The Concorso d’Eleganze di Villa d’Este is well known, and well loved, as perhaps the most elegant automotive celebration anywhere, a rare combination of the perfect landscape (lake Como), the perfect Villa, and a curated selection of 50 truly exceptional vehicles.  With entry to Saturday’s Concorso strictly limited to entrants and invited guests, seeing the show at the Villa remains a rose-hued dream to millions of car enthusiasts.  Put bluntly, this is a private party for elite swells, some regularly in the press, some obscure, all on their best behavior and most beautiful attire at Lago di Como.

Henrik von Kuenheim, General Director of BMW Motorrad, riding the 1934 R7 prototype. [BMW]
Festivities began Friday evening, with a cocktail party on the expansive gravel terrace under a mighty Plane tree, overlooking the lake, the hotel’s two wings, the extraordinary 16th-century grotto, and tree-lined grounds which retain their Renaissance layout.  The soft music, chatter, and clinking of glasses was interrupted by the sound of a stunning Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 coupé, out of which stepped Karl BaumerConcorso chief and head of BMW Group Classic.  This gesture – to a rival car company – was typical of BMW’s generosity and openness in handling the event, as many rivals manufacturers were invited to show their latest prototypes, some of which will battle their host in the press, on race tracks, and in customer’s wallets.

The Villa d’Este terrace, after the crowds had gone, and only natural grace remained [Paul d’Orleans]
BMW have acquired the habit of revealing their latest prototype car at the Villa, and in this 75th anniversary of the legendary 328 series, the latest work of designer Adrian van Hooydonk was inspired by BMW’s original sporting, open two-seater.  The car did not disappoint, being a tasteful blend of cutting-edge sportscar cues (carbon fiber body, wide stance, mighty engine), with touches of retro luxury (leather bonnet straps, rally-inspired dash clocks). As the crowd gathered, a vintage 328 driven by the BMW museum‘s Ralf Rodepeter took its place beside the proto, and all eyes turned to his passenger, the outrageous redhead with whom I had flirted, unwitting, a few moments prior; Christina Hendricks of Mad Men.  I suppose some things are worth watching on the telly…

The incomparable Christina Hendricks was hired for some glamour at the event. I had no idea who she was! But asked her out for a drink…[BMW]
The Swells disappeared into the Villa for a grand dinner, while we journos and BMW functionaries were shunted off to eat an incredible Italian meal of ‘trained octopus and talking deer’ as one wag put it, on a terrace overlooking the mountain-ringed Lake, beneath a glowing canopy of stars.  The Villa may be old and grand, but mother nature’s cloak trumps any painted finery.

More shapely figures: a rare Jaguar XKXX on the Villa forecourt. [Paul d’Orleans]
On Saturday, change snuck in like a gatto nero on the grass of Villa Erba, the ‘overflow’ real estate at which the public can view Este’s cars on Sunday, for a small fee, and on which an RM auction was held Saturday night.  Concorso sponsor BMW, builders of cars And motorcycles (in rare company with Honda, Suzuki, and Peugeot), did the logical thing, and joined the global trend towards including motorcycles within traditionally automotive Concours, such as Pebble Beach and Salon Privé.

One does not turn down such an opportunity: sitting on a Britten. [BMW]
BMW chose a very conservative strategy to introduce the Concorso di Moto this year, with almost no information published in print or web (barring in The Vintagent, last April) mentioning the additional judged show on the grounds of Villa Erba.  BMW’s quiet approach was perhaps justified, given their adherence to a ‘since 1929’ history of the Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este, which has never included motorcycles, and it might have appeared self-serving that a manufacturer of bikes would break tradition to showcase their ‘other’ product.

Touches of comfort on a sporting chassis: cockpit of the BMW 328 ‘Hommage’. [Paul d’Orleans]
They needn’t have worried.  The display was clean and modern, on a raised wooden hexagonal platform – for the six judged classes – with a clear overarching canopy marking that Here was Something Special.  And indeed, the curated selection of 30 motorcycles was very special, and incredibly eclectic, from the humble fiberglass Velocette Vogue to Willhelm Noll’s 1955 BMW World Land Speed Record streamlined sidecar. The judged categories relate to the Villa’s ethos, a refreshing disregard of chronology and nationality, and a focus on type: Pioneers, Design and Technics, Glamour, Racing and Records, Production Icons, and Prototypes.

A never-before seen lineup; Wilkinson, Militor, Pierce, and FN four-cylinders. [Paul d’Orleans]
The Motorcycle Judging committee included Hugo Wilson of Classic BikeDavid Robb (BMW’s motorcycle designer), legendary Italian moto-journo Carlo Perelli of Motociclismo d’Epoca, and Thomas Kohler, director of motorcycles for FIVA.  Their choice of Best in Show was most interesting, reflecting their support for historic preservation, excellent design, and owners with that special relationship which comes from actually riding the motorcycle in question. The winning 1910 Pierce 4-cylinder was a brave choice, being an obscure make from such an early era, with faded 100-year-old paint, and not a ‘wow’-styled machine.  The judges chose well and cannily, especially as the Pierce has a big four-wheeled brother, a fact which surely rang a bell for the automotive connoisseurs; an ‘aha’ moment.

The legendary Carlo Perelli, longtime editor of MotoClismo, explains his judging logic with a Moto Guzzi Bialbero of ’57. [Paul d’Oreans]
Reaction from the public, car entrants, and the press corps was 100% positive in my ears, with typical quotes including ‘a natural fit’, ‘the mechanical variety is fascinating’, ‘this is really fantastic’, and my favorite, ‘it’s about time!’  All agreed that BMW, whose motorcycle bloodline predates their auto history by 6 years (the Dixi of 1929), was completely justified in adding a second Concorso for two-wheelers.  The fortuitous location of the show – in Italy – was emphasized by a local security guard, who explained, ‘you Germans have done us Italians a huge favor. We are all of us, men and women, rich and poor, absolutely crazy about motorcycles.’  Well, so are the readers of The Vintagent, so it seems we are in agreement; any excuse to bring so many truly exceptional motos together for our viewing pleasure is to be encouraged. Attendance at the ‘open to the public’ Sunday on the grass of Villa Erba was a record high, and thousands saw the best, rarest, and most beautiful cars and motorbikes ever created, displayed in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Haven’t we met somewhere before? The incredible Moto Guzzi inline 4 of 1954. [Paul d’Orleans]
Many thanks to the owners of these fine machines for bringing them to Italy, and sharing them with us.  And many, many thanks to BMW for their generosity, gracious hosting of the event, and making possible The Vintagent’s participation.

Craig Vetter would be proud to see his Triumph X75 Hurricane at Villa Erba. [Paul d’Orleans]
Early Wooler and DKW twin under the motorcycle canopy at Villa Erba. [Paul d’Orleans]
Best in Show! This extraordinary 1911 Pierce was ridden onto the field at Villa Erba, on its original tires no less. [Paul d’Orleans]
French brilliance; 1933 MGC with hollow alloy monocoque chassis. [Paul d’Orleans]
Never seen in the USA: an early Ducati 500cc parallel twin. [Paul d’Orleans]
One collector described this ’68 Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale as ‘Pure sex; it is the body of a woman. An Italian woman.’ [Paul d’Orleans]
Gorgeous in green: a rarely-seen Ardie RBK 503 Meran of 1934. Germany was not immune from Deco! [Paul d’Orleans]
Fantastic Abarth 1300 OT. [Paul d’Orleans]

This ’61 Maserati ‘Birdcage’ was tearing around the rock-wall lake roads Friday night; glorious music. [Paul d’Orleans]
1936 BMW R17 with period Deco sidecar. [Paul d’Orleans]
The 1955 Wilhelm Noll record-breaker BMW. [Paul d’Orleans]
Transport between Villa d’Este and Villa Erba was by private Riva…lovely! [Paul d’Orleans]
Brough Superior ‘three wheeler’ with Austin engine, as tested on The Vintagent. [Paul d’Orleans]
The judges; David Robb, Carlo Perelli, the moderator Roberto Rasia dal Polo, Thomas Kohler, and Hugo Wilson. [Paul d’Orleans]
Glamour, metallic sheen, harmonious curves; the 1936 Alcyon 306A. [Paul d’Orleans]

Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.