Gallery: Ladies Classic Car Tour of Tuscany

Cars

April 25, 2012 | BY Jacque Beck Connor

Jacque Connor organised an ambitious 40-person classic car tour of Tuscany, that embraced style for the sake of style, distraction for the sake of distraction, and laughter for the sake of laughter. We bring you the photo shoot by the fun-loving group here exclusively on Asia Tatler

Author Jacque Connor and Raylene Meyer
Author Jacque Connor and co-driver Raylene Meyer of Beverly Hills CA in our Mercedes-Benz 1957 300 SL Roadster

My relationship with cars changed the day I was married. I declared to my husband, Chip, that helping wash vintage automobiles was girlfriend’s work. Sure, I found the cars interesting, but the onset of motherhood put an end to the deft wielding of a chamois rag. So, too, did the distraction of having one’s ankle gnawed by a teething three-year-old render impossible my ability to listen with rapt interest while my husband extolled the merits of bespoke coachwork or the virtues of a Watt’s link. Yes, my life had changed.

But then, things came full circle. After years of making our annual pilgrimage across the Pacific, from Hong Kong to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, I recognised something that I had not fully appreciated amid the pleasant chaos of car collecting. More than the automobiles themselves, what made all of this so special were the people involved. They were invariably interesting, diverse and passionate about things that went far beyond cars.

Francie Clarkson and Annette Mason
UK’s Francie Clarkson and Annette Mason dressed for speed with their 1962 Ferrari GTO

Emmanuela Wilm
Emmanuela Wilm, Munich Germany of Bugatti International provided us with this beautiful Bugatti Veyron to test drive for the week

Gwen McCaw is a woman with whom I share a number of things: a terrific friendship, the blessings of kids, a husband who collects and races vintage cars, and an aversion to being told how to navigate. One day, we hit upon the idea of an automotive event for women only. What if we were to do things differently? What if we organised a tour that didn’t celebrate precise navigation, mileage for the sake of mileage, and performance for the sake of performance? What if we created a tour that embraced style for the sake of style, distraction for the sake of distraction, and laughter for the sake of laughter? Moreover, what if we did all this in Tuscany? The Etruscans, the Romans, the Herulians, the Ostrogoths, the Medicis – and possibly us – have called it home, and the ancient hills and rich history of northern Italy seemed the perfect locale.

Colleen Bell and Gwen McCaw
Colleen Bell and Gwen McCaw, one of the four event planners dressed in Swinging Sixties with their 1967 Jaguar E-type

Josine Louwman and Saskia Magnin
“Most likely to stop traffic” winners Josine Louwman and Saskia Magnin from the Netherlands with their Bugatti T 43 Grand Sport

Hong Kong’s Toni Patrizio and racer Brenda Sullivan
Hong Kong’s Toni Patrizio and racer Brenda Sullivan with her 1973 Porsche 911S

Enter friends Merle Mullin and Susan McCaw. Va bene! Merle, the gorgeous Italophile and wife of Peter, collector of French cars extraordinaire, taught us to view Italy as an oyster in waiting. Susan, the stunning outgoing US ambassador to Austria and, together with husband Craig, a lover of vintage cars, brought a magical combination of style and a diplomat’s insight to our budding venture. Thus was formed an automotive posse, sallying forth with big ideas but no plan.

The next development came as Italian organisation 2Fast4You got on board in early 2011. Focused on staging automotive events of superlative quality, 2Fast4You is run by Franco Majno and long-time Mille Miglia organiser Constantino Franchi, and assisted by the stylish and profoundly professional Valentina Croce.

Our homebase for the proposed adventure was the Villa La Massa, a 16th-century Medici villa situated on the banks of the Arno amid 20 acres of gardens lush with lemon and olive trees. This bucolic property, owned and operated by the Villa d’Este Group, was located only a few miles from Florence, with excellent access to museums, some of Italy’s finest private villas, and, of course, shopping. And there we sat in early 2011, four grinning “organisers,” our Italian cohorts, a great venue – and no participants.

Olga Neulist and Melanie Walton
Olga Neulist of NY, and Melanie Walton, Arizona both vintage racers with Melanie’s 1961 Ferrari 250GT SWB Berlinetta  

Yasmin Le Bon and Chloe Malle
Supermodel and ‘gearhead’ Yasmin Le Bon with Vogue’s Chloe Malle and their 1929 Bugatti type 40

Sarah Moody and Alison Hahn
San Francisco’s Sarah Moody and Alison Hahn dig the 70’s with their 1973 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona

Tamsin O’Brien and Gil Noble
Two of Britain's most spirited chicks, Tamsin O’Brien and Gil Noble atop their 1953 Bristol 404

Lulu Wang and Gwen Price
New Yorks vintage racing queen Lulu Wang with Gwen Price of San Francisco in Gwen’s fabulous 1962 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster

We needed at least 17 two-driver teams to cover the costs. Not being in the business of marketing and communications, Merle, Gwen, Susan, and I adopted the rather unscientific “copy your girlfriends with this email” technique. While it’s pretty much guaranteed that this method will never be the object of a Harvard Business School case study, it worked. Like a kettle of popcorn, a few initial voices of interest quietly bubbled, and it quickly led to an explosion of curiosity that blew the lid off the pot. In a week we were oversubscribed. The challenge was no longer one of artfully cajoling friends to hang out with us, but asking which ladies among us wouldn’t mind sharing a bathroom.

Thus, on September 25, 2011, the main dining room of the Villa La Massa saw 40 women gathered. There, seated next to their driving partners and an elegant package containing crimson driving gloves placed stylishly before them, we began our transformation from a travel-weary, marginally jetlagged group of women to a bonded team of laughing, spirited chicks.

The connection that began that first night was nothing short of amazing. Gathered here was a global assortment of women, who ranged from serious piloti like Brenda Sullivan (wife of Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan), Annette Mason (wife of Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason) and Lulu Wang; to rally divas like Gwen Price and Raylene Meyer; and finally to yours truly, a gal for whom the terms “touring” and “terrified” need not be synonymous.

Merle Mullin and Sandra Button
Merle Mullin, co-chair extrordinair and Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Chairman Sandra Button in period dress with Merle’s 1928 Bugatti T 43

Deborah Keller and step-granddaughter Jennifer Beike
In original period dress Deborah Keller and step-granddaughter Jennifer Beike with their 1938 Derby Bentley

Stephanie Bergmans and mother in-law Maya Meijer Bergmans
The gorgeous duo of Stephanie Bergmans and mother in-law Maya Meijer Bergmans of the Netherlands with their 1966 Jaguar E-type

Julie Kellner and Susan McCaw
Santa Barbara, California’s Julie Kellner and co-organizer Susan McCaw, former US Ambassador to Austria, in 50’s vintage Madmen dress aside Susan’s 1958 BMW 507

With the serious racers and I bookending each other, the field could not have been more diverse. But we shared common threads: friendship and a connection to the automobile, static or kinetic. Four continents and innumerable professions were represented.

For one, there was Sandra Button, a woman combining elegance, smarts, and serious driving skill as chair of the Pebble Beach Concours’ d’Elegance. Then there was Yasmin Le Bon, supermodel, gearhead and wife of Duran Duran lead Simon Le Bon, who would fling a Bugatti Type 40 on the roads of northern Italy with the alacrity of Louis Chiron. She was paired with charming and erudite journalist Chloe Malle, forming Team Vogue, a duo on a mission to chronicle our adventure for the eponymous fashion magazine. Yasmin’s down-to-earth charm was simply infectious, and typified the unplanned chemistry that united this group of businesswomen, piloti, collectors and mothers in a way none of us could have foreseen.

The cars were equally diverse. At the modern end was a Bugatti Veyron, provided for our collective amusement by the sublime carmaker. At the more arthritic end of the spectrum were no fewer than three vintage 1930s Bugattis. Tamsin O’Brien and Gil Noble fielded a Bristol 404, while Deborah Keller and Jennifer Beike took the wheel in a well-driven Derby Bentley, and Maya Meijer-Bergmans and Stephanie Meijer helmed a sleek Jaguar E-Type, all helping to guarantee strong representation from Old Blighty. Annette Mason brought the Ferrari 250 GTO, while Christine Laidlaw and Anna Maclean, with their Ferrari 275 GTB/4 NART Spyder, ensured that at least 10 per cent of the world’s population of NART Spyders was in attendance. It was an astonishing collection of machinery, to say the least.

Hong Kong’s Eve Patton and Alma Hill
The vivacious team of Hong Kong’s Eve Patton and Alma Hill, wife of the late World Champion Phil Hill atop their 1957 Ford Thunderbird

Dawn Gooding of California and London co-driver Nili Newman
Dawn Gooding of California with London co-driver Nili Newman and their 1962 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider Veloce

Tonya Hull and Emily Mann
Malibu CA’s dynamic duo Tonya Hull and Emily Mann in 50’s twin-set sweaters stay dry on their 1963 Alfa Romeo Giulia Spider

Mary Shirley, Carin Lockren and Nancy Dennison
Seattle’s mad cap Mary Shirley and driving partners sister Carin Lockren and Nancy Dennison wowed Italy in Mary’s “Bella”, a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado

Lady Christine Laidlaw and Anna Maclean
Lady Christine Laidlaw and Anna Maclean representing Ireland and Switzerland with Christine’s 1 of 10, Ferrari 275 GTB4 Nart Spyder
 

One spirited team

To read the full story, pick up a copy of Hong Kong Tatler’s April issue.