Masterpieces Concours d’Elegance 2018

An elite classic concours at a 17th century Rhineland castle? Sure, we’re in – Schloss Dyck here we come!

It’s my considered privilege to work as an international concours judge; besides 25 years as a Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance judge, I’ve adjudicated at many other events around the world. So when a colleague asked whether I’d be interested in participating in Masterpieces in the rural German countryside just outside of Dusseldorf, how could I say no?

I also work as an automotive event emcee, and during conversations with Masterpieces majordomo Marcus Herfort he mentioned that he was looking for a replacement English-speaking emcee to host the awards program, Of course, I took on that job with pleasure.

Masterpieces is a very different type of event. First and foremost, I was intrigued that it takes place over a weekend, instead of in a single day – how relaxed and civilised does that sound? Also, instead of the usual golf-course environment, it’s located at a real-life, not-made-up by Disney or Pixar, castle dating to the mid-1600s. The property covers around a thousand acres, and features a moat, world-class gardens plus its own lake and forest. Sounded like a nice place for a car show to me.

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Another fascinating aspect of Masterpieces 2018 was that it’d comprise of only 65 cars. Most concours events play on the concept of scale, and ‘bigger must be better’. If 100 cars is good, then 200 has to be better – so why not 350 or 400 then? Masterpieces’ goal is that every entry is carefully and sensitively selected and curated, not merely gathered.

As the event is primarily for the pleasure and celebration of the entrants, only a few ‘public’ tickets are sold. Kind of like ‘the right crowd and no crowding’. The idea is to be able to fully see, inspect, contemplate and enjoy each and every entry. Stroll a little here, meet and speak with the owners, stop and photograph this car or that, for an hour if you wish – then come back tomorrow and see it again if you like. Have lunch in the gardens, then go out and walk the show again.

And what of this fabulous place? Schloss (German for ‘castle’) Dyck (pronounced ‘Deek’) is culturally and historically one of the most important moated castles in the Rhineland. With its forecourts and outbuildings it’s built on four ‘islands’ in the Kelzenberger Bach, and is surrounded by a picturesque English-style landscape among several fabulous themed gardens on the property.

Its history dates back to 1094, and it was first mentioned as ‘Hermannus de Dicco’ in a record of the Archbishop of Cologne. Hermannus de Dicco was the landlord of a simple fortification in a marshy brook area. The following generations converted the site into a fortified, moated castle, and several surrounding villages were under its authority. The site remained in the hands of the Salm-Reifferscheidt-Dyck family for 900 years until – with the establishment of the German equivalent of a non-profit foundation in 1999 – it became the Centre for Garden Art and Landscape Design. Incidentally, for centuries it remained autonomous between the centres of power Electoral Cologne, Jülich and Geldern.

The turbulent medieval times were well past when the castle received its present countenance. The 17th century owners created a representative early baroque residence. In the first half of the century the stables, watch rooms and brewery were restored, while between 1656 and 1667 Graf Salentin extended the main castle to a four-winged construction design. It became the meeting point for the elite society. At the end of the 18th century, Dyck advanced to a first-class Rococo residence featuring the finest tapestries and exquisite furniture.

As you can imagine, the courtyards, park area and other public spaces are breathtaking. Part of the property has been converted to a hotel, and there’s a great restaurant on site, too, in the former stables buildings. But most of the current attention is on maintaining the architecture and the various garden areas. A traditional Japanese Tea House will soon be under construction. In all, we can’t imagine a more visually or historically compelling and elegant setting for a concours d’elegance.

Masterpieces doesn’t have dedicated marques, per se – in other words, it’s not ‘the Ferrari year’ or ‘in celebration of the 75th anniversary of overhead valves’. However, there are several unique classes for a variety of marques and reasons.

You may or may not be familiar with a German specialty marque called Isdera – these are highly exotic, mostly mid-engined, commonly gullwing-doored supercars constructed by a small firm near Stuttgart. Just 20 have been built over time, most of them in the 1990s, although a handful are more recent. Isdera has traditionally, yet not exclusively, relied on Mercedes-Benz powertrains, particularly V12s (although one of the Isderas in the show this year was a pure electric). Some models were produced in small number, while others remain one-offs or prototypes.

Naturally, they were never imported or sold into North America, as certifying and homologating them to meet safety and emissions requirements for such small production numbers would have been impossible. They’ve nearly always been designed in-house by company principle Eberhard Schultz, and are in most instances nicely crafted and dazzlingly styled. I’d never before seen one, yet four were on hand for Masterpieces.

Another very special standalone class for 2018 was for Bugatti Type 57s. Seeing a single Bug 57 on any given day or at any show is a treat; a half dozen of them, of varying body configurations by several design and coachbuilding houses, is an occasion – and that’s what Masterpieces put on this year.

There were closed coupés, cabriolets, a virtually one-off Atalante, with the group made up of both perfectly restored and passionately preserved originals – yet all runners and drivers. All six of these Bugattis were shown together, backed up to the lake in a breathtaking line-up that took at least an hour to properly peruse and enjoy.

A new category for 2018 was sport utility vehicles. As Herfort explains: ‘I like to do something a little different each year to shake things up a bit, and since nearly everyone has an SUV, and they’ve been produced for so many decades now, there is a history, with purpose and design. It might also be something that appeals to a younger audience that has grown up with them, and may appreciate them, but not feel as immediate a connection with, let’s say, cars of the 1930s. And we must welcome younger enthusiasts into our hobby, and give them entry points that they can relate to.’ He’s not wrong.

The SUVs in question were at least charming, with several of them rating as iconic; an early four-cylinder Land Rover Defender with a folding cloth top (done up in AA road service livery), a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen two-door, recently restored by the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center, a first-gen two-door Range Rover, plus a Lamborghini LM002 V-12 powered ‘Rambo Lambo’ also recently and beautifully restored in bright red.

One final ‘special category’ making its debut at Masterpieces this year was a team of all-female judges who together sought out their best choice for combination of people, car and story. This was no mere gathering of pretty ladies just for show; instead, a roster of highly qualified, supremely intelligent and articulate women each heavily invested in classic cars, who gave their special award to a most deserving 1931 Mercedes-Benz Nürburg 500. This formal, imposing, all-black limousine, owned and restored by a pair of brothers, was driven to Masterpieces from Switzerland.

The rest of the field usefully qualified for ‘best among the best’ status. Ferraris, Maseratis, a spectacular Pegaso roadster, Jaguars, Porsches (one each of a 356 Carrera 2 coupé, 356 Speedster and RUF 964 RTC Turbo), Facel-Vega, Rolls-Royce and Bentley – name a premium brand and it was represented in fine style.

There was just one American car in the field, but it was a dazzler. Called Firebird One, it was a 1970 Pontiac Firebird GM concept car designed by the legendary Harry Bentley Bradley, presented in a red perhaps even brighter than that of the aforementioned LM002.

Recognisable as a Firebird, but styled more in the vain of a Bizzarrini or Iso exotic design study as a daring look forward at what future Firebirds could become, the car was presented by its two young European owners along with GM technical design chief Dave Crook, who built the car in period. Call it flamboyant, call it all-American, call it over the top… but the primarily European audience at Masterpieces went gonzorama over this car.

The weekend was also punctuated by presentations, picnics, elegant outdoor BBQ parties, a black-tie gala dinner, castle tours and more.

Masterpieces presents two Best of Show awards: one for the most significant preservation-class car (in this case, meaning an original, unrestored, loved, maintained and driven machine – not an abused, non-running, barnfind relic) and an overall Best of Show.

Three finalists in each category approached the presentation ramp, the owners themselves not knowing who amongst them had won. Deservedly taking the Most Pristine Masterpiece Preservation prize was a 1955 Jaguar D-type racer with Le Mans history in its considerable provenance. Nicknamed Il Gato Nero (the Black Cat), this car crossed the ramp, engine growling, to hearty applause from the crowd. A popular winner indeed.

It wasn’t a complete surprise that the overall Best of Show winner came from the Bugatti 57 category. Although there were many deserving candidates from all over the field, it was a fabulous and deeply original 1937 Gangloff coupé that has been repainted once in its life but still boasts its original, now 81-year-old leather upholstery.

Was the ‘concours at a castle’ promise fulfilled with adequate levels of history, mystery and intrigue? Absolutely. A marvellous lifetime experience worth 12 hours each way in Coach. Lots of food, wine and story telling, not to mention a compact but mighty field of cars, great people and friends old and new.

Should your travel plans ever take you to this area of Germany, you must visit Castle Dyck; it’s an engaging, historic and lovely property with fabulous gardens. In the meantime, I’m going to call a contractor to investigate building a proper moat around my own home – after visiting this amazing Schloss, it seems everybody should have one.

Find out more about Masterpieces here.

Photos courtesy Matt and Linda J Stone

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