At the 2021 Hampton Court Concours of Elegance, The Best of Show award went to the Avions-Voison C27 Aerosport, an Art Deco masterpiece first displayed at the Geneva and Madrid motor shows in 1935. Yet amongst the crowds wandering the gravel driveway and manicured lawns of Hampton Court, the talk was all about one car: the Aston Martin Bulldog.
The one-of-a-kind Bulldog made its debut at the Hampton Court concours after an 18-month, 6000-hour restoration by Classic Motor Cars (CMC) in Bridgnorth, Shropshire – a restoration that quite literally saved the Bulldog from extinction.
Flanked by two Royal Navy apprentices, the covers were pulled off to rapturous applause for a project that ended up being one of the most challenging in the classic car scene.
Sold by Aston Martin, in 1981, to raise funds for the ailing company, at one point in its past the Bulldog had been lifted with a forklift truck, leaving significant damage. As for the highly tuned, twin-turbo V8 engine, it hadn’t fired a piston and turned a crank since 1985.
That alone would be enough to have any owner and specialist bracing themselves for a challenging project. But in the case of the Bulldog, which was originally devised to establish Aston Martin as maker of the world’s fastest car, it would have to be fit for an attempt at cracking 200mph.
“When we received the car, it didn’t look too bad,” said CMC’s Nigel Woodward, who oversaw the project. “Closer inspection revealed there was a great deal to do – we decided to do a full nut-and-bolt restoration.”
Phillip Sarofim, the car’s owner, had briefed CMC to return the car to its former glory and make sure it was up to driving at speeds approaching three times the national speed limit.
Aston Martin factory driver Darren Turner will attempt to reach 200mph, four decades after the one-off supercar’s first attempt. The company tried but failed in 1980, recording an impressive 191mph, during testing at the MIRA proving ground, in Warwickshire – a speed that was still faster than the fastest production car of the time, the 188mph Ferrari 512 Berlinetta Boxer.
The Bulldog was always muscular – the twin-turbocharged 5.3-litre V8 was claimed to put out 600bhp, with 700bhp achievable on the test bed, and the William Towns-penned body cleaved the air with a drag co-efficient of just 0.34.
Sadly, with Aston Martin finances in significant peril, production plans were halted in 1981 by the then-new chairman, Victor Gauntlett. The car would spend the next 40 years in collections in the US and the Far East, only making the occasional static appearance. After taking custody of the car in 2020, Sarofim asked Gauntlett’s son Richard to oversee the restoration project.
Transforming the car into a machine capable of cracking the double ton required more than refurbishing old parts. “We have tried to be as faithful as possible to the original design and concept by not only returning the car to its paint and trim scheme, but also engineering the car in such a way that major mechanical components are now located as the designers originally intended,” Nigel Woodward told Hagerty. “This, and future proofing the car so that it remains drivable has been achieved by incorporating state-of-the-art engine management systems and modern components such as liquid-cooled turbochargers.”
Sarofim is delighted with the results. “Richard and the team at CMC have done a great job, the car looks truly amazing,” he said. “Now we must work on the tests to make sure that it reaches 200mph – I have every confidence we will achieve it.”
While the Aston Martin Bulldog was the star of the show, and the Avions-Voison C27 Aerosport (pictured above) triumphed as Best of Show, the Hampton Court Concours was packed with fascinating cars, stories and characters. Here are 10 of the most intriguing cars. Let us know which one you like most in the comments below, and if you were there, share your picks from the 2021 concours.
1. 1976 Porsche 936/77
One of the major themes of this year’s event was Gulf vs Martini, with a showcase of Porsche, Lancia and Mirage machines sporting these iconic liveries. This Porsche 936/77 is chassis 001, which gave Jacky Ickx with his second Le Mans victory in a row in 1977. He’d actually started the race in the sister car, chassis 002, which he’d taken to victory at Le Sarthe a year previously, but engine failure had ended that car’s run after three hours.
Ickx was switched to chassis 001, which was six laps down and in 41st place. With nothing to lose, Ickx battled fog and rain through two night stints lasting three-and-a-half hours apiece to claw back positions. By 9am the rival Renaults had gone and the car was leading by 19 laps, but with less than an hour to go a piston broke. Jurgen Barth had to nurse it around for the final 10 minutes to record a famous victory. It would go to finish second at Le Mans a year later.
This is the first time the car has been seen since a three-year restoration by Porsche specialists Maxted-Page.
2. 1958 Bentley S1 Honeymoon Express
By 1958 Freestone & Webb were feeling the pinch, much like other coachbuilders – the demand for their work had dropped away in the postwar years, and the firm’s new owner fancied doing something radical to pique interest for the 1957 Earl’s Court Motor Show. The controversial result, built on a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud I chassis, drew on contemporary influences, largely from the USA – particularly the fins and the scalloped flanks. It was a strict two-seater – which earned it the nickname ‘Honeymoon Express’. Princess Margaret, a visitor to the show, loved it and demanded the car be sent to her home for a personal test drive. Despite the press attention courtesy of the young royal, it didn’t improve sales. Just three bodies, including the show car, were built – another Rolls-Royce and the Bentley S1 that you see here. It’s been tucked away in a UK collection for more than three decades, and this was the first time it had been seen in public for many years.
3. 1957 BMW 503 Cabriolet
The BMW 503 Cabriolet was the firm’s attempt to battle the Mercedes-Benz 190SL for the hearts, minds and wallets of thrusting young aristocrats in the USA, but by the time the car was delivered it was half the price again of what the market expected and sales were so poor, it nearly bankrupted the company. It cost as much as an Aston Martin and was nearing Rolls-Royce prices, yet BMW still made a loss on every 412 sold.
This car is one of only three made in right-hand drive, which means it has a floor-mounted gear change as a column-mounted item would have been too close to the driver’s door. It was also specified with a higher-output 507 Roadster engine. The late John Surtees bought this car in 1992, and brought it back to original condition himself and with additional help, meticulously keeping handwritten notes of the process.
4. 1971 Citroën SM Mylord
This is the second of what is believed to be just five Mylord cabriolet SMs built by Henri Chapron, the famed Parisian coachbuilder, and was put on display at the 1972 Paris Motor Show. While it is believed 65 per cent of the paint is original, the interior is the same – if a little patinated – as that which appeared in the motor show car of 1972.
5. 1991 Ferrari F40
This Ferrari F40 had a very special original owner – but he had to engage in a spirited and prolonged battle with Maranello to get hold of it. Sir Stirling Moss was one of many who wanted to get their hands on an F40, but faced several delays. Its history file contains notes of correspondence between Enzo Ferrari himself and, later, Ferrari’s commercial director Mario Clava. ‘It is rather disappointing that winning with Ferrari does not have the kudos of being a pop star,’ referring to Moss’s friend Nick Mason, who’d managed to bag not one but two F40s for himself and David Gilmour.
6. 1997 Maserati Ghibli II Cup
Away from the concours, car clubs were invited to bring along some of their finest cars. The Maserati Owners Club displayed a rare Ghibli II Cup. Built to celebrate the single-marque Open Cup racing series, the Ghibli II Cup uses a twin-turbocharged 2-litre V6 with 330bhp, which gave it the highest output per litre engine in the world title. Just 60 were built, with 24 in right-hand drive form. This is the only one remaining in yellow, and was originally specified without Ghibli Cup badging by its first owner.
7. 1968 Iso Grifo 7-Litri
This is the third 7-litre Iso Grifo built, and the first in right-hand drive; it was also the London Motor Show Car in 1968. Despite this illustrious start to its life, by the mid-1980s it was languishing in a shed on a pig farm, painted in metallic pink. It was fully restored back to full glory, and the engine upgraded from 400bhp to 490bhp.
8. 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB
The Ferrari 275 GTB was the must-have GT car for the playboys and Hollywood stars of the 1960s – singer Johnny Hallyday, actor Alain Delon and shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis all owned 275 GTBs. They’d all been supplied by Franco-Britannic Autos, the exclusive importer to France and Monaco. Jean-Paul Belmondo wanted a piece of the action, but when he found out he’d be at the end of a very long waiting list he bought chassis 07535 from stock, and had it repainted in Rosso Rubino. He’d use the car for the next four years, alongside his girlfriend Ursula Andress. He later traded the car in against a new Maserati Ghibli (also in Rosso Rubino), and it would go on to spend time in France and the USA. Its appearance at Hampton Court was its first in Europe for 20 years.
9. 1996 McLaren F1 GTR
This McLaren F1 GTR was never intended to be a racing car, but it turned out to be a highly effective one. The GTR was an evolution of the 1995 model, and would see success in the BPR Global GT Series. This particular car, chassis F1/11R, was campaigned by the Giroix Racing Team in Franck Muller colours. Its best result in the BPR series was second place at Monza, but this car is important in a very different way. It’s the precise car that was bought by Mercedes-Benz on the quiet and used to develop the eventually all-conquering CLK GTR racing car.
10. 1964 Porsche 901
The Porsche 911 might be an iconic name, but it wasn’t originally called that. When the car appeared at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show, it wore the 901 badge. That upset Peugeot, who were furious that Porsche was using a three-digit number with a 0 in the middle. Porsche would change the name to 911, but by that point 82 pre-production cars had been built. This particular car was displayed at the 1965 Geneva Motor Show to announce the 911 to the world. It’s believed that this car is one of six matching-numbers 901s to have survived; in its later life it was owned by Alois Ruf of Ruf Automobile GmbH. His firm would undertake a full restoration, and in 2020 it passed to a UK collector.