Forza, Nov. 2006

What started as a pleasant visit to the 2006 Villa d'Este Concorso d'Eleganza ended with my most difficult "Best of Show" vote ever. This was the third time I've judged at the show, and on both previous occations, we had Best of Show decided after an evening's deliberations. It was entirely different this year, as the day ended with the six judges completely divided between three cars. The matter under debate? Each judge's personal definition of elegance. But before we jump too deeply into the behind-the-scenes story, let's look at the show itself, and the fascinating cross-section of Ferrari history on display.

The concours is held every April at the world-famous Villa d'Este resort, located on the shores of gorgeous Lake Como in northern Italy. It's the world's longest-running and most exclusive concours, with space limited to approximately 50 cars. Each one is hand-picked and invited by the organizing committee.

The judges all hail from a different country. The concept here is that each brings a distinct viewpoint and automotive cultural heritage to the table. This is important, because Villa d'Este emphasizes a car's elegance, in addition to its significance and the quality of restoration.

Making the panel even stronger was that two judges are highly regarded designers. Chief judge Lorenzo Ramaciotti was head of design at Pininfarina for 17 years, while Patrick Le Quement, Renault's head of design, has been an innovator in the automotive field for more than a decade.

More important, of course, were the cars. The oldest Ferrari on display was Michael Stollfuss' 1952 212 Inter (s/n 0221EL). Built by Carrozzeria Vignale, this coupe is representative of Giovanni Michelotti's work, with pleasing proporitions, a light roofline and a number of intricate details such as the chrome strip down the side and the haunch over the rear wheel.

More dramatic was Henk Koel's 1953 166 MM/53 (s/n 0346M), a two-tone competition machine with one-off berlinetta coachwork. Its simple lines are classic Pennin Farina, all done to penetrate the air as efficiently as possible.

Peter Kalikow is well-known in concours and collectible Ferrari circles, and he displayed a superb 1959 Series III 410 Superamerica (s/n 1449SA). Its Penin Farina coachwork is regal and restrained, and perfectly set off by the black and silver exterior and red interior.

Brandon Wang's '63 Daytona-winning Series I 250 GTO (s/n 4219GT) is a crowd-leaser wherever it goes, and this Ferrari aficionado and collector drives it almost everywhere. Wang was a first-time exhibitor at Villa d'Este, and his car won the Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni Cup. (Normally given to the best car with Touring bodywork, this ykear, since there was only one such car, the award went to the best car with a Touring-like philosophy.

My favorite Ferrari was probably Peter McCoy's 1963 400 Superamerica Coupe Aerodinamico (s/n 4251SA). It looked stunning with its superb light green metallic paint and green leather interior. An unusual piece of Ferrari history was Aldo Cigognini's 1965 ASA 1000 GT. The "Ferrarina," or baby Ferrari, features a 1,000cc four-cylinder engine designed by Ferrari in 1959. Bertone then made a handsome Berlinetta body, and the definitive ASA 1000 GT appeared in 1961. The project was financed by the wealthy De Nora family of Milan, who were loyal Ferrari clients.

Three modern one-off Ferraris were also on exhibit, likely making Villa d'Este the largest gathering of modern custom-coachwork Ferraris outside of the royal family of Brunei's collection. Ital Design's GG50 debuted at the Tokyo Auto Show last year, and is design impressario Giorgetto Guigiaro's interpretation of a modern Ferrari on a 612 Scaglietti chassis. The exterior is not my favorite, but the interior is superb.

A complete surprise to everyone was Pter Kalikow's one-off 612. He commissioned Pininfarina to massage the car's exterior, and the result is an intriguing machine that has more character and tautness than the original. The nose's more aggressive appearance and the stronger line on top of the fender give the car a more sportive personality. Walking around and observing it from other angles made it clear every body panel (except the trunk) was new.

The star of the new Ferrari brigade was Zagato's 575 GTZ ["Viva Zagato!" FORZA #72]. Done for a Japanese client, this car made its world debut at Villa d'Este. As we walked around it, Ramaciotti commented that the car was Zagato's best work in years; I completely agree.

The weather for Saturday's private show at Villa d'Este (open only to participants, friends, judges, etc.) and Sunday's exhibit for the public at nearby Villa Erba was wonderful -- 70 degrees with just a few clouds dotting the sky. But all was not beautiful, for, as mentioned at the beginning, the judges couldn't agree.

Best of Show is chosen from the eight class winners, and after Saturday's deliberations, we were completely divided between Kalikow's 410 SA and two others. Driving all of us was a personal opinion on the definition of elegance, and the deliberations were spirited and insightful. More than once Ramaciotti or Le Quement whipped out a pad and pen, and furiously sketched away on a car's design or integral element, wanting to make a point about why something was beautiful or not quite there.

Adding intrigue to the proceedings was the fact that the two designers were on opposite sides of the fence, with Le Quement preferring the Ferrari, Ramaciotti another car. After a lively hour, we remained deadlocked betwen three cars, and decided to take a fresh look at the contenders the next day at Villa Erba. We reconvened over lunch on Sunday, and were able to narrow the deliberations from three cars to two. But after another hour, we were split three-three, each judge's definition of elegance again ruling their choice.

We hit the field one final time that afternoon. Lord March of the Goodwood Festival of Speed and I went out to do a final look at the two contenders and decided we were both comfortable with our Ferrari decision. For the first 10 to 15 minutes of our final deliberation, we remained deadlocked. Then one judge concurred with the Ferrari group, that the restraint of the Superamerica's design was a key element of its elegance. He talked of the 410's great color combination and how the longer you looked at it, the more you saw.

And with that observation, Best of Show went to the Superamerica. Here's to hoping next year's "Best" is just as difficult, for the field was sensational, and our passionate deliberations were among the most enjoyable automotive conversations I've had in years.