It is always interesting to judge a concours — and sometimes new challenges arise. Most judging assignments are made based on the expertise and interests of the judge, but sometimes it’s necessary to stretch your limits. This is not a bad thing, as anyone who doesn’t want to learn more must truly be tired of life. Discovering something new sends me off on a journey of research and exploration to find out more, which inevitably leads to unexpected fonts of knowledge and information. The opposite challenge can come from being too familiar with the cars you evaluate — especially when emotion comes into play. I have long felt that technical knowledge is vital to the role of a judge. However, an emotional connection — born of what attributes in a car truly speak to you and raise your pulse — is as important as an inventory of hose clips.

Only three?

Recently I received an invitation to join a panel of judges to choose the three most significant Italian cars in the past 115 years. Why 115 years? Because it was on January 23, 1905, that the Automobile Club of Italy, ACI, was founded, with King Vittorio Emanuele III as honorary president. To celebrate this milestone, a short exhibition and a black-tie dinner party were held at the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile in Torino to toast ACI and share a cake. Born in Italy’s motor city, ACI was created to bring order to motorsport, encourage the development and use of automobiles in Italy and represent Italian manufacturers to the rest of the world.

Tough choices

Legendary figures in the Italian-car world, including Paolo Pininfarina, Giorgetto Giugiaro and Roberto Giolito among others, chose 12 finalists for the Top Three. The cars were a 1908 Fiat 18/24HP Town Car, 1910 Isotta Fraschini BN 30/40 Tourer, 1929 Fiat 525 SS Roadster, 1934 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Touring Spider, 1937 Fiat 500 “Topolino,” 1954 Fiat 8V, 1956 Lancia Aurelia B20S, 1961 Maserati 3500 GT coupe, 1971 Lamborghini Miura SV, 1974 Lancia Stratos, 1990 Ferrari F40 and 2018 Ferrari Monza SP1. The selections covered each of the decades of the ACI’s existence — with the notable exception of the 1940s, when, of course, Alfa Romeo continued to make cars. Each clearly deserved a place on the list and made our job of choosing the top three quite challenging. My fellow judges were renowned collector Corrado Lopresto and David Giudici, editor of the Italian collector-car magazine Ruoteclassiche. Both are delightful gentlemen, knowledgeable and passionate without being polemical or doctrinaire — and Corrado is a close friend. Fortunately, we had a clear, logical framework that took into account the historical importance of the cars, their engineering merits and, of course, their aesthetic and artistic merits. These guidelines made our task simply difficult rather than ridiculous.

How do you do this?

We first looked to divide the awards between different periods — early, mid-century and modern — giving a representative look at the impact of Italian cars in three eras. Did we agree on our initial choices? Of course not! But we came to a consensus very quickly that satisfied us all — and avoided any catcalling and fistfights.

Three great cars

Although the recognition was not ranked, the prizes went to the Fiat 8V, the Miura and the Alfa 8C. Why? For me, the 8V was an easy choice, both intellectually and emotionally. The 8V was Fiat’s successful return to competition after many decades, the expression of the vision and talent of its engineers and the esteem in which the 114 cars built have in the collector marketplace. And for me, that the actual car in the exhibition was the one-off fiberglass Rapi 8V from the FCA Heritage Collection, which I had the thrill of driving in the 2019 Vernasca Silver Flag hillclimb, made it even better. Our next choice was the stunning Miura SV from the Macaluso Collection. Once again, as in the case of the 8V, the triumphant blend of imaginative engineers and designer resulted in a remarkable car that still takes your breath away decades later. Our final choice is also understandable. The Alfa Romeo 8C of the 1930s, in all its varieties, is arguably one of the greatest cars of all time. They represented engineering magic, and their Vittorio Jano engines were powerful, responsive and durable. That they were triumphant in circuit racing — even at times against the mightiest of the mid-1930s German competition — was one aspect of their fame. But they were also stunning sports racing and road cars in their elegant coachbuilt bodies. These cars simply took mechanical glory to a level unseen before or since. If these are the kind of challenges with which life chooses to burden me, bring them on. ♦

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