Highlights from Heveningham Hall Concours d’Elegance
James Nicholls is astonished at the range of rare automotive delights to be found in an English country garden – from pre-war Bugattis to modern hypercars – at Heveningham Hall’s 2018 Aviation & Motorsport Concours d’Elegance.
Going to the Heveningham Hall Concours d’Elegance, deep in the Suffolk countryside of East Anglia, is like stepping back in time. This is no doubt what it would have been like in Georgian times when the lord of the manor and local vicar handed out the prizes at the annual Country Fair.
In the meadows in front of this Grade 1-listed Georgian mansion, there was everything that one would expect from traditional country fair: horses and ponies with little girls atop, a dog show and sheepdog trials, medieval jousting, boating, early aeroplanes, a quarter-mile hill-climb entitled Horsepower Hill and candyfloss and the toffee apples reminiscent of my childhood.
But my time was spent with the other jaw-dropped admirers marvelling at the incredible breadth and depth of the quality of cars brought together on the perfectly manicured terraced greensward at the rear of the home of Ferrari collectors, Jon and Lois Hunt. Despite this being just the third annual charity concours held at Heveningham (providing a scholarship to the Royal College of Art on the Intelligent Mobility program, which has recently superseded the Vehicle Design program first established over 50 years ago), the automobiles on display are every bit as good as anything I have ever seen elsewhere. That includes concours events such as Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace, and – indeed, the greatest of them all, in my opinion – Villa d’Este on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy.
From Brooklands to Formula One
On a glorious English summer’s day, the motor cars were spectacular. First up was the unprecedented display of McLaren Formula One racing cars. This ‘exhibition’ included a fantastic selection of McLaren’s best with cars driven by Mika Häkkinen, David Coulthard, Jenson Button, the late great Ayrton Senna (his 1993 MP4/8), and current World Champion, Lewis Hamilton.
At the other end of the spectrum was an 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen alongside an original 1903 Clément 12/16 HP. The amazing Clément was kept for over 60 years by a Spanish family before coming to England. Capable of over 70 km/h, with four passengers aboard, this was one of the most technically advanced cars of its age, featuring a four-cylinder engine, four-speed transmission and (when many of its contemporaries still had wooden chassis) a channel steel chassis.
Among the pre-war cars to catch the eye was a 1927 Bugatti Type 37 Grand Prix supplied by Sir Malcolm Campbell to its first owner, Miss Margaret Bond, who raced it at Brooklands. Despite tuition from the speed-ace Campbell, Miss Bond had a crash, damaging the Bug’s tail which is still distorted to this day.
Automotive marvels of the 1930s
Other must-sees included the 1930–31 Maserati Tipo 26S of Works driver Giuseppe Campari; the 1934 Alfa Romeo Tipo B Grand Prix Monoposto of ‘Mad Jack’ Shuttleworth; and the Enrico Bertelli-bodied 1937 Aston Martin 2.0-litre Speed Model, of which the May 1938 issue of Motor Sport magazine said, “Whatever is or is not a sports car, there is no doubt that the Speed Model Aston Martin deserves the epithet … In such a car the journey is of relatively small importance, and what matters is the manner in which the journey is accomplished.”
The cars from the late 1930s, though, were simply astonishing: a beautiful 1939 BMW 327/80 Cabriolet and the 1939 Delage D8-120 Cabriolet (I had watched the 1951 movie, An American in Paris, in which it starred alongside Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron on a plane just 48 hours earlier). But most astonishing of all – perhaps more so for not having been seen before – was the 1937 Bugatti Type 57S. This stunning Art Deco open two-seater is extremely rare and, of the 42 examples built, this is one of only three extant with coachwork by Vanvooren.
Post-war to hypercar
The post-war line-up was just as impressive: a 1949 Ferrari 166 Inter Superleggera, just the 17th car made at Maranello; the exotic 1955 Pegaso Z-102; and the 1957 BMW 507 of “Il Grande John”, John Surtees, World Champion on two and four wheels, who kept the car from new until his death in 2017. Former Pink Floyd drummer, Nick Mason, was on hand with his 1959 Maserati Tipo 61 Birdcage and his 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. Stopping off on its way to the 2018 Le Mans Classic was the amazing 1965 Bizzarrini 5300 GT Corsa. Striking as this car is, it was hard to walk past the 1970 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona finished in dazzling ‘Viola’ purple.
Every car was brilliant, every car important in its own way, from the humble Morris Mini Cooper S to the rally-bred 1985 MG Metro 6R4 to Pagani and Koenigsegg hypercars of today. Quite simply, the Heveningham Hall Concours d’Elegance was one of the most astounding collections of cars ever assembled in one place, the entire complement too full to list here, and I never even mentioned the C-Type, Stratos, Lister, Cobra, DB3S, 750 Monza, Frazer Nash, R-Type Continental, the host of Porsches, Ferraris, Bentleys, Maseratis et al. It is amazing the variety of automotive flora and fauna to be found in an English country garden.