By David Lancaster
Photos: David Lancaster & Dave Norvinbike
Syon House, west London, has seen much pass through its grounds. Fifth of Henry VIII’s eight wives, Catherine Howard, was imprisoned within its wall for over a year before her execution in 1542. Rebuilt in the Renaissance style in 1552, and family home to the Duke of Northumberland from 1594, it was a location for much of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s 1967 classic Bedazzled, as well as a backdrop for several episodes of The Avengers, The Cure’s 1984 video for The Caterpilla and Robert Altman’s 2001 Gosford Park.
The Salon Privé Concours event, staged at Syon since 2009, has chosen its location well then. Picking up the legacy of the Louis Vuitton supported Concours held for years at the Hurlingham Club in Fulham, the aim is to mount ‘a display of exclusive and exceptional historic cars and motorcycles.’ And, as importantly, to offer owners, sponsors, judges and hangers-on a three-day event in early September with the atmosphere, food and drink to match the hardware and location.
The Hurlingham brought together the blazer and leather-clad ends of London’s moto cultures very successfully – you would see Barry Sheene talking to Stirling Moss – but the food and drink could be perilously close to the ‘mass’ side of mass catering. It always felt smaller, more static, than the Salon Privé organisers have managed to achieve too. Here, food stalls and bars are scattered throughout – and the sustenance is far better and the vibe much looser. The impression of a grand house, playing host to an active mini-festival of speed is added to by a drive to the Brooklands Museum and runs around the adjacent Mercedes test circuit.
Last autumn’s meeting saw the Derek Bell-led jury award the ‘Best of Show’ in the Chubb Insurance Concours awards to the 1959 Ferrari 250 California Spyder owned by Sarah Allen. The Class A ‘Graceful Pre-war Motoring’ went to Roger Willbanks’ 1929 Rolls-Royce Phantom and a very cool 1954 Bentley R Type Continental Fastback took the ‘Best Streamlining’ bauble. Deservedly so.
The bikes were stunning too. Vincents, Broughs, Triumphs, rare Nortons, Hondas and race Yamahas fought for attention. Brough Superior Bonneville pilot, and TV presenter, Henry Cole chose the occasion for the launch of his freshly minted Triumph-based Gladstone range – a kicked-out fronted marriage of Meriden twin with Metisse nickel frame, nine of which will be built. One of Patrick Godet’s first Egli-Vincents – its Stevenage engine excavated from Argentina in the late 80s - was on show with its new UK owner. And there was further exotica in the form of George Cohen’s 1953 Norton Tom Tom, which came second to Allen Millyard’s amazing home-brewed Flying Millyard Board Racer in the ‘One Offs and Oddball’ category.
Such upmarket events as this need to taken as they are, or not at all. If you bring a ‘keep-it-real’ chip on the shoulder, and curse the wealth on show, then you’re better off going to the pub. If you feel the craftsmanship of those who designed and built the cars and bikes deserves a canvass such as Syon House once a year, then there’s a lot to enjoy.
The star of the show? Carlos Sielecki’s 1932 Aston Martin Le Mans ‘Most Original Pre-War’ winner came close. But, firmly left-field, it was Belgium Yves Campion’s elegantly ravaged 1932 Moto Gillet which will stay with those who saw it up close: a time-piece covered in endlessly fascinating pre- and post-war badges. Unrestored bikes and cars are gaining traction in terms of price and desirability. The Gillet’s unrivalled patina oozed class from every dent, scratch and sun-bleached hue.