Like many contemporary brands, the Concorso di Eleganza Villa d’Este, held on the shores of stunning Lake Como, is a revival.  A Concorso was first organized on the grounds of the 16th century Villa d’Este from 1929-49 (with a gap for WW2), and featured the elegant new designs from the many coachbuilders working on automobile chassis at the time (Saoutchik, Figoni&Falaschi, etc), in a grand tradition stretching back hundreds of years.  But the economic situation in postwar Italy was dire, and the great coachwork houses were in transition from the large prewar pattern to the sleeker, more modern forms exemplified by the likes of Cisitalia.

The 1939 Miller Balsamo, which was a very limited-produciton machine. The desire for total enclosure on a motorcycle goes back to the early 1920s, with machines like the Ner-A-Car and Ascot Pullin. The Milan-based Balsamo brother built bikes under the Miller name (to sound more British) from the 1920s, and the Balsamo featured a pressed-steel frame, sheet metal cladding, and a two-stroke motor. [Paul d’Orleans]
It would take a a few years for Pinin Farina and Touring et al to revive the story of non-factory styling houses, and in that gap, the Concorso at Vila d’Este slipped away.  The concept was revived, ironically, the very next year (1950) at Pebble Beach, where a mix of new and old cars was shown in a small gathering (30 cars).  Competing events around the world have focussed increasingly on restored vintage vehicles in the ensuing decades, although contemporary car and motorcycle designs are shown in the concept, prototype, or design study stage.

Best of Show! The 1948 Moto Major has haunted motorcycle encyclopedias and books about Italian design since its 1948 introduction, but the inspired product of Salvatore Maiorca of Turin was never produced serially. Fiat’s aircraft plant made the metal body panels and motor, and Pirelli was interested in the project, but the in-wheel suspension using compressed rubber discs was a recipe for terrible handling. That doesn’t matter now – we can simply appreciate teh stunning, aircraft shop bodywork! [Paul d’Orleans]
Motorcycles have been included with cars in major Concours after the success of the Guggenheim Museum’s ‘Art of the Motorcycle’ exhibit in 1998, which led to a general acknowledgement of motorcycles as design objects worthy of study and admiration.  The rise of celebrity visibility on two wheels (Malcolm Forbes, Elizabeth Taylor, et al) from the late 1980s onwards also helped clean up the image of motorcycles, making them chic for stars who wanted to burnish a bad boy image (Arnold Schwartzenegger, Mickey Rourke et al), or who simply enjoyed riding (Ewan MacGregor, Anjelina Jolie, et al).

Pasquale Mesto’s 1969 Floyd Clymer Indian-Italjet-Enfield won best in its class, as an example of a true international hybrid that looked better than any other Scrambler in the era. I owned an Indian-Velocette, which uses the same Italjet chassis (Marzocchi forks, Grimeca brakes, Italjet frame and bodywork), but the Royal Enfield 736cc Interceptor motor fills the frame better than the Velo, and make the whole bike look burly and purposeful. A pity more weren’t produced! [Paul d’Orleans]
The Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este was revived in 1986, and held sporadically until BMW purchased the event in 1999, and brought its resources to bear on the organization, logistics, and displays on the shore of Lake Como.  With their input, the event has become truly grand, taking advantage of both the stunning natural setting beside the lake, and the Villa d’Este’s status as the Best Hotel in the World, according to  awards from various travel publications over the years.  I’ve never stayed there, but have eaten there many times (excellent), and had enough drinks at their bar to acknowledge it’s a great, if expensive, spot to get lit.

Track rivals! A 1957 MV Agusta Bialbero and ’57 Mondial Bialbero. Lest you think MV won everything, the Mondial had won the World Championship in ’49 and 51, and won it again in ’57 with this redesigned, gear-drive DOHC motor. Both are gorgeous. [Paul d’Orleans]
The Concorso is held in two locations; the grounds of the Villa d’Este itself, as a private event for entrants and invited guests only (on Friday and Saturday), and a public day on Sunday at the neighboring Villa Erba, and equally spectacular location, with many acres of lawn and trees available for displaying and driving the Concorso cars and motorcycles across a podium for awards and public appreciation. The entry fee for the public is a modest 20euros, and a large crowd enjoys the ambience, which nevertheless never feels crowded – it’s a huge venue, with a breathtaking view of the most beautiful lake in Europe, and plenty of mature Chestnut, Plane, and Elm trees providing shade.

Best of Show! The 1958 Ferrari 335 Sport, that looks like a Testa Rossa but is a much more powerful model, with 430hp, an a 190mph top speed. A beast! [Paul d’Orleans]
Motorcycles have been included as a ‘separate but equal’ part of the Concorso since 2010, with a purpose-built cruciform display podium on the grounds of Villa Erba, a ride across the Villa d’Este grounds on Saturday as a presentation to the automobile judges and guests, and an awards ceremony on Sunday morning.  Typically, 35 bikes are displayed, competing in six categories that change annually, which this year included ‘Golden Years for American Motorcycles’, ‘Luxury on 3 Wheels’, ‘New Ideas for the 1950s’, ‘Winning Italian Singles: 250cc Grand Prix Motorcycles’, ‘New Clothes on British and German Motorcycles’ and a display of Prototypes from MV Agusta, Husqvarna, and BMW.

Attila Scheiber of the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum collects a prize for his original-paint 1913 Thor Model U.[Paul d’Orleans]
The motorcycles displayed tend to include the most technically or aesthetically interesting motorcycles in the world, and has included a lineup of supercharged Land Speed Racers from the 1930s, Golden Age Grand Prix machinery from all countries, elegant Art Deco styling exercises, and vintage one-off machines that are normally invisible except in photos.  To see such legendary motorcycles up close, to lean in to examine arcane details, to smell the combined aroma of old oil and cracked leather, to feel their aura in person, is an exceptional opportunity, which I as an 8-year veteran of the Concorso (as a judge) am very grateful for.

A gorgeous 1936 Lagonda LG45 Rapide, the first standard road car to lap Brooklands at over 100mph (104.5mph) in 1937. To put this in perspective, a Brough Superior SS100 could do the same in 1925. This car competed in the ’37 LeMans 24 hour race; simply gorgeous.[Paul d’Orleans]
The ultra-exotic this year included five Italian factory racing 250cc single-cylinder GP machines from the 1950s and early ’60s, and several rare or unique European prototypes, including the 1939 Miller Balsamo, 1947 BMW R10 flat-twin two-stroke, the mind-blowing 1948 Moto Major, and the 1948 Stilma.  These are machines one sees in books only, and wonders why they weren’t produced, as all looked promising, or even works of genius.  There was always a reason ‘why not’, though, and it’s great to see them in person to understand what beyond their styling might have prevented series production.

One of three built and two in existence, the 1949 Bentley MkIV Mulliner Fastback, with styling that presaged future practice, and an all-aluminum body giving lighter weight and sparkling performance (I’ve ridden in the ‘other one’ extensively – simply smashing) [Paul d’Orleans]
The Moto Major especially has vexed motorcycle enthusiasts since its debut in 1948, as the bodywork is like no motorcycle ever built, with its nearest rival being two prototypes of Louis Lucien Lepoix (see our article on his work here).  The sweeping lines and fully enclosed everything are graceful and suggest speed and modernity in a way scooters never quite succeeded in doing.  The charisma of this machine brought a unanimous and un-corroborated consideration of ‘Best in Show’ from the judges, before we’d even met to discuss the matter.  It was the easiest decision in my years of judging events, as the bike is simply beyond.

The 1970 Lancia Stratos Zero remains an amazing creation, with a total height of 2′ 8″! The driver (owner Philip Sarofim) and passenger (his girlfriend Avril Lavigne) lay down in the cockpit, scrambling over the rubber pad up front, with the windshield closing down on them. The ultimate wedgie! [Richard Gauntlett]
A full list of winners, and photographs of all the cars and motorcycles, is available on the Concorso’s website, on which you can explore prior years’ entrants and winners as well.

The futuristic interior of the 1970 Lancia Stratos Zero, complete with analog illuminated multi-instrument screen, and operable side windows (essential). I miss the future…[Paul d’Orleans]
The 1968 Egli-Vincent of Tobian Aichele; a racing model with considerable history since Fritz Egli’s first year of production [Paul d’Orleans]
Tobias Aichele points out a photo of his machine in its debut year – 1968 [Paul d’Orleans]
Cafe Racer Dreams! A 1968 Dunstall Norton Dominator with tuned 750cc Atlas motor and all-original paint and fiberglass, and a punchy Norvin from Marco Saltini, getting the once-over from Sara Fiandri.  [Paul d’Orleans]
The one that wasn’t: the prototype BMW R10 of 1947; the only BMW ever built with a two-stroke engine, of course a flat twin. [Paul d’Orleans]
A stunning 1952 Benelli Bialbero with gear-driven DOHC drivetrain. Pure art on wheels [Paul d’Orleans]
The business center of the 1952 Benelli Bialbero: Benelli won the 250cc World Championship with this motor, but the competition heated up in later years [Paul d’Orleans]
The cockpit of the one-piece bodywork on the 1952 Benelli Bialbero. That’s a Jaeger (Smiths) tachometer on the fairing panel, with a lovely beveled-glass crystal. [Paul d’Orleans]
Don’t rough it, Brough it! The class-winning 1939 Brough Superior SS80 outfit of Daniel Kessler has perhaps the only functional ‘petrol tube’ sidecar, which carries 5 liters of extra fuel, and can be pressurized with the tire pump. Daniel was happy to demonstrate this to all comers, and had to drain his fuel tank as the system works very well! [Paul d’Orleans]
Probably the best ‘patina restoration’ I’ve seen, of a 1916 Excelsior board track racing Model 16-SC (short-couple). No brakes, no gearbox, but it did have a leaf spring front fork! [Paul d’Orleans]
A 1955 Aston-Martin DB3S, one of 31 built between ’53-55, with aluminum bodywork over a tubular space frame, and Aston’s DOHC straight six motor. This car was driven on the streets of San Francsico when sports racers were expected to be road legal.
Eleganza! This couple are in mostly original, unrestored condition, although some light restoration is visible. They remain Italian classics of tremendous style. La dolce vita! [Paul d’Orleans]
It’s not all play by the lake. The seven judges of the Concorso di Moto (which, it has been discussed, is not a Concours d’Elegance) spend considerable time on Friday and Saturday examining the motorcycles in a secure location inside Villa Erba. Here judge Sara Fiandri (the only female motorcycle tester in the publishing industry? Or one of two?) and Chief Judge Carlo Perelli (editor emeritus of Motociclismo, and now editor of Motociclismo Epocha) discuss important points. [Paul d’Orleans]
Stunning in red! The 1968 Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/2 Stradale. [Paul d’Orleans]
Stunning in red! BMW factory motorcycle racer Amelie Mooseder, at Saturday’s evening reception, ‘Hollywood on the Lake’ [Paul d’Orleans]
The ultra-spare cockpit of the monoposto 1960 Porsche 718/2 [Paul d’Orleans]
Showing off a 1937 Bentley 4 1/2 with Erdmann & Rossi cabriolet bodywork [Paul d’Orleans]
Shapely monoposto! The incredible 1950 Maserati 250F Grand Prix racer [Paul d’Orleans]
British moto-journalist and Concorso judge Mick Duckworth, who may or may not be an underworld crime boss. [Paul d’Orleans]
The 1913 Thor Model U of Attila Scheiber, in amazing condition, and many soldered repairs on the tank. The Eclipse clutch mechanism is clearly visible – there’s no gearbox. [Paul d’Orleans]
Six wheels good? The unforgettable Tyrell P34 of 1977 [Paul d’Orleans]
The Kesslers riding their ’39 Brough Superior SS80n with petrol tube launch sidecar across the gravel at Villa d’Este. Which is only possible once a year – the hotel frowns on vehicles being ridden through their terrace restaurant normally [Paul d’Orleans]
Walter Dreher with his beautifully restored 1917 Harley-Davidson Model F, also on the Villa d’Este grounds [Paul d’Orleans]
BMW owns Rolls Royce, and this year chose to reveal the new Rolls Royce Cullinan rather than their usual BMW prototype. Here Torsten Müller-Ötvös (r, CEO of RR), and Rolls Royce chief designer Giles Taylor discuss the new behemoth on its debut at Villa d’Este.  The reveal was quite funny; Torsten spoke first about this new ‘SUV’ and ‘Family Car’, while Giles flatly contradicted his boss, speaking after him, that it was emphatically not intended as a family car and had nothing to do with an SUV! While most of the assembled crowd was busy refilling their champagne, your faithful scribe (and a few other journalists) caught the tension in the moment, and wasn’t surprised at all to read Giles Taylor quit his job on June 8th! 
A rare Schutoff K500 of 1930; the firm was very successful in German racing, built in Chemnitz, and was mostly two-strokes until 1924, when they began building hot OHV bikes like this, with their distinctive exhaust finning [Paul d’Orleans]
Motorcycle Judge Arnost Nezmeskal, Director of the Prague Technical Museum [Paul d’Orleans]
A Triumph v-twin? Yes, a German TWN Triumph, at one time the same company as the British concern of the same name (founded by a German immigrant, Siegried Bettman). This 1930 RR750 model uses a Swiss MAG (Motosacoche) motor [Paul d’Orleans]
Want to make Concorso judges sweat, 20 minutes before our awards presentation? Here Stefan Knittel, organizer of the Concorso di Moto, shares the news with Chief Judge Carlo Perelli that he was assured the 1907 Indian (that I had assumed was at least a partial replica) was a completely original, no-miles machine. Which, if true, would certainly change the calculus of our ranking. In the end a compromise was suggested by judge Francois-Marie Dumas – we gave it a Special Jury Prize. [Paul d’Orleans]
The 1907 Indian in question, owned by Frank Grahl [Paul d’Orleans]
The hand-hammered bodywork of the 1953 Moto Guzzi Bialbero – like a story written in metal, or as Arnost said, “like the brushstrokes on a painting” [Paul d’Orleans]
The aerodynamic beak of the 1953 Moto Guzzi; wind-tunnel tested, as all racing Guzzis were, so no doubt it helped aerodynamics while complying with a rule requiring a front fender. Moto Guzzi racers are not beautiful, but they are scientific, and devastatingly functional. [Paul d’Orleans]
What time is it? Speedo and clock, plus a fascinating turn signal control on this 1920 Reading-Standard built by the Borgo brothers of Turin [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.

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.
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