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Thirty years ago, the first weekend of September 1988, a new event took place in Paris. Called ” Automobiles Classiques à Bagatelle”, after a magazine dedicated to classic cars and a public park located on the west side of Paris, it reintroduced the concours d’elegance in Europe, long before the revival of Villa d’Este and of all the others which have flourished since.

It is not quite clear where or when exactly the concours d’elegance was born. The words being French, it is however obvious that the concept was born where that language was in use. There is a trace in the archives of the Automobile Club de Monaco of a parade of elegance crowning the first Rally Automobile Monte-Carlo as early as 1911!

The first concours d’elegance I attended was Pebble Beach in 1984. I had read about it, probably in Road & Track. The Americans had started collecting cars and were inspired by the activities that surrounded them in period. It was fantastic, so special I decided to return the following year. I expected to be disappointed after a first impression that had been so strong, but again I was amazed! That is when I started thinking about organising a concours in Paris, where I lived at the time.

My friend Antoine Prunet had attended Pebble Beach with me. He was editor in chief of the relatively new magazine Automobiles Classiques, published by Arnaud de Fourchier. We talked about the idea and, without really knowing what we were doing, moved ahead. Alain Belais, working at the city hall of Paris, was instrumental in granting us access to the Parc de Bagatelle, a little jewel of a garden with beautiful rose beds. Another friend, Manrico Iachia, who was a genuine petrolhead and climbing the ladder at the insurance group Generali, became our first sponsor.

It was an immense success!

There was an exhibition of maharajah Rolls-Royces ”of gold and silver” which got a large media coverage, attracting no less than 17,000 visitors over the weekend. VIP guests had access to a special terrace where a seated lunch was served. The sunny weather was a blessing, the gods were with us. Our first Best of Show was a 1915 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost by Hamshaw, a choice we could be proud of.

International recognition followed thanks to an exchange of winners with Pebble Beach. Their Best of Show was displayed in Paris and ours, in California. Jules Heumann and Lorin Tryon, the co-chairmen of Pebble Beach, judged with us and they invited me to judge at their event. I still do.

Sadly, for a reason that was never clear to me, we lost access to the Parc de Bagatelle in 2003. With Louis Vuitton, who had taken over the ownership of the concours in the meantime, we then started the Best of the Best concept now run by the Peninsula Group.

Thirty years later, ”Bagatelle”, as the event is fondly being remembered by all, brings back a lot of wonderful memories. It was also instrumental in the development of my professional life and generated lasting friendships all over the world.

September 2018


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