The car of the night

AT the end of each of car various magazines and organisations hold ballots to decide which car can be considered the “Car of the Year.” Some of these decisions are made by journalists, some by engineers, some by popular vote, but invariably the answers are different, so that numerous manufacturers claim that they produced the “Car of the Year.” They seldom bother to make much publicity about who made the decision or whether the people concerned were really qualified to judge. I voted on one of these referendums once where the winning choice was a model of which I had never heard!

Each year at Grand Prix time in Monte Carlo there is an unofficial competition, that tends to start after dark on the Saturday evening before race-day and go on until the Casino closes, to see who can park “The Car of the Night” or the biggest crowd attraction. For many years Ferrari cars won this contest, but of late they have been tumbled from the pedestal and this year competition was really keen. There is no prize or actual decision made, this being left to the owners and the milling throng of enthusiasts of all nationalities who circulate around the Casino square into the small hours of the morning.

All the previous week at the Lamborghini factory work had been going on to prepare the Miura P400 for this occasion. The Miura is the orange and gold coupe which appeared at the Geneva Motor Show with the 4-litre V12-cylinder 4-overhead camshaft engine mounted transversely behind the cockpit. Cavvaliere Feruccio Lamborghini himself was staying at the Hotel de Paris in the Casino Square and his St. Agate factory was working overtime to get the car sorted out and everything working in time to drive it to Monte Carlo on Saturday. The target was achieved and as darkness fell and the people began to throng the square after dinner, the Miura was sitting quietly on one side of the Casino steps. This car must be the most exciting conception of a GT car yet built, and who cares if it is not practicable. There is no cover over the machinery, so that looking down through the tinted rear window you can see the glorious 4-camshaft engine, a veritable forest of downdraught Weber carburetters, all the transmission and suspension, while the cockpit is beautifully finished in black quilted leather. The whole thing is barely waist high and is Lamborghini’s own personal toy, although limited production is planned for the near future. You almost had to queue up to look at it.

On the other side of the square there was a diversion and a gathering crowd, for the Ferrari agent from Florence had parked a silver and chrome 275LM coupe. This was one of the well-known rear-engined racing coupes, but it was fitted out for the road, with beautiful trim in the cockpit, bumpers, lamps, instruments and so on as on a production Ferrari, and immaculate paintwork, and it looked superbly usable. Rivalry was now strong and the Lamborghini enthusiasts jostled the Ferrari enthusiasts and voting went on on both sides of the square. While all this was going on young Count Volpi momentarily took the stage by driving up in an open 2-seater Serenissima V8, with rear-mounted 4-camshaft 3½-litre engine. In silver finish, with an aero-foil across the engine bay, behind the cockpit, full-size wind-screen, completely trimmed cockpit and chrome wire wheels, this stole the show for a moment. Amidst all this and attracting quite a lot of attention was another very low and sleek GT coupe, front-engined, but not looking at all out of place amongst these glamour cars. It was a red Marcos 1800, but the owner had unwittingly joined the concours and rather spoilt the effect by getting in and driving off, it being his everyday car!

The Casino square was full of cars, and things like road-equipped GTO Ferraris, Mustangs, E-types, 911 Porsches, DB6 Aston Martins, Super-fast Ferraris, GTB Ferraris, even a Silver Cloud Rolls-Royce and a Mercedes-Benz 600, were all overlooked or regarded as commonplace as people went from the Miura to the 275LM and the Serenissima. There was a moment of consternation when a well-known journalist slid silently across the square in his Silver Ghost Rolls-Royce, but then Mr. Lamborghini really stole the show. He came out of the Hotel de Paris, started up the 400-horsepower Miura, blipped the throttle a few times so that the whole square rang with the glorious “whang, whang, whang . . .”of the 12,-cylinder engine, switched off, and went back into the hotel.

If you love exciting motor cars and a lot of fun, then Saturday night before the Grand Prix at Monte Carlo is a must. It is all so much more fun than stuffy old Motor Shows, where no one ever starts up an engine. The “Car of the Night”?—my vote went to the Lamborghini Miura P400.