It’s hard to imagine a car show like the Best of France and Italy happening anywhere other than L.A. Where else in the world could one find multi-million-dollar Ferraris parked mere feet away from barely mobile Fiats and Peugeots, Lancias modified for clandestine canyon carving, and Citroen DSs converted into surf crates? Perhaps no other region can compare to Southern California’s wide and diverse enthusiast base and gentle, rust-inhibiting climate to provide a fertile ground for the preservation and appreciation of these notoriously temperamental machines.
With a love of southern European cars in our DNA and a need to shift some product, we tossed our easy-up tent into the Carriage House Express and headed to Woodley Park in Van Nuys for the annual show last Sunday. Our fears of a muddy field due to recent rains were unfounded; the grounds were as glorious as the blue November skies above. Thankfully, the attendees of this free-admission event were ready to buy a few scale model cars, and as a consequence we were unable to do the sort of comprehensive examination of the full-size cars on display that we would have liked. Nonetheless, there were a few clear standouts.
Maybe the most welcome aspect of Best of France and Italy is its non-exclusive, egalitarian nature. It’s an unjudged show, so cars ranging from beat-up projects to trailer queens are welcome. Still, even in this friendly environment, the appearance of Bruce Meyer’s priceless 1961 Ferrari 250GT Short Wheelbase “SEFAC Hot Rod” might seem a bit like bringing a gun to a knife fight. Acres of bandwidth have been devoted elsewhere to this car’s impeccable racing history and pristine current condition, so for our part we’ll only add that to see this car in person is to have your jaw forcibly dropped. Its combination of perfectly purposeful good looks and a provenance that includes a class win at Le Mans in 1961 are overwhelming to behold. (Our friends at CMC Models certainly agree…they’ve made a wonderful model of this exact car in 1:18-scale.) No one seemed to mind the car’s overdog status on the lawn though; Bruce Meyer is as passionate a collector and ambassador for the hobby as there is, and it was a real treat to see his precious jewel under such casual circumstances.
Tucked amongst more pedestrian road-going cars was a spiritual descendent of the 250SWB, Brandon Adrian’s incredible 1967 Alfa Romeo 1600 GTA Corsa. Built by Alfa’s semi-independent competition division, Autodelta, the GTA Corsa was a hugely successful player in European touring car racing at the end of the 1960s. Adrian’s beautifully presented example won its class at the 1967 24 Hours of Spa, and would later claim a class win at the 1971 Targa Florio. Appearing largely as it was last raced in-period, the car still wears FIA and (very rare) ADAC plaques, as well as its original FIA-approved roll cage.
As excited by these two race cars as we were, though, a vehicle designed for luxurious touring emerged as our favorite of the show: the 1958 Lancia Aurelia B24S Convertible of John Dimock. Looking as if it had just rolled in from a jaunt through the French Riviera, the Aurelia was finished in deep blue over a red interior, one of our favorite combinations for open cars of this era. Though it had been in his family for over forty years, Dimock took possession of the car only three days prior to the show after a nonagenarian uncle decided it was time to hand over the keys! “It feels like a solid block of metal,” Dimock noted of the Aurelia’s non-spindly, rattle-free driving experience, though he did add that like so many other vintage Italian cars it does have occasional fuel delivery problems. But when you’re living La Dolce Vita, what’s the odd ride on a flatbed every now and then?
As mentioned above, the Carriage House crew was busy all day long with show-goers looking to take a small piece of the Best of France and Italy experience home with them. All too often these days, we hear that the car hobby is not catching on with young people who are more engaged with electronic devices and other pursuits. Thankfully, this did not appear to be true at this year’s show, where a steady stream of wide-eyed kids came to our booth to check out the scale model replicas of the dream cars parked nearby. It’s our privilege to share our passion for classic cars with the collectors of the future, and we can think of no better venue than the family-friendly Best of France and Italy in which to do it. We will return next year!
For more photos from the show, visit http://www.facebook.com/carriagehousemodels.
Parking On Grass is the Desktop Concours’ irregular series on California’s vibrant car show scene. Occasionally, cars will not actually be be parked on grass.