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An Italian Roadtrip15 May 2020

In Conversation with Simon Kidston, the Automobile Phenomenon

More usually seen jetting between classic car events and business meetings worldwide, throughout the Covid-19 pandemic Simon Kidston has been, like most of us, grounded—yet does not seem too displeased about it.

The name ‘Simon Kidston’ has become synonymous with the world of collecting classic cars. The widely travelled British consultant is a legend in the industry, and it’s not surprising to see why; he exudes youthful enthusiasm, something that is apparent in all aspects of his thriving business. Just take a look at any Kidston Productions (the creative arm of Kidston SA) film and you’ll understand exactly why.

More usually seen jetting between classic car events and business meetings worldwide, throughout the Covid-19 pandemic Simon Kidston has been, like most of us, grounded. We got the chance to catch up with him and spoke about all things classic car, Italy, tailoring and more.

The conversation was condensed and edited for clarity. 

Can you tell us a bit on how you’ve been spending the lockdown? What’s an ordinary quarantine day for you like?

I would say that an ordinary quarantine day is not that different to a pre-quarantine day – just with less traffic to get to the office. I should be in Dubai at the moment, where we have an office and where I spend a lot of time, but I happened to be in Geneva when this whole coronavirus pandemic erupted, so I decided to stay there rather than going back to Dubai.

At the moment, I’m at the office with half the normal number of colleagues, and we are using the time productively to organize our client database and sort through all of our historic archives, finding some very interesting things that we normally wouldn’t have the time to research. First and foremost, we are on the finishing straight of the Lamborghini Miura book, a project that I started in the late 1990s. I decided to turn it into a proper work in 2006 and commissioned interviews with all the historic figures behind the Miura. It was the 12th anniversary of these being finished just last week, which was lucky because a lot of the people who were involved in the design, production and sale of Miuras are sadly no longer alive. We've been pushing hard for the last four years with a professional writer and with a great team of researchers led by my colleagues Emanuele Collo in Geneva and Steve Wakefield in England, who have been masterminding the final production. We've also had a brilliant researcher in France, Bruno Bourras, an ex-Matra racing engineer who has a great passion for the Miura; he has been the most unbelievable useful addition to our team—very methodical as you can imagine all engineers would be, very knowledgeable, very passionate, and he has really contributed a lot to the details in the book. He's got a very analytical, almost Sherlock Holmes-like mind, able to make deductions to understand likely outcomes both in terms of history and in terms of engineering solutions and evolutions in the cars. He’s been a fantastic help.

These are some of the things that have been taking up our time. I have to say it’s wonderful to have an agenda with not a single flight booked, which is a great luxury for me. So it's been useful. It's a chance to focus on the things that we don't get a chance to focus on normally – to make sure the business is in good health for when this… er… mad world passes.

It’s wonderful to have an agenda with not a single flight booked, which is a great luxury for me.

It’s been a long period of forecasts and predictions and we are all attempting to imagine our world post-coronavirus. Do you see car collecting changing after the pandemic?

We sent out a newsletter last Friday. It wasn't intended to sell anything. It didn't offer any cars. It was just a message to our friends and clients around the world, and it got really good feedback; I was really pleased by that. A lot of VIPs came back to us saying, “I'm looking for such and such, I've seen you've just sold one, what could I expect to pay for one?” I suspect that although people aren't thinking about cars in the same way that they would normally, when the clouds of coronavirus pass, there will be a lot of pent-up demand for cars and for taking part in events. I'm not suggesting that people will expect to pay more than before: I don't think they will. People will expect to buy things that represent good value. I don't anticipate a flood of distressed sellers, because most classic cars, unlike modern supercars, are not bought with borrowed cash. However, I'm sure there will be instances of people who are more motivated to sell than before, both because their own businesses could benefit from some cash, and also because people see opportunities in their business to make purchases that were not previously possible.

I think that the second half of this year is likely to be very busy – a lot of deal-making – but probably at a slightly lower level than before. I have to say, the fact that there aren't so many auctions (looking at it dispassionately), is probably healthy for the classic car world because there were simply too many: too frequent and not selective enough in terms of quality.

If you flood any market with poor quality stock, you inevitably push prices downwards. I hope when the market effectively reopens for business the auctions will be at a more sensible pace and more curated.

You lived in Tuscany up until you were eighteen. What would you say is the greatest lesson you picked up while living there?

Probably how to make Bolognese sauce. Then you might ask me what my recipe is and I’d be stuck because I'm somewhat out of practice. I think that the lessons that I learned from Italy were a great love of Italian food – Crostini Toscani, first and foremost – Bistecca alla Fiorentina, good red Chianti with the Gallo Nero on it, and of course, Pappardelle al Cinghiale. Or a lifelong love of Italian electronic music from the early 1980s. And maybe most importantly a love of the Italian language and landscape.

The period when I really got into cars was growing up in Italy, and of course, if you live there and read the different car magazines... you’re unlikely to be immune to the wonderful world they introduce you to.

In Italy there’s an appreciation of beautiful things, which I guess I wouldn't have had in quite the same way if I had been in England. On the downside, not growing up in England means how cricket works is a complete mystery.

Best landscape in Italy for a ride?

It has to be Tuscany, and it's a road I try and do if I can, once every year or every couple of years. I love the Via Cassia between Florence and Siena. I drove it two months ago with the Alfa Romeo TZ2. I just love that road.

Another great road is in the Dolomites where we did the first McLaren F1 tour in 2012. We stayed at Villa Feltrinelli on Lake Garda, and drove up to the Sellaronda. The roads were fantastic. We briefly touched 320km/h on the autostrada to the pass—only three cars were doing it; me, a car from New Zealand, and an English friend in his. The three of us had a fantastic drive.

The other road which I absolutely love, which I used to do when I was young, but I was always imagining in the Miura, was the Gran San Bernando Pass. Back in the days when you had stereo cassettes, I would have ‘The Italian Job’ playing and imagine the opening scene from that film: the only similarity between the Alfa Spider I was driving and the Miura in the movie was the two instruments ahead of you. When I got to the top you could smell nothing but clutch and brakes. Job done!

Anything in the word for Kidston Productions for 2020?

We have a few ideas for 2020—in fact, a lot of ideas—I don't want to give the game away too much, but I can tell you that we will try and make good use of the coronavirus lockdown in preparing our next productions. So expect some more high-quality content, always with a cheeky sense of humor.

Historically, cars and couture have always been intertwined in some ways. Why do you think that is?

I believe that that they both appeal to our sense of beauty. They say that luxury starts when necessity stops, and there's no doubt in my mind that anybody who has an appreciation of beauty—and you see this running through many car collectors' personalities —will often collect not just one thing. And in the case of cars, we see that car collectors often own beautiful watches, what the French appropriately describe as Les Belle Mécaniques.

You'll find that most car collectors and those who love cars also have an appreciation for fine tailoring, good quality shoes, and so on. This has been the case since the early days of the motor car: if you attended a Concours d'Elegance, you were encouraged to dress appropriately. Frequently, the cars would be color-coordinated to match the outfit. Villa d'Este, for example, since its inception in 1929, intended to showcase not just the best in automotive fashion, but also the latest fashions from the great houses in Milan and Como. It's perhaps no coincidence the latest Concours d'Elegance have often taken part in places which were always capitals of fashion.

They say that luxury starts when necessity stops, and there’s no doubt in my mind that anybody who has an appreciation of beauty and—you see this running through many car collectors’ personalities—will often collect not just one thing

Moving away from automobile—can you tell us a bit about your closet essentials?

I would say every gentleman should have a good-fitting tuxedo—as the Americans call it—or ‘black-tie’ as we Brits like to say ("lo smoking" in Italy). Good quality Neapolitan or Savile Row suits are also a must although they can be worn more informally nowadays, without a tie and sometimes even with trainers (only if you’re under 30!). And I say it quietly, everyone should own a pair of well-cut jeans. Last but not least, for any male fan of vintage style, I dare you to try a safari suit. Roger Moore would approve!


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