The best cars of Villa d'Este are not at Villa d’Este

Murray Scullion opinion
Murray Scullion opinion

The first thing that hits you when you enter Villa d’Este is the smell of cigars.

It’s a deep, rich, claggy stink that only some enjoy. But if you’re attending the Concorso d’Eleganza, you’re more than likely to be one of them.

In case you didn’t know, it’s a concours event that takes place on the western shore of Lake Como, Italy. Been going since 1929. Dead posh.

And you know what? It is good. There was some really cool stuff there this year.

The ‘Superstar cars of the video generation’ housed a McLaren F1 that went on to win the Coppa d’Oro Villa d’Este – the public referendum vote –  while other fabulously elegant big hitters included a Zagato-bodied Maserati A6G/54 and an Aston Martin DB5 shooting brake.


But one thing that’s maybe not too apparent is that there’s not actually not a great deal to see. As a first-time goer, I was even a little bit taken aback by how little metal there was.



The video above – sped up, obvs – highlights this. But these are just the cars in the main site.

Down the road – a short boat ride for most – Villa d’Este spreads out, takes off its silk Hermes tie and wraps it firmly around its head.

The neighbouring Villa Erba is still extremely posh and the building itself a touch prettier than the Villa d’Este estate. But there are people here eating with improper cutlery. There are people wearing jeans. There are people vaping.

It’s all still officially part of the Villa d’Este thing, but it’s much more like a car show. There is a Gandini display - including a Citroën GS Camargue concept, a tonne of cool older stuff from the 1980s and 1990s and BMW’s X5 Le Mans concept that uses the same V12 as the McLaren F1.

I bump into a mate while walking around and he tells me there is more. But it's not here. It's down the road.

We hightail it out of there, but before making a date with his Lancia Ypsilon hire car, there are a couple more sights to see.

There are a few public car parks kicking around and the stuff not on show is somehow also extremely alluring.

You may have seen a hashtag floating around on social media lately: #alwayscheckthecarpark. It’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason.

There is cool stuff you rarely see elsewhere. An Alfa 75 Turbo? Sure. A tiddly Fiat 850 Sport Racer, complete with white racing stripe, parked behind a Bentley Continental R with a beige roof? Good stuff. A one-of-a-fricken-kind Maserati Shamal Spider prototype? Why the hell not?!

Out of the underground and into the light. The sun is baking now as we hit 3pm. A slew of classics, such as a Zagato-bodied Lancia Fulvia, pass me on the street.

Our final stop of the magical mystery tour is set in a truly magical place. It’s called the FuoriConcorso. This isn’t as old or as prestigious as Villa d’Este but it is slightly cooler. A bit if you know you know. Some might even call it underground.

I wouldn’t because the venue is actually set on a series of bloody steep hills and it is still boiling hot.

The first display is a set of British Formula 1 cars from across the eras and, as I ascend, around every corner I discover something extremely cool. From a Morgan +8 GT1 race car to an Autobianchi Giardiniera.

Manufacturers have cottoned on to it. Koenigsegg (along with its founder) is here and Alpine is showing off its collab with Zagato.

To top it off, I spot an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Speciale parked in the street on my walk back to the hotel. £100k of Bertone goodness hurriedly abandoned next to a Renault Scenic.

Villa d’Este, on the surface, might refer to one regal building and the Concorso d’Eleganza that goes with it. But don’t get weighed down with the nomenclature. This is an automotive extravaganza that sprawls far beyond the remit and the grounds of a 16th century villa.