Eric Clapton's 1936 Lancia Astura Pinin Farina Cabriolet was, according to the famed guitarist, "the most fun I've had off stage and out of bed."
Strong words. Coming from Clapton, who has 17 Grammys and had every great Ferrari at one point in his life, including the occasional one-off, that's a grand statement—for a most unlikely car.
And at the 2016 Pebble Beach Concours D'Elegance, the Best of Show prize went, for the first time, to a brand that's long deserved it: to Lancia, and to its current owner Richard Mattei, who won his first concours award. He had been hoping to place at least third, "just hoping to get something so he could drive over the ramp," .
Just one of six, possibly seven cars built for an Italian dealer, this particular Astura convertible resided in England and languished for decades before a pair of marque enthusiasts found it, rusting in an English garden. They paid just £15 for it. One can imagine the shape it was in. They knew they had something special on their hands, however, and when they reached out to Pininfarina for more details, they received a very unusual offer, from founder Battista Farina himself: if they returned the car to Pininfarina, the company would restore it for free.
Clapton bought the car in the Seventies, sometime before Slowhand, and had his fun with it. He eventually sold it back to Pininfarina again. Mattei bought it from the design firm in 2009, and a year later tried to unload it at a Pebble Beach auction—where nobody bit. So, he was stuck with it.
Might as well restore the thing.
Six years of work ensued. Jeff McDonald of Canby, Oregon, took care of most of the work. He joined Mattei on the Pebble Beach ramps. A shop near Goodwood, England spent many of those years practicing on just how to get the details right: diamond-patterned engraving on the gleaming chrome trim, the surprisingly intricate running boards, and that gleaming waterfall grille. With nothing more than a one-inch scrap of spare leather found inside, Ken Dickman of Kinetic Design reupholstered the interior to original condition. "I can assure you that this was the most difficult and the most time consuming interior restoration that I have ever undertaken," he told us, "but also one of the most challenging and the most rewarding of my career."
Needless to say, it all paid off.
In winning Best of Show, the Lancia beat out two incredible notables: a 1938 Delahaye 165 Figoni & Falaschi Cabriolet, and a 1931 Stutz DV-32 LeBaron Convertible Victoria. And on its way to the top the Lancia racked up two more awards: a class win for European Classic Early, and the Gwenn Graham Most Elegant Convertible Award.
For the full list of winners, visit the .
NOTE: This story has been updated with additional information from the restorers.