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Louis Vuitton Classic Concours d'Elegance 2004

Fri, 11 Jun 2004 June 11, 2004 - While the British Motor Show seems to have degenerated into a low-brow car carnival, shunned by some manufacturers and most designers, Britain still hosts some of the best classic car events in Europe that can attract top entries and enthusiasts alike. Last week, the 14th Louis Vuitton Classic was held at Waddesdon Manor, near Oxford, UK, a fabulous Renaissance-style chateau built by the Rothschilds in 1874 and set in 2500 acres of landscaped grounds. This year the event was open to the public for the first time and appeared to challenge the celebrated Goodwood Festival of Speed for the sheer quality of exhibits, number of celebrities and a suitably glamorous setting.

Concept Cars

There's another twist to these Concours d'Elegance events too. As with the original form in pre-war years, the aim is not only to celebrate classic cars but to continue the debate on contemporary automotive style.

As a major sponsor of the Louis Vuitton Classic, Renault took the unusual step of presenting the new Fluence concept here, in advance of its showing at the Paris Salon in September, and the opportunity was well chosen. It's not the first time Renault has done this - the Initiale luxury sedan concept of 1995 was also originally shown at such an event - and the reasoning is easy to follow. It's a prestigious automotive event, focussing on style and in relaxed surroundings.

The cars are viewed outdoors, in a natural setting with sunlight playing on the surfaces, as in a viewing garden. The car can be appreciated from afar, at ground level, the better to judge the proportions, colours and textures of the design. It can be sited not on a plinth but next to other concept cars, to see the differences of form language and graphics. Of course, it can also be viewed in context with its predecessors in order to appreciate the development of design identity. And there's a willing audience of design contemporaries and enthusiasts to offer opinions over a convivial glass of wine or dinner, away from the conflict of other corporate engagements. What better way to present ones' thoughts on the future of the brand?

Seven other recent concepts were displayed in front of the main house including the Nissan Jikoo, Giugiaro Corvette Moray, and the Fuore Blackjag. Viewing them away from the harsh spotlights of a hall and under soft sunlight made one see them in new ways too. Observing the Nissan Jikoo in company with 1930s roadsters made one appreciate how well-balanced it is between sheer retro and Hi-Tech Japanese craftsmanship. The Corvette Moray and Blackjag both looked much better than at Geneva, the glitz and chrome not seeming overdone in this company. The exquisite polished aluminium Mitsubishi SE-RO from Tokyo Show glinted in the sun like a miniature fighter aircraft waiting for take-off. Nearby, the Pininfarina Enjoy was displayed sporting a new interior scheme, while the sheer size and bulk of the Citroen Airlounge was a surprise, even in its new warm silver paint colour. Finally, the Rolls Royce 100EX looked totally at home amongst a lawn full of Phantom 1 and 2's from the 1930's: if ever a recent show car was made for a Concours d'Elegance it was the 100EX.

The Concours

Around seventy classic cars and twenty-five motorcycles were on display, grouped into historical categories by the organising committee, with titles such as 'Step on it Bertie', 'Wild Horses', and 'Touring Titans' to express the panache and wit behind each era.

My own favourites were the white1958 Pinin Farina-bodied Ferrari 250 GT California entered by Andrew Pisker and the Hooper-bodied 1927 Rolls-Royce Phantom 1. This latter car was built for the Maharaja of Udaipur and was one of three spectacular limousines on display - each owned by a Maharajar in the 1930s. Features included a striped aluminium dashboard, inboard rifle mounts and Grebel searchlights for night-time tiger hunting.

By Nick Hull