At first glance, Savigny-lès-Beaune looks like any other pretty French village; picturesque central square, tasty brasserie, a spot of boule on the go. In fact, the only sign that something slightly unusual might be going on is a rogue tail fin protruding above a hedgerow. Head to the tail fin (just off the aforementioned square) and you’ll discover Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune and find that there might be something a little different about this particular Burgundy village.
The Pont family are something of a big deal in this neck of the woods. Vinters here for over a century, they are also known locally for their tinkering with machinery to speed up the process of booze-making. Louis Pont was one of the first to adapt the humble tractor for use amongst the vines speeding up the cultivation and picking of grapes. His son Michel picked up the reins of the family business back in the ’70s but not before a successful decade of campaigning Abarth racing cars across Europe in the ’60s. Michel bought the Chateau in 1979 as a home for the family wine business with some space spare to keep his toys.
It’s fair to say today that Michel’s hobby storage has now got somewhat out of hand. The Chateau now houses an incredible 9 transport collections – from classic motorbikes to modern warplanes with a crazy hoverboatplane or two thrown in for good measure (more on that later). Car & Classic was lucky enough to tour the various collections back in early 2019 and whilst we probably took enough photos to fill 10 articles, we’ve summarised some of our favourites (and why you should make the trip down to Beaune) for you here.
On entry you are greeted by probably the most ‘normal’ rooms on site, which look much as one would expect from a 15th Century French semi. Exit to the stable block however and you’ll notice that perhaps things are not as they seem with the “Abarth Museum” sign pointing up the stairs. Head up above the stables and you’ll be treated to an absolute treasure trove of racing Abarths from Michel’s track days, along with some extremely rare and prototype one-off cars. We didn’t get the opportunity to meet Monsieur Pont on this trip but when we do, we’ll be sure to ask him why he’s placed all of his heavy toys on the upper floors of his buildings (the Abarths are up a narrow staircase above the stables and the Motorbike collection sits on the 2nd floor of the main Chateau).
Evidently not satisfied with the 35 Abarths that call this loft home, Michel has peppered every wall, ceiling and spare inch of floor space with other automotive treats from ’50s Mandiville & Roux and Derny motorized tandems (one having arguably the prettiest exhaust ever attached to a motorbike) to an early electric moped, the Auranthetic Charger and with a couple of hand-gliders thrown in for good measure. Something of a theme across the Chateau you will find very little here in Concours condition. It’s clear that some of the items here have sat for years which gives the whole experience a bit of a ‘hidden treasure’ feel. It also feels a bit like you’ve wandered into someone else’s shed but he’s done an awful lot better than you at being allowed to keep all the toys he’s ever bought.
On the way down the stairs from the ‘Abarthloft’ it’s hard to miss the wingless, wheel-less polished aluminium body of a Nord Nordatlas N-2501 lying outside an innocent looking hangar. On closer inspection we discovered another of Michel’s tremendous sheds filled with an eclectic mix of jet engines, 18th Century funeral carriages and, our favourite – vintage spider tractors. Ok, perhaps they aren’t officially called spider tractors but we struggled to find a better name for these awesome tractors on stilts that have been fettled by the Pont family over the years to rumble over the top of their vineyards.
Assorted Spidertractors (Tracteurs enjambeurs)
Once you’re done marvelling at the eccentric curation that brought this collection together, it’s time to move on to the pièce de résistance – Michel’s plane collection. Over the decades Michel has collected over 100 aircraft of all shapes and sizes but with a particular focus on French jet fighters and bombers. The planes and helicopters in varying states of decay litter the estate and are both an incredible sight in the garden of an ancient Chateau and a fascinating history of warplane development over the years. One article is frankly not enough to do the collection justice (and we’re supposed to be here talking about cars) so below are a couple of our favourites.
So, when the lockdowns lift, and you’re blasting across France on your hols, keep an eye out for the sign to Savigny-lès-Beaune off the A6 – we recommend a stop. And if you’re lucky enough, you can see this, the world’s last remaining “Naviplane” hovercraft/light aircraft mashup on your way out. Bonne visite!