonishing feats of performance to match the styling. How likely an owner would take it on a gravel track on a damp forest stage in winter was not discussed during the introduction briefing, as the car is listed at €550,000 (around £492,000!)
The second car which is now becoming a familiar sight after the initial anticipation is the Renault-developed Alpine A110. Keen not to forget the impact of the original on Motorsport, a Cup version of the new car connects with the sporting ethos of the original. To illustrate the heritage of the brand, an original example headed the display at the Alpine stand. The original was not officially imported into the UK, but this Spanish-built 1600SX has recently joined Renault UK’s heritage fleet to help promote the new car.
Obviously the main draw of the show is the rare breeds, the one-offs and the head-turning elegance of the golden age of the automobile. As to be expected these thoroughbreds are judged by the worlds most experienced panels, which goes some way into giving both the owner and the car a certain global cache. The Henri Chappron bodied Citroen Le Paris won the post-war touring award at this years event, thanks to the combination of a recent restoration and it’s documented background. Thought to be just one of three surviving cars, this actual car was displayed at the 1960 Geneva Salon. Of the three cars, this is the only one based on the lower spec ID rather than the DS. This very car had been stored at the Classic Car Hub at Bibury, maintaining a local connection to the Palace.
Another car that simply made us stop in our tracks was this 1958 Bertone Jaguar XK150 S. One of three cars used as a styling exercise by Bertone, each car was designed slightly differently by renowned stylist Franco Scaglione. This example is car number 2 of the trio and is thought to be the only known survivor as the other two have yet to be discovered. It wasn’t the last Bertone styling exercise on Jaguar cars but illustrates a fruitful period when the British and Italian nations combined to match up Italian grace with the power of the British sports car. Conceived as a replacement for the XK150, Jaguar decided to keep the styling in-house, and heavily influenced by their race cars, the eventual successor emerged in 1961 as the breathtaking Jaguar E-Type.
While the majority of cars were deep within the 6 figure sum and beyond, there were a handful of cars like this 1961 Fiat-OSCA 1500-S Pininfarina Cabriolet that were modestly valued in the grand scheme of things. The car could be considered the predecessor of the Fiat 124, its pedigree is assured due to its construction at the OSCA factory, which were at the time owned by Maserati. The other Fiat is the common or garden 500 Giardiniera, the estate version of the 500. Keen number plate spotters will deduce that this is one of the very last Autobianchi version from 1977.
Imagine if you could buy a multi-million-pound car at the fraction of the price. Sounds good? Well, you can but there is a drawback. It will be two-thirds of the size of the real thing and powered by a 5.7kW (6.7bhp) electric motor. Still interested? Boasting a specification of double-wishbone suspension, Smiths instrumentation and black leather upholstery, 1,059 examples of the DB5 will be produced, with priority going to owners of the car. Similarly, the Bugatti is made as realistic as possible. The suspension geometry is identical to the real thing, including the front camber. As a final touch of class, the emblem is made from solid silver. They’re suitable for both adults and kids, so buying one and pretending its for a child is a legitimate excuse. The red and white Porsche 917 ‘Kurzheck’ is a half-scale version but powered by a 4.8bhp carburettor-fed 163cc pro-kart Honda motor. This one is best suited for kids only, although the section of the roof in between the doors is removable.
In the late ’40s, Enzo Ferrari, who considered his cars as purebred race machines, didn’t like the idea of his cars being used as status symbols and only resorted to selling them to customers to enable Ferrari’s domination of motor competitions. One of those early pioneers was the Mille Miglia winning 166MM. It is considered to be one of Ferrari’s most important cars, as it propelled the marque to global prominence. To represent the end of Ferrari’s race car credentials it is neatly bookmarked by a 1978 Ferrari 512 BB LM. By this stage, Enzo Ferrari understood the need to sell cars to the public and he was actually concerned that the flagship 512 BB model mid-engined configuration might be a step too far for his buyers to handle. While it never quite claimed the success of its predecessors, the LM still makes for an imposing presence. Note the Michael Valliant name on the rear of the car, a connection to the fictional comic stories.
The event isn’t just restricted to four-wheeled vehicles, as there was a wide selection of motorcycles on display too. Long considered as a smart investment, bikes have acquired a totally different aspect of modus vivendi compared to the car, with an appeal of freedom added with a little sprinkle of the rebel. The idea of riding the open road with the raw interaction with the machine and environment is one of the great appeals of the motorcycle. On two different ends of the scales, we have a custom made Rolling Stones themed Vespa moped and the magnificent CCM RAF100 Spitfire appealing to the buyers looking for genuine British pedigree.
Restomods are a lucrative aspect of today’s classic car industry, upgrading a classic for modern conditions is JIA’s speciality. Jensen International Automotive have carved a niche in the market by using the classic Jensen Interceptor as their business model. Client relations officers Durran Heslop explained to Car & Classic that these cars are restored from the ground up. They essentially use the Interceptor silhouette but have fully updated mechanicals, modern electrics, bespoke trim and paint, The cars have the reliability and performance, thanks to the GM LS3 small block, that would simply astound their original owners. JIA’s cars appeal to those who may have recalled Jensen in their heyday but are looking for better build quality in a far more efficient package.
On a similar theme of using classic British icons, another enterprising restoration company, Windsor Classics use a more traditional aspect of bringing their cars back to life by simply focusing on their original heritage and specifications. Specialising in classic Land Rover vehicles, Director Richard Heighes was initially reluctant to bring this half-finished 2-owner 1976 Range Rover to the event considering the high content of immaculate cars, but it proved to be a useful aspect of attracting curious Land Rover followers as it allowed you to view the conviction and depth of the work carried on these restored cars, including a rarely seen view of the chassis from inside the car!
This hopefully gives you an idea of what happens every September on the south lawn of Winston Churchill’s former home. As the ground crew and the organisers wrap up what could be described as the flagship event of the 2020 UK classic car calendar, thanks must be given to the organisation and logistics that go on behind the closed doors as the guests make the most of the unprecedented circumstances. In total, around 1,000 cars attended over the four days and it was a genuine honour to have attended, an almost humbling experience but it is always worth scrubbing up for.