It’s just 24 driving miles from the traffic and noise of Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport to the Château de Chantilly, but it’s a drive into another century…or maybe five centuries ago. It was the mid-1500s when the first structures were built on the property, and the edifices there today proved a fitting background for the 2014 Chantilly Concours d’Elegance.
Sylviane and Patrick Peter, who also organize the Le Mans Classic, created the concours with major backing by watchmaker Richard Mille.
While Sunday was the concours, the show really started with a rally on Saturday, some 75 miles through countryside and small villages with a stop for lunch at the Domaine du Château de Verderonne. Revs entered the 1933 Type 55 Bugatti in the concours and so the rally was a natural. Following a vintage Bentley along narrow lanes that led through forests then over broad, freshly plowed fields brought a true sense of what it must have been like to tour through France in a Bugatti 80 years ago.
In a sense, Sunday’s event was two car shows in one concours. Spread out on the broad gardens laid out by André Le Nôtre were the showpiece automobiles. Bugattis, race cars, show cars, Bentleys, Delahayes, Hispano-Suiza…you know the sort, plus several displays of Maseratis to continue that marque’s centennial.
Unlike many concours, the cars were so widely spaced that at first we thought there were many more to come. Not so, and the question of intimacy came up. There is arguably a certain intimacy among a crowd that mills around automobiles more closely arranged. Then again, with the cars so far apart it allowed a different sort of intimacy between spectators and the automobiles. Photographers loved the spacing.
Also part of this display were such modern automobiles as Porsche’s 918 and McLaren’s P1 GTR, plus concept cars like Italdesign’s Parcour and Aston Martin’s shooting brake.
On the waters of Le Grand Canal vintage watercraft were giving rides, several accompanied by the odors and sounds of steam power.
By contrast to those displays, a variety of automobile clubs had their own ranks of cars parked tightly side by side on the lawns in front of the chateau and across one of the small bodies of water that dot the property. If the concours in the gardens was calm and sophisticated, the gathering featuring such groups as the Historical Vehicle Club of Belgium, Club Maserati France and a gathering of Delahayes was a shirtsleeve picnic. There were the sorts of food trucks one might expect in Los Angeles or Miami, but based on large Citroen vans. Champagne toasts were popular.
American collections were part of the main show, three coming away with major awards. The Revs Institute was honored with a win in the Bugatti division for its 1933 Type 55. Lawrence Auriana’s magnificent V-16 Maserati Tipo V4 Zagato Gran Turismo took its class, while Peter Mullin’s 1937 “Star of India” Delahaye 135 M Cabriolet by Figoni et Falaschi was awarded Best of Show.
Inevitably, conversations fell to comparisons of Chantilly to Pebble Beach, Villa d’Este, Amelia Island and other major shows. There was mention of England’s Hampton Court concours, which was unfortunately scheduled for the same Sunday as Chantilly. Looking out over the cars spread out across Le Nôtre’s gardens and considering the view of the backdrop bay at Pebble Beach, the Italian elegance of Villa d’Este and the delightful informality of Amelia Island could lead one to consider such comparisons a waste of time. Each of those concours has its own unique action and ambiance, each one worth a visit.