Missive from Le ZouteBy: Mark Moskowitz MD
I am not sure whether the VIP shuttle is a luxury or a necessity but I am enjoying the back seat of a new Porsche Panamera, one of nine different luxury loaners I'll sample over the weekend. The crowds are massive and the system of streets, bicycle paths, pedestrian walkways and newly erected barriers and fencing might be too complex for the uninitiated to navigate. The Porsche Panamera parts the crowd, the policemen nod, barriers lift, and I am deposited on the Dyke in Le Zoute.
I am on time but the party is well underway. The first few of the 225 arrivals from this day's leg of the vintage tour are parked or making a dramatic entrance. I see a multiple of BMW 327s and 328s, an Arnolt Bristol Bolide, a variety of ACs, Alfas, a Healey Silverstone, a Cisitalia, 300 SL's and most of Porsche's early production! They front a score of art shops and more than double that number of open-air restaurants.
On the beach side ten newly erected, but temporary pavilions house McLaren, Bentley, Porsche, and most recallable luxury brands. Many have a reveal like the Mercedes AMG Project One or Jaguar's latest formula E entry. Most imposing along the Dyke is party central, the Albertplein Marquee, a 100 x 230 foot two story building with open air terraces and a luxurious indoor space. Above, the Zoute show's own brand of gin is being poured. Champagne flows. More than 5000 'R' de Ruinart champagne corks will be popped over the course of the weekend. Downstairs others celebrate another spectator sport; partygoers are shoulder to shoulder watching the Zoute's Bonhams Sale.
The structures go up over three weeks and come down over one.
They are a small part of the Zoute Grand Prix. Its home, Knokke-Heist, is Monaco on the North Sea. It's where Belgians want to spend their weekends. Filipe Bourgoo is a car guy. The family's Bentley and Audi dealerships had long been a fixture on the Knokke-Heist scene. Nine years ago he and brother David 'wanted to build something special'. He feels enthusiastic governance and boyhood connections helped get things done. The event has grown to massive proportions. Published estimates exceed 200,000 attendees. 1050 attended a Saturday night party. Participants enjoy vintage and modern car rallies, both with speed trials, and of course, the Zoute Concours d' Elegance.
I felt fortunate to join North Americans Nigel Matthews, Ken Gross and Harley Cluxton on the judging team. We were surrounded by vintage motoring royalty including the chief judges from numerous European concours, design specialists from major motoring concerns and elite design houses, the capable heads of any number of European automotive events and organizations, restorers, journalists and racers.
Frances Melcion - Retromobile director, Jan Dyck - head of Belgium's version of the AAA and I first judge a half dozen Formula One treasures that had been piloted by the likes of Senna, Mansell, Berger and Nannini. The class winner was the yellow and white 1984 Renault RE 50 once piloted by Ricardo Patrese. Many modern formula cars are disabled prior to sale. This one still competes at vintage events.
Judging a line of 356s from Porsche, a marque honored by Zoute for its seventieth year, was no easy task. All were spectacular. It was hard to pass on a D'Ieteren Porsche, one of the few manufactured in Belgium, but the deserving class winner was a blue 1955 Speedster, a former SCCA racer and now the property of Belgian cigar queen, Dominique Gyselinck. The class also contributed the event's Most Iconic Car, a 1950 Pre-A, one of the first one hundred built.
Zoute recognized the BMW M1's fortieth anniversary and there were eleven examples present to celebrate. Wildly decorated M1s from the Procar series made up a separate class. The winner adorned with a track diagram and labeled in Deutsche 'Yes to the Nurburgring' had formerly been driven by Hans Stuck and 3-time Formula One World Champion, Nelson Piquet.
Clive Beecham's class winning longnose D Jaguar was positioned on the field between competition C and D Jaguars. XKD 603 had been painted during period and sported what was claimed to be its original green leather seat and wood rimmed steering wheel. Previously piloted by such luminaries as Mike Hawthorn, Innes Ireland and Masten Gregory, it had competed in four 24 Hours of LeMans events finishing second in 1957. In 2016, Sir Jackie Stewart used the mount to raise 75,000 pounds for charity by chauffeuring three winners, who had bid for the experience, around Silverstone.
A Solar Red Toyota 2000 GT from the Louwman collection was runnerup in the Post-War Closed class and the winner of an award as Best Preserved Car. An 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen graced the field and was voted 'Coup de Couer' by the jury. A 1963 AC Cobra powered by a 260 V-8 was second best in a large Post-War Open class that included a 1952 Aston Martin DB2 Drophead, multiple Mercedes and a 1948 Skoda 1101 Tudor. The winner was a 1960 Maserati 3500 Vignale Spyder.
After class judging, I wandered the field with Louis de Fabribeckers, Head of Design for Touring Superleggara, a fabled coachbuilder that closed its doors after 40 years in 1966 and reopened 40 years later. It had played major roles in the development and style of such cars as the Lancia Flaminia Coupe, the Alfa Romeo 1900 Sprint and the Ferrari 166 and 212 Coupes. On the field was the recent Touring creation, the Sciadipersia Maserati, an homage to the earlier house built Maserati 5000 GT which was delivered to the Shah of Iran. Louis shared 'we use concours d' elegance to promote our production…(displaying at) Quail, Villa d'Este, Chantilly …and le Zoute'.
He explained the evolution of Lamborghini design and the importance of the Touring styled 1966 4000 GT Flying Star II, an angular Shooting Brake which won its class and recognition for Special Travel, having been driven not trailered from Paris. Before this car, 'sharp lines did not exist at Lamborghini; this car was a real laboratory for design..it was unexpectedly super edgy….obviously this car inspired the Countach'.
Our final stop was an Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS, another Touring creation and the car voted Best of Show. The owner shared that he had driven it on the 90 minute trip from Ghent the day before. 'I suddenly realized no one was passing me. This was because I was going bloody fast, 120-125 kph and I still had 3000 rpm to go.' Ecstatic with the car's honor he shared 'An Alfa is no less than a Ferrari'.
I close with organizer Bourgoo's observation about the weekend' Twenty seven international top Judges dancing until 3 o'clock at night. Where on earth is this possible? Only in Knokke Le Zoute.'