Report and photos by Dirk de Jager
The Zoute Grand Prix and Concours d’Elegance 2013 was held 3-6 October in town of Knokke-Zoute on the coast of Belgium. Now in its fifth year the Zoute Grand Prix has made its mark as a permanent part of the Belgian classic car scene. Billed as more than a rally over the Flemish countryside, it’s more a society and luxury lifestyle event, a gathering of friends that all have a passion for cars and feel like spending a long weekend at the coast.
With every major luxury car brand as a sponsor it is no surprise to see the latest high-end model of every marque running around town, joined by their clients’ own pride and joy. Yet most are there to run their classic counterpart, with 170 cars appearing at the start line for the 2013 Zoute Grand Prix rally. Participants ranged from Porsche 356s, Austin-Healeys, Jaguar XKs and Mercedes-Benz 190SLs, 300SL Gullwings and Roadsters to the Aston Martin DB4GT, BMW 507 and even a Ford Thunderbird.
The pre-war representatives were a bit light with only barely 20 cars against the rest of the field. Luckily those where pretty good, with a Mercedes-Benz SSK run by none other than Jochen Mass leading the charge. Other highlights included a Wanderer, Invicta, Delage, Bentley, Bugatti and Lagonda. Regardless of the age of the car, two entrants really stood out – a 1930 Packard 734 Boattail Roadster and a 1947 Cisitalia 202 SMM Nuvolari Spider. Both were utterly gorgeous and equally rare.
While the weather took a turn for the worse on Thursday with heavy rain and winds, it calmed down some on Friday so that the routes were mostly muddy but with little rain just cold. Organising a rally in the Flemish side of Belgium isn’t an easy feat. The country is basically flat and densely populated, so finding some fun small back roads is a hard task. Yet the organisation managed to do just that and keep the biggest part of the roadbook on those preferred roads. Friday evening also featured Bonhams’ inaugural auction headlined by a Ferrari 250 Europa Prototype, Maserati A6G/54 GT Allemano Coupe and a Mercedes-Benz 300S Cabriolet A. The rest of the sale aimed at the more regular popular cars drawing attention to them as possible entrants for next year. With this as the first specialised car auction in the Flemish side of the country ever held, Bonhams managed to have a 64.5% sales rate with total sales of €2,345,800. That led to a positive signal that the Belgian market is ready for some further sales.
For the second day of the 2013 Zoute Grand Prix there was finally some nice sunshine and clear blue skies, allowing several cars to drive with the top down again and bringing more smiles on the participants their faces. Although Friday’s drive was shorter to the prior day, the scenery and the route made up for the shorter distance. The lunch stop was held at the Hippodrome of Ostende where, as a surprise test, all participants had to do two laps of the track at an average speed of 50km/h including the start and several straw bale chicanes.
For the final day of the weekend the Zoute Concours d’Elegance was set and this time the weather took a terrible turn for the worse again. Even though 48 top-tier cars graced the field it was nearly impossible to stay outside and enjoy the cars on hand. The selection committee, led by Philip Kantor of Bonhams, did a stellar job outclassing themselves compared to last year. But the one thing that nobody can control is the weather and it was painfully obvious that nobody would be able to spend much time outside with the cars. How can you not like a field that hosts a Porsche 917K flanked by a Ferrari 512M? Or some amazing pre-war cars all with special history or custom bodywork? Or take the Pierce-Arrow that was delivered new to actress Carole Lombard. The undisputed star of the show was the 1938 Talbot-Lago T150C Pourtout Special Roadster, a one-off design that has never been publicly shown. The owner managed to acquire the car 22 years ago, and it took him a further 10 years to gather the missing pieces before the restoration could even start. Yet to my dismay the car did not win anything. The Best of Show was reserved for the Maserati Boomerang, a Giugiaro design. Although this is a very striking and forward thinking design, it would not have been my choice. It was one of a few decisions by a well-established panel of judges that I didn’t agree with.
The same goes for the Iconic Car award that went to a beautifully restored Bentley Continental R-Type Fastback Mulliner Sports Saloon. Yet, to me, Iconic means a car that stands out for several reasons, specifically a car that is instantly recognized by the general public, especially if they are not car enthusiasts. With a field that included an Aston Martin DB5 in Silver Birch (Skyfall anybody?) and a separate class of Porsche 911s, the honour should have gone to the Porsche. (I can assure you that I’m far from a Porsche guy). The 911 is after all the longest model type in production with a shape that everyone immediately knows and gets to see on a daily basis on the street.
All we can now hope is that next year we won’t have a storm going over the Concours anymore and that the organisation will have a tough job outclassing themselves again. With the current format the Zoute Grand Prix and Concours d’Elegance shows that they learn from every edition and keep growing to become a permanent fixture on the European classic car scene.
Similar to the 2011 and 2012 events, photographer Dirk de Jager also documented the 2013 Zoute Grand Prix, offering the following gallery showing the strong entrants and rainy conditions found at this year’s event. We split up Dirk’s pictures into two galleries. The first gallery starting below features our favorite images, all displayed in the full-width view of Sports Car Digest, while the second gallery and award winners can be found on the last page of the article and gives a comprehensive view of all the photographs.