It is a recurring tradition to find the best event of the year in a las-day summary post. I usually attend about a dozen local and global car events and another dozen automotive pilgrimage sites. Not being a full-time professional journo, I try to put a reasonable limit to these escapades, leaving out a few obvious candidates due to distance and/or timing. Thus, I skipped a few events that would certainly make it to the list maybe even the podium. Geneva proves to be out of reach during the winter weather. At the same time, the summer break prevented me from attending the Concours at Chantilly and Schloss Dyck.
The list remains genuinely personal, and the order reflects my preferences. I am a car maniac without any direct link to the automotive world, I am not a professional journalist, and I am neither fixed on a single brand. I try to observe these events with a holistic approach, perhaps with a slight bias toward the historical aspects. I care less about world premiers than feelings and impressions, and I have more regard for historical achievements and future implications.
10. Hungaroring Classics – East met west
Hungaroring Classics was called to life two years ago and quickly achieved cult status in Hungary. Well before the first event, journalists went crazy about the once in a lifetime chance to see all those legends finally coming to Hungary.
Since then Hungaroring takes over the place of Le Mans Classics in every odd year in the Peter Auto Calendar, and that really means something. The backbone of the event is thus the Peter Auto racing series, with add on programs including classics from the communist era.
This year the vent was reinforced by stages built by car clubs and brands, among others an anniversary stage for the Mini. Basically, all ingredients were in place for a brilliant event, apart from the weather.
9. InterClassics Maastricht
Fuelled by the positive impressions of the Brussels sidekick events, I managed to pay a visit on a Sunday afternoon. As the show was in its highest gear, the parking lots were filled, and the halls were crowded with visitors, it proved to be quite challenging to take decent photos, which was still due to my timing.
The Italian Lancia brand was in the spotlight during the 26th edition of InterClassics Maastricht. The highlights from the rich, more than 100-year history of the brand were carefully selected in cooperation with the Lancia Clubs and various museums.
As I found out this year, Lancia proved to be a permanent sweetheart of exhibitions in 2019. In fact, the Lancia stage gave an excellent comparison to the difference in size and quality to Rétromobile. The main stage of InterClassics remained, however, a point of reference for the history of Lancia (outside the premises of the FCA Heritage Hub).
8. Spa Classics – Classic race in a classic environment
I am not entirely new to this kind of automotive indulgence. I visited the last two events, and I already wrote about the experience quite extensively from racing classes to the immersive nature of such races, where even the visitors’ car park can fill a car show.
Peter Auto is a guarantee for incredible classics. Still, even the fleet of cars accumulated by the car clubs is worth a separate show.
The Spa Track offers a unique background to one of the world best classic car series. Wandering in the pit admiring the racing legends prepped for action, the Spa Classic is as immersive as it gets.
7. InterClassics Brussels – keeps getting better
The Interclassics Brussels was held for the fifth time this year, but its organisers are far from being beginners. Thanks to the very active classic car culture of the region, Interclassics Brussels quickly established itself and rose up rapidly in the ranks of my annual list.
Every InterClassics has a central thematic dedicated to a particular brand or topic, usually with a specific anniversary. Under this year's “Great Italian designers” thematic, InterClassics paid tribute to five legendary car designers: Pininfarina, Bertone, Zagato, Touring and Ghia.
In addition to the main theme, the 100th anniversary of Bentley was also in the spotlights in the next hall, as the exhibition’s second theme. The stage went far beyond what Bentley conjured earlier this year at the Rétromobile Paris, but that does not mean that the show could live up to the great French one.
As this year’s novelty, Noble Auctions had a premier at InterClassics showcasing classics and exceptional rarities, so one more box to check. Belgium and the wider region enjoys a booming classic car sector. Hence there were dozens of traders with all kind of specialisation from a single brad to certain epochs or categories, like Formula-1 cars or pre-war single-seaters. Factory stages remained seldom guests, but events, museum and car clubs reinforced the show.
6. Zoute Grand Prix – my very first elite concours
This is another premier for me in many senses. It was the first time for me to attend the Zoute, and it was my very first councours d’elegance. The Zoute Grand Prix comprises five events held throughout four days at various locations. The organisers promised cars like the Bugatti Centodieci, the Pininfarina Battista, the new De Tomaso P72 or BMW’s recently unveiled 4 Series concept.
The Zoute Top Marques is an open-air car show featuring the world’s most prestigious marques, on the streets of the posh city centre. This year, I returned from Frankfurt with a feeling that the era of car shows might be over. Still, it is interesting to see that the smaller, less prominent shows are less affected and manufacturers are increasingly going local.
The Zoute Rally by Stow is a regularity race and parade for vintage cars while the Zoute Sale is the official auction run by Bonhams.
The Concours d’Elegance is a traditional part of the Zoute Grand Prix, featuring dozens of rare classic and modern-day cars in several categories. Over the past years, the event made a name for itself among that top Concours d’élégance events in Europe and the offering or rarities and exotics certainly left a great first impression.
One of the highlights was a particular stage where the hypercars of the (quite near) future are presented. Each of the six cars could steal the show at any significant car event.
5. Techno Classica – the king of classic car shows
This classic car show is one of my favourite car events and secured a podium finish on my lists since 2016. The size of the Techno Classica is truly impressive: 1250 exhibitors from over 30 countries are showcasing their very best, and the exhibition can hardly be covered on foot in a single day: 21 halls and their open-air surrounding on 120,000 square meters offer plenty of sights.
Apart from the show's sheer size, the real value-added is the factory presence that makes the top-tier events reach far beyond a traditional second-hand car fair. Essentially, Techno Classica resembles now a lot to the Frankfurt Motor Show but with classic cars.
Techno Classica and Rétromobile usually perform at equal levels with a slightly different emphasis on some aspects. This year, the Techno Classica showed some weaknesses in its traditional parade discipline.
A weaker presence by some manufacturers, wheres the two auctioneers could not live up to the Auction capital of the world. But make no mistake, the 2019 Techno Classica was a mind-blowing event.
4. Frankfurt IAA – the nulli secundus slides off the podium
Major international car shows have an unmistaken atmosphere, and the Frankfurt exhibition is probably the largest in the continent. The Frankfurt expo area is so vast, that corporate limos and demo cars transport journalists between the two far ends. The exhibition area encompasses five-six large multi-story buildings and countless smaller halls connected by passages, elevators and escalators.
This year's show, however, was plagued by the absence of manufacturers, a trend that affects all car shows now. In Paris last year, half the industry reported absent. This year’s list is simply frightening including almost everybody outside Germany, turning the IAA 2019 into a German domestic show, beaten by Geneva but also the Brussels Car Show.
3. Retromobile – the queen of classic car shows
Rétromobile Paris is one of the most prestigious classic car events, it is essentially the Paris Motor Show with classic cars. This noble classic car show is one of my favourite automotive events, I often describe it as the queen of classic car events. There is always a room to claim to be the largest classic car event, but the sheer quality of Rétromobile is what puts it on my A-list.
The show had recourse to the same venue, the Paris Expo, at about 2/3 of the exhibitor surface area of the Paris Motor Show.
As the stages are smaller and more condensed, the visitor's pace will be slower, and thus it takes about as much time to walk it, as the French international car show. Factory shows, museum masterpieces and record hunters give numerous occasions to drop the anchor (and/or jaw).
As for most events that I put on my A list, it takes about a full day to complete, that hardly warrant additional programmes, even if two other grand auctions were organised that weekend. In fact, the automotive press already designated Paris as the Auction capital of the world. Yet I had to remain focused: the full day only allowed a thorough walk in all corners of the show (including the Auction stage of Artcurial).
Hence favourite spots included factory headquarters’ stages, public museums and private collectors. While the German Techno Classica’ top list is dominated by factory heritage centres, at Rétromobile, the performance of the three categories is quite balanced.
2. Brussels Car Show – if you actually want to see cars!
The Brussels Motor Show is listed among the official international car shows. Still, somehow it never managed to garner the same reputation, even if in recent years, it has sported a reasonably high standard.
My impression was that this exhibition is less for journalists, but for potential buyers seriously interested in a new car. Although the primary purpose of the exhibition was to sell new vehicles, it also has a lot to offer for the fans and the general public.
The dedicated Dreamcar Hall attracts supercar enthusiasts, and showcases high-end luxury cars that are usually scattered around the various halls.
The virtues of the Brussels Car Show were particularly reflected by the overwhelming absence of manufacturers in Frankfurt.
As big and shiny the Mercedes Hall can be, it won't compensate for the absence of dozens of other brands that still represent in Brussels.
1. Motorvalley – a road trip to the heart of Italian automotive world
This year’s winner is another road trip that lines up magnificent automotive pilgrimage sites in Italy’s infamous motor valley, a 100km long route around Bologna. This region gave birth to Italy’s automotive elite, like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, or Pagani that mended a rich automotive tradition including the Imola race track.
Visitors can lose an entire week but also endless financial resources while discovering a noble automotive heritage in factory museums and private collections. The spending budget can quickly inflate when the programs include pre-scheduled factory visits and renting high-end luxury cars by the kilo (in this case per minute) in dozens of specialists offering driving experiences.
This trio of the Ferrari Museums is the crown jewel of the Motorvalley, and the three Ferrari museums are manageable to accomplish in a single day, even with a few add on programs, like a driving experience or the Lamborghini Museums.
My first stop in the Motorvalley was at the Lamborghini Museum (okay, the actual first stop at the closed family museum did not count). The Museum might be no match for the largest ones but provides a stylish insight into the history of the brand by recalling its iconic models reinforced by a few one-offs and special milestones.
The Museo Enzo Ferrari in Modena is one of the three Ferrari museums accessible through a single ticket. The Museum takes visitors back to the roots of the iconic Italian marque through thematic exhibitions that tell the story of Ferrari’s founding father and showcases some of the most exclusive cars ever built.
The Ferrari Museum in Maranello is the largest of the three Ferrari museums. That summer, it awaited visitors with a truly impressive Hypercar exhibition dedicated to the glorious high-end bloodline of elite Ferraris that sparked a new breed of sportscars.
The year 2019 marked the 90th anniversary of the racing team carrying Enzo Ferrari’s name, and the Ferrari Museum in Maranello dedicated a major exhibition to join the celebrations.
Following a wholesome break in the marvellous Toscana, the return trip included the factory Museum of Alfa Romeo, supplemented by a visit in Mulhouse to admire the best Bugatti exhibition ever.
Well, that was my list for this year. If you managed to get this far, your reward is to grant you access to the Poll, where you can vote for your favourite event, or delegate your own.