A new classic car event in the Far East: Concorso d’Eleganza Kyoto

The first ever Kyoto Concorso d’Eleganza was a great success, as was clearly apparent from the number, and level, of the participating cars and the number of people flocking to the event. But when the Ninomaru Palace (a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Japan’s most fascinating and admired attractions) provided the venue for an exhibition of 22 classic cars from all over the world, this was just the final stage of a process that had actually begun some considerable time earlier, in the mind of an artist!

Concorso d’Eleganza Kyoto: the origin of an idea

Hidetomo Kimura is a young Japanese artist. He specializes in creating amazing shows using exotic goldfish and elaborately designed aquariums. He puts on successful shows around the world and, during last year’s “Expo” world fair in Milan, his creations were exhibited in a dedicated space to coincide with the exhibition in the Japanese pavilion. But there is also another side to “Kimura san”. He is also a knowledgeable classic car enthusiastic, with a particular soft spot for Italian cars, and a keen car collector. This passion prompted him to create something new: a classic car show in the heart of Japan. “As a collector I’ve been to many classic car shows around the world, Villa d’Este and Pebble Beach included,” he says “and I’ve been amazed by the quality of the cars shown. It was while attending Pebble Beach one year that I first started asking myself why there was nothing similar in my own country, and started thinking about the possibility of a Japanese Concorso.

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Back in Kyoto, I continued to give it some thought and tried to picture the perfect location for a show of that kind. What immediately came to mind was the most important location we have in our wonderful city, the Ninomaru Palace, which is part of the Nijo Castle. The castle is one of 17 historic monuments in Kyoto designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, and I realized that there couldn’t be a better backdrop to set off the classic beauty of old cars.” Obviously, this kind of venue is not usually opened to cars, modern or classic, and the organizers had to apply to the city of Kyoto for permission. “When we first applied for authorization and explained what we were wanting to do,” says Kimura, “we immediately received the support of the Mayor of Kyoto, Daisatu Kadokawa, and this was an enormous help. We had to promise that the car engines would be switched off as much of the time as possible, indeed practically all the time. In short, they could have their engines on only for positioning and for the parade. The cars also had to have as little fuel as possible in their tanks, just to be on the safe side.” With the venue decided, the next step was to find the cars and contact the collectors to ask them to take part. As Hidetomo explained, that part was straightforward. They simply sent out invitations and waited to see if any collectors would be interested. They were delighted to receive an enthusiastic response from all over the world.

In the end, 22 cars entered the Kyoto Concorso d’Eleganza 2016, while around 30 younger classics participated in the exhibition-only part of the event, named Artistic Cars at the World Heritage.

Concorso d’Eleganza Kyoto: The classes

A team of five judges, coming from the USA, UK and Italy, was required to pick the best in each of the four classes — Pre-War open, Pre-War closed, Post-War open, Post-War closed —, the Most Beautiful Italian Car, the winner of a special trophy sponsored by ACI, the Automobile Club of Italy, and the Best in Show. The public had to do their bit, too: they were given a dedicated postcard on which they were requested to indicate their own favorite.

Concorso d’Eleganza Kyoto: The Best in Class winners

The judges agreed that the average level of the cars exhibited was quite high, which made their task pleasurable from a motoring point of view, but also difficult.

Lancia Casaro Concorso d'Eleganza Kyoto

The Best in Class for the Pre-War open category went to a 1928 Lancia Lambda Tipo 221 Casaro, one of the only three works cars built for the 1928 Mille Miglia, now part of a Japanese collection belonging to Masaaki Sakai. The Post-War open Best in Class was a 1953 Delahaye Type 178 Chapron, with a three position top, today part of the Petersen Automotive Museum Collection of Los Angeles (USA). The Best in Class for the Pre-War closed category was won by one of the most historically important cars in Japan, a 1937 Rolls-Royce 25/30 bodied by Hooper with a Sports Saloon design. This car, originally purchased in London by the son-in-law of Shigheru Yoshida (who later became prime minister of Japan), was shipped to Japan where it remained with Yoshida until well into the post-war period. Still wearing its original number plate (3 4046), it is considered the automotive symbol of post-war Japan, and is often seen in photographs together with its former owner, who remains one of the most loved and respected politicians in the country’s history. The car is now part of the Japanese Wakui Museum collection.

The Best in Class in the Post-War closed category went to a 1951 Maserati A6G 2000 Vignale belonging to Japanese collector Shigeru Hoshino. This car, presented in immaculate condition complete with an amazing file documenting its history (dating back to the original purchase letters indicating all the requested specifications and signed by the first owner), was originally sold through the official Italian Maserati dealer and founder of the Scuderia Centro Sud, Guglielmo “Mimmo” Dei. The car, built by Carrozzeria Vignale to the specifications of Marcel Schowob, and designed by Giovanni Michelotti, was shown by Maserati at the 1951 Paris Auto Show and was often entered in races, including the 1952 Tour de France. In the late 1950s it arrived in the USA, having been purchased by American racing driver Bob Estes, and soon afterwards it featured in Road & Track magazine before being sent to Shelby Tune’s American where its engine and transmission were replaced. In 1969 the car suffered severe damage in an accident and spent years in an insurance company yard. Eventually it was rescued by Paul Merrigan, who spent the next two and a half decades collecting the right parts to restore it. By putting a couple of notices in car magazines he managed to track down, in two different places, the original engine and transmission. As a result the car was restored to perfection and it is now in the Japanese collection of Shigeru Hoshino.

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The public’s choice

Giotto Bizzarrini is the father of the Ferrari 250 GTO and he has always recalled how, after leaving the Maranello firm and going on to work as a consultant to the Iso Rivolta company, he created the “GTO evolution” in the form of the A3/C. The A3/C was the original model for a new GT car created specifically for Iso Rivolta. But whereas Mr Rivolta was looking for a road legal, comfortable, stylish and fast GT, Bizzarrini wanted to create a perfect racing tool. They came to a diplomatic compromise, and in the end two cars were exhibited at the Turin Motor Show 1963: a GT named A3/L (standing for Lusso, or luxury), and another named A3/C (standing for Corsa, or racing). When, shortly afterwards, Bizzarrini and Rivolta went their separate ways, Rivolta generously allowed Bizzarrini to use the Rivolta parts he needed to build his cars, starting with the Bizzarini A3/C that would subsequently evolve into the Bizzarrini 5300 Strada (the road version that evolved from the A3/C corsa), and to continue racing with the A3/C. During the 12 Hours of Sebring race, two separate accidents destroyed the two Bizzarrini works cars (chassis number #0214 and chassis number #0210). The #0210 suffered considerable damage to the front side and the #0214 was badly damaged on the rear. The complete loss of two cars in one day would have been a financial disaster for a small firm like Bizzarrini, and so, shortly after the race, the two damaged cars were sold to Max Balchowski’s workshop in Southern California, where the intention was to merge them into a single racing car.

Bizzarini Concorso d'Eleganza Kyoto

Balchowski started the task but, before finishing, it sold the cars on to Ferrari collector Ed Niles, who in turn sold them to Ralph Brouett, a paint and body man capable of finishing the project. This is how a “new” car was resurrected from the two wrecks, simply using the remaining front of #0214 the rear of #0210. This “new” car bears chassis number #0214 simply because the chassis plate is attached on the front part of the chassis. Ever since then it has been classed as a “reconstructed car” of the period. It is aggressive, loud and so racy that it stole the hearts of the Japanese attending the show; indeed, it received the “Public’s Choice” trophy. It is currently part of the collection of Kazuo Maruyama, who received the award in person from the hands of the Mayor of Kyoto.

Concorso d’Eleganza Kyoto: Best in Show

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The Best in Show prize went to the one-off 1942 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS Bertone, designed by Mario Revelli di Beaumont. The car, part of the Italian Lopresto Collection, was built during the war using a 1939 racing Type 256 chassis with a 2.70 m wheelbase. There are signs, discovered during the restoration, that the car, returned to Alfa Romeo after being raced with a Carrozzeria Zagato coupé body, had competed under the Scuderia Ferrari colors. These tell-tale signs are the missing cooling fan — the housing is closed with a cork —, the numbering of each single engine component, and the cutting and welding done to shorten the chassis, which was originally a standard version, to the SS version. After the rebuilding work, done to a one-off design by Revelli, the car was sold to a Como dealer, Carlo Peverelli, and then to an owner in Switzerland, where it remained until 1946 (thus surviving the war). It was then exported to the USA, but not much is known about its “American period”, which lasted until it was rediscovered in bad shape, but complete, in a warehouse in the early 2000s. It subsequently underwent a perfect restoration in Italy.

The Kyoto Concorso d’Eleganza will return, for its second edition, in 2018.

All pics courtesy of the author. 

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