Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2007
An Event Horizon of the Automotive Variety
As our team heads into Italy for this year’s Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este by Lake Como, it’s time to look at this report—published for the first time in English—on the 2007 event. An occasion which, with its Homeric undertones, proved life-changing for a young Dr. Orosz.
Words and pictures: Peter Orosz
Larry cries out loud. “KRRUNCH,” I yell back, my seventh cervical vertebra to be specific. The miles have added up by number 750, even though Peugeot’s 406 Coupe is one fine touring car. We should totally have come in Larry’s Lamborghini, accelerating out of a bend on the winding road between Cernobbio and Moltrasio, we’re on the Southwest shore of Lake Como and the Jag is a C-XF—or should I say the C-XF as there exists a single example of the car.
Part One: The Troublemakers
“[…] And yet Odysseus
gazed out marvelling at the ships and harbors,
public squares, and ramparts towering up
with pointed palisades along the top.”
Larry cracks me up. He has been telling story after hilarious story for twelve hours straight, most of them a fair sight from being publishable, so I’ll mention just one: if you ever plan on getting yourself into a frenzied car chase where you’ll have to outrun a squad car on potholed dirt roads, get a big Lexus. The suspension absorbs broken tarmac like geraniums soak up Miracle-Gro.
Why the hurry? We’re here to attend the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este and it’s past six PM now, the reception is at seven-thirty, the hotel 45 minutes away on the twisty Lake Como road, a Ferrari 121 LM Spider race car is parked by the road on the way there, quick shower (Larry takes 5 minutes, I take 25), forty-five minutes to drive back to Villa d’Este with my camera drawn and ready (the 121 LM is gone), it’s considerably past seven-thirty now, peculiarly disheveled aristocrats trample us into the fine stones that cover the lakeside path, we bite into lemon-sized olives, they’re rich and juicy.
The reception was mentioned on the Concorso’s website, the invitations given to Dr. Orosz and Mr. Parker lacked any mention of it but then I tell Larry assertive is the word.
If you’ll remember the scene in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar where Esther Greenwood is handed a dish of unrecognizable ingredients, how does she react? She reacts by thinking you’ve got to dig in with self-confidence to make all your tablemates assume your movements are rooted deep in your upbringing.
What you not do is waffle, thou shalt never waffle, so Larry puts on his brand new suit, mine is straight from the cleaners, the Como wind ruffles our hair, then we notice the man in black tie collecting dinner tickets from the people in line.
Dinner tickets we do not have, so we sneak into the press room which is officially locked until next morning, I am drenched in cold sweat, Larry grabs a chair, logs on to eBay and shows me the Ferrari he is about to buy once we get home, then we beat it.
We should totally have come in the Lambo.
Part Two: The Insectile Pietà
“Square in your ship’s path are Seirênês, crying
beauty to bewitch men coasting by;”
Standing on the shore of Lake Como in desaturated Saturday daylight, my eleven-year-old crosstrainers are covered in a thin layer of white dust and right in front of me is the Ferrari P4/5 by Pininfarina.
It is flanked by an entire row of concept cars. The same way a perfectly chilled honeydew melon is often accompanied by various other summer fruit. The P4/5 is what you would call a jerkoff car. You buy your car magazine, take it to the bathroom, go for a browse. Turn the pages to and fro, stick your nose in. And so on. It lacks a third dimension, built instead of magnificently lit, faultlessly polarized surfaces, photoshopped specks of dust, blue-blooded backgrounds. You know those slightly scary childrens’ books which open to pop up carefully folded wild animals? Tigers, for instance. That is exactly what the P4/5 is like in person.
However, this one’s real.
Not real in the way that other Ferrari one-off, the GG50 is real—which Fabrizio Giugiaro, designer Giorgetto’s son, has just rolled up in. That one has got wildlife spattered on its rearview mirrots. This one has not. It is a hyper-real 1:1 mock-up made of functional components with owner Jim Glickenhaus standing by the rear wheels wearing sunglasses, a red baseball cap and a gray suit, his complexion fine but occassionally liquid like a Dalí clock.
“We’ve shaved more than 500 pounds off the donor Enzo and it’s got better aerodynamics to boot,” says Jim. “Zero to sixty is faster, top speed’s up to 225 miles an hour. It all makes for the perfect daily driver, I take it to NYC all the time.” Yeah right. For annihilating xenomorphs? If you look at the wheels, they’re off the armored personnel carrier the Space Marines ride into the terraforming plant at the beginning of Aliens. Jim made his fortune producing B-movies, these days, he is mostly into serious Ferratio.
My father spent a week in Rome in 1988 attending a conference in genetics. Only when he had arrived was he informed that the conference was rather loosely scheduled and he suddenly found himself with most of a week to spend in Rome and the Vatican. He spent one of those days observing the Pietà. He arrived in the morning and left in the afternoon. He spent the hours in between looking. Because he was quite unable to do anything else.
The same way you are quite unable to not keep staring at the P4/5, even though it is not of divine beauty like the Pietà. One could even describe it at first sight as retro, and retro is more revolting than the nematode Onchocerca volvulus whose larvae hatch in the cornea and cause blindness, retro is the the loss of faith in Vorsprung and without progress, we can all go KRRUNCH and bite down on our capsules of cyanide at this very moment. But the P4/5 is retro only at first sight. Glickenhaus had wanted it retro, a replica of a Sixties Ferrari prototype racer built on an Enzo chassis, then Pininfarina’s prodigious designer Jason Castriota—who has given us the Maserati Birdcage concept, the Maserati GranTurismo and Ferrari’s brilliant 599 GTB—tugged him gently into the future.
The P4/5 is futuristic while acknowledging that the high point of automobile design was indeed the Sixties. It fixes you with its evil LED eyes, white ceramic exhaust pipes protrude from beneath its layered polycarbonate wing cover like twin ovipostors. It’s not futuristic like the Honda NSX, expressing no desire to become a fighter jet, it is very firmly an automobile, but it whispers in its merciless insectile voice that the future will always be three steps ahead, a mirage of a future to us nobodies in off-the-rack suits, we will not get to experience this future in twenty years, drowning instead in Zeno’s sexond paradox.
A siren of a car. Unyielding, unfriendly, yet still, ninety minutes later, I am still gazing at it, even though there are a hundred cars surrounding me, every single one a work of finest art. How does it feel to sit beneath a tinted dome, in a lightweight version of one of the best cars ever made, in a carbon fiber seat modelled on your buttocks, then floor it? Jim knows. I do not.
Part Three: Mono No Aware
“but those who ate this honeyed plant, the Lotos,
never cared to report, nor to return:
they longed to stay forever, browsing on
that native bloom, forgetful of their homeland.”
This may sound strange but I’m at work. It certainly is bizarre work, not unlike carrying sacks of plutonium while listening to Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E-minor, trying to solve why Vincent Van Gogh had chosen to use brown paint to depict the waves on his The Sea at Saintes-Maries. It beats you down. I am passing in front of Alfa Romeo racers from the Thirties, my palms are sweaty, my appearance increasingly unkempt, my sneakers white as chalk from the fine dust (as I write this, ten days later, they are still white as chalk), my camera a block of cement and to my left is Ralph Lauren’s singular, magical 1930 Count Trossi Mercedes-Benz SSK, but a mind turned into vanilla mousse does not have the means to process such input.
Sergio Scaglietti meanders by.
He happens to be a short Italian gentleman. Immaculate in appearance, but that’s Italian DNA, his hands sinewy, his eyes like the lake.
All around us park Ferraris which Scaglietti had designed fifty year ago. Cherry blossoms captured as they reached the ground, a half century old yet gleaming, all proper use carefully polished away.
Take the red 121 LM Spider we had passed on our way to the hotel. Eugenio Castellotti led with it the race at Le Mans in 1955 before the world erupted into flaming magnesium.
The red 860 Monza. Juan Manuel Fangio drove it to victory in Sebring in 1956.
Or Ferrari nerd Peter S. Kalikow’s midnight blue 1961 250 GT California Spider, the most gorgeous softtop for 45 years and going.
Under the paintjobs, covering aluminum curves, are Sergio Scaglietti’s fingerprints. They’re from an age when the right materials, the right technology and the right people combined to create perfection, time after time after time. Florence under the Medicis was similar. Athens under Pericles.
What are we doing here?
Not we as in wind-blown car nerds with sparkles in our eyes and cargo pockets on our pants, press badges dangling. We as in everyone. We who were not there back then. We who spend our time reading and gawking and consuming. We who never hammered sheets of aluminum into peerless curves, who never polished a velocity trumpet to a fierce shine, who never laughed and drank with racing drivers who waltzed with death every single day.
Does a 250 GT require onlookers? Does it need people to write about it? To spend millions of dollars on it and learn how to correctly pronounce its Blu Inverno paintjob?
Scaglietti sits in a wicker chair. His blue coat follows his neckline as if he were standing straight. You only get that with bespoke. Leaning close to his cars is like looking into Van Gogh’s sea. Every stroke is at its right place. But it is impossible to imagine the whole.
Part Four: Hello And Goodbye
“fools, on stores of wine. Sheep after sheep
they butchered by the surf, and shambling cattle,
“I’ve just spoken with Ian Callum, very straightforward guy, asked him about the next Jaguar, he wouldn’t tell me a thing, of course,” Larry says after tiramisù and espresso, I’m balancing a plate of shrimp and mozzarella di buffala. The Concorso is about to end. A Bugatti 57 C happened to win the Copo d’ Oro, I had meant to vote for Kalikow’s California Spider but missed the deadline in the noon heat.
For Sunday, the Concorso has moved to nearby Villa Erba. Anyone can drop by for ten euros. Car collectors certainly are a daredevil bunch. Little kids cartwheel between sparkling creases which precede them by decades and I’m speaking with Paul Roesler, a partner in a San Francisco hedge fund. He has brought a Lamborghini 400 GT 2+2, its innate uglyness unchanged by the brilliant restoration job.
Paul produces a certificate signed by Ferruccio Lamborghini himself, then Kateryna, an inconceivably stylish Ukrainian lifestyle reporter watches as her cameraman trips on his tripod to send it careening towards Kalikow’s midnight blue California Spider, catastrophe averted by a mere inch. Kalikow’s face betrays every sign of a massive heart attack as he reels around, then he regains his composure. Things are a-happenin’. It’s time to leave.
We cram water bottles under our seats, turn the GPS on and go WROOM, the car is no Lambo but is definitely Italian: a Pininfarina design. Goodbye, goodbye.
Layers upon layers of people obscure the P4/5.
Part Five: To Avoid Necrophilia
“I pledged these rites, then slashed the lamb and ewe,
letting their black blood stream into the wellpit.
Now the souls gathered, stirring out of Erebos”
We get in the flow as we approach the Brenner Pass in the Italian Alps. Doing about 110 miles an hour, the road takes lazy curves into the mountains, the coupe gripping vehemently at every turn. We are grand touring, zigzagging past stationary vehicles; Larry turns the wheel with tiny movements then the altimeter on the GPS tops out at 4200 feet as we watch the sun set over the Dolomites.
Then followed ten days of idling on the internet, Nashi pears, bad dreams and staring into space. I am not enlightened. All I know is that there was an extended moment in the last century which serves as a guidepost in the history of human civilization. A guidepost to a better life.
That moment is gone. The P4/5 is but a toy, Peter Kalikow a supervisor in a museum. The automobile is no longer the magic it was, no longer the oxygen-rich blood of a Europe reborn, but a global case of atherosclerosis. The world has moved on.
It’s time for us to move on with it.
Let us build robots, scramjets, spaceships, neural interfaces, pulse rifles, whatever it is that comes close to what the automobile was fifty years back. There are other worlds than this.
Sergio Scaglietti did not dream of horse-driven carriages.
∞ Published on Friday, April 24th, 2009