You know you’re somewhere special when a Ferrari 250 GTO is just another car. One of 60, in fact, parked on the lawn inside the quadrangle in Windsor Castle’s keep.
Yes, while the Italians think they have things elegantly buttoned up at Villa d’Este and the Americans bang on about Pebble Beach, a concours d’elegance in the Queen of England’s favourite castle is hard to top when it comes to bragging rights.
It’s a funny old game, the high-end classic car world, and TG.com’s head went fuzzy as a) we tried to calculate the total value of the 60 specially invited attendees at this inaugural Windsor Castle concours and b) wondered how we managed to get in at all seeing as we had comprehensively failed to wear a pair of red trousers, blazer or cravat.
Mind you, having a Ferrari 458 Spider at your disposal is not a bad way of making it through the gates of one of the world’s most famous buildings. We gathered first in the grounds of another Royal abode, Kensington Palace, early on Sunday morning, only slightly upstaged by the likes of a McLaren F1, Lamborghini Countach LP 400 and Miura, none-more-wedgy ’70s Aston Lagonda, BMW M1, Jaguar XJ220, a bizarre Bug-‘art’-i Veyron, and the 1981 Earl’s Court London motor show Audi Quattro, amongst many others. Not so much a car park, then, as my bedroom wall come to life (Kim Basinger couldn’t make it, sadly).
Windsor’s not far out of London, and the drive down in the 458 Spider, on a baking September Sunday morning, was, it won’t surprise you to hear, effing fantastic. Steering wheel lozenge switched to ‘race’ mode, the 458’s engine is surely one of the mechanical masterpieces of all time, even against all those other wonderful V6s, V8s and V12s Ferrari and its rivals have blessed the world with over the years. The 458 is a car you drive with flicks of the wrist, and it’ll shout something uncouth and unrepeatable in Italian at you if you try to man-handle it. But once you’re dialled into it… God, this thing is extraordinary. One of Ferrari’s greatest cars, no doubt about it.
Far from being a fully paid-up monarchist, it was nonetheless spectacular to drive along the Long Walk with Windsor castle in the distance, feeling pretty good about life. Then we wandered into the quadrangle and accessed a new level of automotive wonderment. Even some of the old hands were heard to whisper that this might be the greatest car show on Earth, as befits Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee.
Five former Pebble Beach best-in-shows were present, including the remarkable Avions Voisin C-25 Berline Aerodyne and Microsoft man Jon Shirley’s Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B Touring Berlinetta (which subsequently won best in show here). As well as the GTO, there were some gorgeous - and important - Ferraris, including a 1950 166 MM Barchetta, first owned by Fiat kingpin and playboy legend Gianni Agnelli, a jaw-slackeningly beautiful 250 GT Zagato (one of only three ever made), and a 1957 Testa Rossa (with Le Mans provenance), and examples of such key cars as the Mercedes 500K, 300SL Gullwing, BMW 507, and various Bentleys, Jaguars and Aston Martins, all represented in their ultimate, semi-mythical forms. There were significant Royal cars, too, including HRH The Prince of Wales’ famous Aston DB6 Volante. Quite simply, you didn’t know where to look next.
That said, the 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom 1 Jonckheere Coupe made a repeated grab for the eyeballs. Rebodied in spectacular art deco style in 1935 by Belgian coachbuilder Jonckheere - check out its doors - the car ended up neglected in the corner of a New Jersey scrapyard, before being rescued and restored by a Florida collector called Max Obie, who painted it gold and charged people a dollar to look at it. Now owned and kept in LA’s famous Petersen museum, I walked round it 10 times before I’d got the hang of it.
This weekend’s Goodwood Revival will have to go some to top this.