With the first Arts & Elegance that took place in 2014 at Chateau Chantilly near Paris the glorious tradition of the Concours d’Elegance has been eventually revived also in France. In fact, one is surprised that it took so long until the otherwise vivid French classic car community managed to stage such an event. Having read about the successful launch, I decided to pay the 2015 event a visit while on my way to England where the annual Goodwood Revival Meeting was to be held on the subsequent weekend.
As for the location, I must admit that the masterminds behind the event could not have made a better choice. With its splendid baroque architecture and the huge garden the castle of Chantilly north of Paris provides a magnificent setting for a presentation of the most beautiful classic cars.
The cars participating in the concours are presented lavishly on the lawn enabling the visitor to enjoy their beauty from all directions without being distracted. Most cars were a feast for the eye, however, there were only few truly outstanding ones which had not yet been shown elsewhere. In the Italian department, several cars from small manufacturers like OSCA und SIATA provided a nice supplement of the usual Ferraris and Maseratis. Interestingly, there was just small number of Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, which might be explained by the fact that France was the home of lots of luxury car brands before the war. Consequently, impressive cars of manufacturers like Bugatti, Delahaye, and Voisin dominated the scene.
A true gem – at least from the perspective of an ‘oily rag‘ enthusiast – was an unmolested Voisin C14 from 1930 which just oozed history, whereas its restored counterpart did not. Pure delight for patina lovers were also two prewar race cars from Bugatti and Alfa Romeo. Unfortunately, the many small and medium-sized marques that existed in France before WW2 were hardly represented, with a Ballot and a magnificent unrestored Turcat-Mery being the exceptions. Instead, there was a huge exhibition of special-bodied versions of Citroen’s legendary DS. It was a pity, however, to realize that none of them came close to the unique original design which may be regarded as the masterpiece of the exceptionally talented Flaminio Bertoni.
Those parts of the garden that were not reserved for the concours cars provided lots of space and a splendid surrounding for classic car clubs and individual owners who presented hundreds of vehicles there in a very relaxed atmosphere. Hardly surprising, the bulk of cars came from premium marques like Jaguar, Rolls-Royce, Mercedes, and Porsche. The US car scene was also strongly represented, however failed to provide any surprises. Much more interesting was the huge selection of French luxury cars from brands like Bugatti, Delahaye, Delage, and Hotchkiss.
What really surprised me was the almost complete absence of prewar cars from less exotic yet high quality French marques like Citroen, Peugeot, or Rosengart. In a place like this, one would have expected at least one of the fabulous Peugeot Eclipse convertibles. Likewise, I was astonished to find just one vehicle from the once huge popular cycle-car scene, an Amilcar. My impression is that the Arts & Elegance attracts mainly prestige cars and visitors with a preference for mainstream luxury brands. Anyone with a taste for the exceptional or even awkward will find it difficult at Chantilly to strike it rich.
On a positive note, most of the visitors provide a pleasant view chiming in beautifully with the graceful location and the concours vehicles. This can hardly be taken for granted these days, and is very much appreciated by anyone intending to take tasteful photographs. The ladies often delighted with Parisian chic and hardly any gentleman appeared who did not at least wear a classic shirt and an informal jacket, also lots of hats could be observed. True retro fashion remained the exception, however.
One could not help but notice that the event clearly targets at the needs and expectations of the Concours participants who are given a special treat in every respect. For the ordinary visitors on Sunday, however, hardly anything worth mentioning was provided, apart from the magnificent setting and the cars, of course. Some musical accompaniment would have been nice, and the gastronomic offering could have been more comprehensive.
All in all, the Arts & Elegance is worth a visit, if one is in the vicinity of Paris anyway during the weekend where the concours at Chantilly takes place. The location is superb, and lots of beautiful cars can be admired extensively. Nevertheless, it is hardly worth the effort to go to Chantilly specifically, as many of the cars shown there may also be watched elsewhere. Particularly, if one is into prewar cars or even vehicles from the dawn of motoring, there are better choices on the continent. In my opinion, the annual ”Classic Gala” in the castle gardens of Schwetzingen in Germany provides the most comprehensive selection of concours cars from all periods and is a true treasure trove for the fans of the unusual.
Source: Michael Schlenger