Photographs: Sergio Calleja
For centuries whaling was one of the main economic activities for Basque sailors. So much so that as early as the XNUMXth century, their ships dared to explore the confines of the North Atlantic in search of the right whale. A giant of which specimens have been recorded with more than 20 meters long and up to 72 tons in weight. Formerly abundant, but so predated until recent times that its current population is estimated at only about 400 specimens.
The result of a work that was support for the population of Biarritz until the middle of the XNUMXth century. Moment in which the Parisian elites of the government of Napoleon III - the last monarch of France - discovered the recreational possibilities of the town thanks to the quality of its waters. So things -and like other places like Santander or San Sebastián- Biarritz went from selling whale meat to caring for the lean meats of the bourgeoisie. Social class that during the nineteenth century invested a lot of effort in endowing itself with the same decorum and pomp that the aristocracy wore in times prior to 1789.
In this sense, Eugenia de Montijo - Napoléon III's wife - had what is now known as the Hôtel de Palais de Biarritz built in 1854. Possibly the most representative building of the luxury summer resort in the town. Converted decades ago into an imposing hotel, which has served as a meeting point for el Biarritz Contest of Elegance held on September 17, 18 and 19. Undoubtedly a declaration of intentions of what this contest wants to be, which it hopes to soon rub shoulders with others such as Villa D'Este or Peeble Beach.
BIARRITZ INTERNATIONAL ELEGANCE CONTEST. THE SILVER AGE
Commonly known as the Silver Age is one that aims not only to continue but even to emulate a clearly successful previous one. Definition in which this Biarritz Contest of Elegance may well fit. Given that It is presented to us as the reissue of the one celebrated from 1929 to 1958. Contest in which a good part of the high society of the moment - designers and couturiers included - gathered around a panoply of impressive automobiles that, decades later, have become classics worthy of the best international competitions.
League you want to get closer to Basque Classic Cars. Organizer of the Biarritz event, in which the highest level possible has been chosen in an environment with clear reminiscences of the golden age of this spa city. A place that provides the ideal background to show off these classics. Including we have found more than seventy specimens at the highest level, including sixteen pre-1940. Category that cannot be absent in an elegance contest that claims to be a benchmark, since here are many of the most fascinating and exclusive cars in history.
A fact endorsed by models such as the Isotta Fraschini Type 8A chassis nº843 from 1925. Truly sensational. Even more so if we consider that this unit has never received a comprehensive restoration. Fact that tells us about the quality of the model, which was conceived as a "Italian Rolls-Royce" capable of adding to an even higher bill than a Duesenberg J. However, for all those who prefer the British canon Rolls-Royce was represented at the Biarritz Contest of Elegance with three units. Trio in which a specimen closely linked to the golden age of this event stands out: the Rolls-Royce Phantom II S Coupe Continental winner of the last competition of the first era.
THE GREAT PRE-WAR MODELS. CLASSIC ELEGANCE
Currently deposited in the Torre Loizaga Museum, the 1932 Phantom II S Coupe Continental, bodied by Australian Martin & King, is one of the most striking Rolls-Royce of all those preserved in Spain. Winner of the edition corresponding to 1958 -last of the first period-, this model was the link between past and future in Biarritz. A specimen that is already known to the fans thanks to its presence at Classic Auto Madrid or Rétromobile Paris. Samples where it has served to enhance the history of the Continentals, thought by Henry Royce as more suitable models for the roads of the European continent than for those of the British island.
A character that can be seen in its shorter chassis on which harder leaf springs are mounted. Specifications that make the Phantom Continental a vehicle with better response at high speeds. Just what a British driver could experience on the long French straights rather than the slowness of the twisty lanes of rural England. In addition, with the Continental Rolls-Royce he wanted to focus on a clientele with certain sporting airs. She aspired to drive her car briskly instead of riding in the back seat of a long-chassis model driven by a leisurely and expert chauffeur.
Sweeping for France also highlighted two Delage. Especially the D6 11S from 1933. A beautiful cream-toned convertible topped with a hood ornament over the Art Deco glass grille. Very representative of the golden times in Biarritz before the Second World War.
In addition, the Museo de la Torre Loizaga also carried a Hispano-Suiza K6 from 1936. One of the most interesting models in the entire Biarritz Contest of Elegance, which already corresponds to the Hispano-Suiza manufactured in the Parisian factory of Bois Columbes.
Its bodywork without a central pillar signed by the VanVooren workshop may look like a coupe. Although in reality it hides four doors with the rear ones in suicidal opening. An ingenious and elegant work, under which hides a six-cylinder engine with 140CV. Only twenty below those delivered by the Bugatti Type 57C Cabriolet from 1939 co-winner of this Biarritz Contest of Elegance. A model that, despite its aristocratic aesthetics, has the chassis of the C version devised in 1937 as a racing variant of the Type57.
THE 50's AND 60'S. THE MOST NUTRITIOUS OF THE COMPETITION
Still absorbed by the great prewar classics - unfortunately scarce in the exhibitions and events convened in the Iberian Peninsula - we turn to glossing the models of the fifties and sixties. The vast majority in this Biarritz Contest of Elegance, where the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz stands out even by name. And it is that, from the second generation of what is possibly the most iconic model of the fifties in the United States , the convertible version was named after the French city. Curious transoceanic tribute, even more so when the hardtop version received the nickname of Seville.
Beyond this Atlantic connection, the truth is that apart from an AC Cobra and a BMW 507, all the models of these decades were European. And that We affirm this to give some reason to those who consider these last two models to be as American as European creations.. Or vice versa. In the case of the AC Cobra because of the British chassis. And in the 507 because, even being a BMW, it is still a creation inspired by the New York importer Max Hoffman. Eager for a lightweight roadster to sell to Californians yearning for European flair.
A thread that continues even in the name of the 14 Talbot-Lago T1957 America Coupé with a BMW V8 engine. Last model of the French house, of which only 12 or 14 units were manufactured as an epilogue to the 40 of the Talbot-Lago Sport from which it derives. A true rarity of those that confirms the altitude of the sights for this new stage of the Biarritz Contest of Elegance. Bringing very specific models capable of exceed half a million euros in auctions organized by Bonhams.
On a more personal note, as Lancia fans it was interesting to see two very different Aurelia. The most famous and true Pininfarina B24 convertible landmark but, above all, the earlier and much less known B50. Undoubtedly a lot rougher in its lines, but really interesting for those focused on capturing rarities from the house of Vicenzo Lancia.
A good level that followed with rarities like the Abarth-Simca 130S. A small racing model where the best of the automobile traditions of Italy and France come together, of which RM Sotheby's to auction unit 0091 within the Guikas collection.
Another classic event very close to the Iberian Peninsula, on the southern French coast, which we will be very aware of in November thanks to its profusion of competition vehicles. However, before accelerating to other destinations we will continue describing the Biarritz Contest of Elegance with which for many it has been a disappointment. We are talking about the Pegaso Z-103. Successor of the mythical Z-102 and that, although it was advertised as a 1958 model, it is actually a replica made in 1991. As always happens when talking about the Pegasus, their exact history gives rise to many and heated debates.
However, in general and clarifying terms, it can be said that only one of the vehicles to be built on the only three Z-103 chassis was completed. Of course, for 1991 IVECO - Pegaso's business heir - authorized the construction of about twelve replicas. Replicas that, to add a little more mystery if possible to everything related to these cars, do not have a clear number of copies built. In any case, we do know that the model exhibited in Biarritz belongs to this saga of replicas. Something that, no matter how well the body is recreated, can be seen just by opening the hood. Very interesting anyway.
PRESENCE OF WELL SELECTED FERRARI MODELS
Obviously, any event with the pretense of being prestigious at an international level must have a certain amount of cavallinos. Something that they seem to have understood very well at the Biarritz Contest of Elegance, since not only 12 Ferrari models have been exhibited. But between them specimens so rare to see south of the Pyrenees have been seen as a Ferrari California Spyder. Co-winner of the contest together with the Bugatti Type 57C. Model that understood the mixture of power and elegance, which was accompanied by two other 250 GT Cabriolets. One from series 1 and another from 2.
In addition, a 275 GTB, an F40 - the most modern car of the contest - and even a 288 GTO from 1985 could also be seen. Good selection among which we also find two Dinos. Go ahead that, even not having a powerful V12, we do consider them Ferrari to the chagrin of some purists. A 246 and a 308GT4, the only model manufactured in series by the Italian house designed by Bertone.
A 2 + 2 just like the Lamborghini Espada, of which there was a 1971 unit. The only Lamborghini from this Biarritz Contest of Elegance, a perfect accompaniment to such interesting models as the Iso Grifo Series 2 or a DeTomaso Mangusta. One of the most interesting designs by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Which defined this sports car designed for the American market by an Argentine who emigrated to Italy before turning thirty. Another of those style exercises - impossible to forget the opening of its rear windows - very rare to see but present this time in Biarritz.
AS AN EPILOGUE: MOTORCYCLES AND A VERY ORIGINAL E-TYPE
As we are seeing, the Biarritz Contest of Elegance 2021 has been a good resurgence after the stoppage registered since 1958. Proof of this is not only the environment or the selection of models -exposed without tape around it, fully relying on the respect of the fans-, but also that it would like to make a category of motorcycles. Excellent idea that could not be finally carried out due to the few registered. But that in the coming years will surely be the most interesting. Especially if we take into account how little but good that 2021 has been seen. In that sense we highlight an Indian with a sidecar. But above all the BMW restored by Natxo Barral. A Basque specialist in BMW motorcycles that we will follow closely from now on.
Regarding other types of work on the body of classic vehicles, the intervention of the artist was very curious Anne Mondand. A specialist in the collage technique, his work consisted of covering a 1969 Jaguar E-Type Series II from the XNUMXs with a multitude of clippings related to the sixties. Something that for many is controversial due to the damage that it may cause to the original car paint. , but what without a doubt it is a striking and curious tribute to the sixty years of this English sports car. Possibly the most stylized British design to date, which could therefore not be lacking in Biarritz.
An appointment that seems to have come back to stay and to which we recommend you go in the next few years. In the end, this town on the French coast is only about forty kilometers from San Sebastián. Accessible at least for those who live in the northern part of the Peninsula, but also to all those who are willing to take a trip to meet classics impossible to see in other closer appointments.