What a Pretty Face: Les Concours d’Elegance à Chantilly
The concours d’elegance refers to a “competition of elegance” that actually began back in 17th century France. Aristocrats would display and judge their prestigious vehicles. At that time it was all about horse-drawn carriages. But about 100 years ago as the era of the automobile arrived. The concours grew to revolve primarily around a display of the most beautiful cars in the world. There are concours d’elegance held all over the world throughout the year. Most often coincide with a car race or function as a charity event.
The concours d’elegance in Chantilly took place at the Domaine de Chantilly and was first held in 2014. It was jointly sponsored by auto enthusiasts Patrick Peter and watchmaker Richard Mille. It draws around 10,000 people to the castle grounds and is considered to be one of the most beautiful car events of the year. There are three Best in Show categories for automobiles, and each has a specific range. The Concours d’Elegance features concept cars and contemporary designs that are at most 18 months from completion. It gives automakers a chance to show off some of their newest designs.
The Concours d’Etat is also known as the prize for “the most beautiful car in the world”. It has 15 classes of cars which are then judged for how well they’re preserved, how well they’ve been restored, and their place in automotive history. For 2017, to honor the 70th anniversary of Ferrari, 5 of the classes were dedicated to the Italian carmaker. The Grand Prix des Clubs is a collection of 40 car brands whose collectors are chosen to represent the label during a garden party and expo. Prizes are awarded based on the care and refinement that each car collector brings to the label.
Also known as the car that Ralph Lauren spent $40 million on, the Bugatti 57 S Atlantic is one of the most mysterious on the planet, and it took the top prize for the Concours d’Etat in the pre-war division at Chantilly. Also known as the prize for ‘The Most Beautiful Car in the World,’ the Concours d’Etat finds the rarest pearls and makes for some serious car envy. They got it right with the Bugatti: its teardrop body, lightweight, and high-performance engine give it the distinction as the first supercar ever made, and Bugatti has carried the torch for decades into its latest designs. Developed by Ettore Bugatti’s son Jean, the Atlantic used Electron, a magnesium and aluminum alloy that allowed the car to lose about of the weight that other cars registered. Because the material is flammable, it couldn’t be welded into place: instead of seeing this as a hindrance, Bugatti decided to rivet the parts into place, giving it the distinctive kidney shape that makes it such a classic.
If most of us would have been asked to design a car for the future, the chances are it might have looked a lot like the Renault Trezor. It opens up, vintage Batmobile-style, with the entire top part of the car elevating to reveal two bucket seats resplendent in red leather. The hexagonal skin on the exterior that resembles fractal fish scales raises up as a cooling mechanism, and the wheel wells are almost the height of the entire car itself. It’s also fully electric with two battery packs at front and back and is made from aluminum, carbon, leather, and wood with an interior wraparound display that makes it look like a retro-futuristic space cockpit. Not content with just making a car that looks amazing, Renault took the time to make it a speed demon as well: it pulls 0 to 100kph in 4 seconds, and its cruising speed is somewhere between 160 and 200 kph. The red windscreen and low, low headroom might make it impractical to drive, but is sure is pretty to think of a world in which this car might live.
The winner in the “Century of Electric Motor Cars” is perhaps one of the oldest cars in the world and shows that the race for an electric car predates nearly all other subsequent innovations to automobiles. The Detroit Electric Model D Brougham was based on the carriage design that was still in popular use at the time of its invention and used a rechargeable lead-acid battery as its main power source. Cars were advertised as being able to travel 80 miles on a single charge, though road tests often showed that the Model D could double that distance in cities. The Brougham was marketed to women and doctors who needed reliable transport that wouldn’t take long to start up (or be as physically demanding as a crank engine), and the cars saw a boom in popularity when gas prices increased at the start of World War I. At its peak, the Detroit Electric Company sold 1000-2000 Model D’s a year, and the company continued production despite a drop in sales until the 1929 stock market crash.
The concept car from Citroen has gathered accolades since it debuted in Paris this year and it shared the top prizes for the Concours d’Elegance in Chantilly. A petrol-electric plug-in hybrid, the Cxperience purports to be a blend of style, power, and comfort with the very latest in technology. The electric can go up to 37 mph on a single charge, and with the dual engine in action, an impressive 280 hp gives the Citroen some considerable punch. But the real story is in the tech features, and they are nothing short of futuristic. Cameras replace the side mirrors, which connect to a 19-inch touchscreen media system with 360-degree cameras and cabin comfort sensors. The rear-hinged doors of this nearly 5-meter long boat open to a memory foam padded cabin with tray tables for passengers, and a “sound bubble” that each occupant of the car can activate to listen to their own music, or simply to cancel out all of the other noise.
A luxury car that debuted at the height of the world’s first Great Depression might be thought of as having incredibly bad luck, but cars like the Delage were never really meant for the huddled masses anyway. Made by the French house Delahaye, the Delage D8-120 was a sport version of the D8-100 and built with a short chassis and contained the final eight-cylinder engine that the company ever produced. Production ceased on the Delage D8 when war came to France, and some of the chassis was only completed after the Liberation of France, but the distinctive style lived on in countless iterations that followed. The jury at Chantilly awarded the prize to Delage in the “great French coachbuilder” category, and judging by the reception it was given, the honor was well deserved.
With this being the 70th anniversary of Ferrari, there were plenty of tribute cars on display at Chantilly, and it’s no surprise that one of the most iconic models took the Concours d’Etat prize in the post-war division. A racing car designed to best their rivals at Aston Martin, the TR58 took a 250 Testa Rossa and revised the engine to compete in races throughout the season. The mods were such a stunning success that Ferrari took ten major racing titles that year, including the 24 hour Le Mans race. The rarity of the TR58 is part of the reason for its allure: only two factory cars and 19 customer cars were ever built, and it’s often considered one of the world’s most expensive cars. The bright red body and pontoon shape don’t hurt the design either, as it remains the standard bearer for race cars and is considered one of the automotive world’s most timeless designs.
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