In order to picture what £200 million worth of cars looks like, you could try visualising 700 new Rolls-Royce Phantoms parked side by side, writes Simon de Burton. Alternatively, you could flick through the programme for Louis Vuitton's Serenissima Run held at the end of April in which just 44 cars took part – with a combined value of, you guessed it, £200 million.
This wasn't so much an event for those at the grass roots of classic motoring as those who inhabit its refined stratosphere, where a car worth much less than 500k is the sort of thing one keeps as an amusing little novelty. As a result, the line-up included a brace of 250 GTOs, a couple of Bugattis (Type 23 and 35), a blower Bentley, a DB4GT Zagato, a Talbot-Lago 'teardrop' coupé and the only known Mercedes-Benz 540K with streamlined 'Autobahnkurier' coachwork. I could go on, but you probably get the picture.
The Serenissima was the seventh classic rally to be staged by Louis Vuitton since the legendary luxury goods house sought to enhance its ties with the 'art of travel' by organising the Vintage Equator Run from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur in 1993. Others have included the China Run in 1998 and the Boheme Run – from Budapest to Prague via Vienna – in 1996.
These are not events which one 'enters' as such, but to which one is 'invited' (although a token fee of 8,000 euros is payable). In other words, if the car's not of blue chip status, forget it. The selection process is carried out by classic car doyen Christian Philippsen, who is best known for his work as a judge at top concours shows including Pebble Beach, the Cavallino Classic, Amelia Island and Schloss Bensberg.
Philippsen's involvement helps to attract high-calibre owners such as America's Martin Button and Bruce Meyer, Greek collector Peter Livanos, Mexico's Arturo Keller and the Hong Kong-based, U.S. billionaire William 'Chip' Connor (owner of the aforementioned DB4GT Zagato).
The route, meanwhile, is devised by French racing driver and triple Paris-Dakar winner René Metge, who mapped out a breathtaking 1,400-kilometre drive which started at the Monaco Yacht Club and ended up in Venice by way of the Italian lakes Maggiore, Como and Garda.
It is difficult to imagine anything more delightful than indulging in a spring drive from the Riviera, through the Alps and back down to 'La Serenissima' as Venice is sometimes known – but the run didn't turn out to be the walk in the park that it at first appeared.
Once up into the mountains, the Monaco sunshine was replaced by low-level cloud, plunging temperatures and snow-flanked roads around the Mont Blanc Massif and along the Route Napoleon. It proved quite an undertaking for the old cars (and some of the older drivers), with early drop-outs including a Ferrari 250GT with a blown head gasket and a short wheelbase California Spider whose owner simply became too exhausted to carry on.
But most relished the challenge, as well as the magnificent lunches and dinners laid on at stops such as the Menthon Saint-Bernard Palace, Lake Maggiore and Verona.
The six-day jaunt drew to a close in perfect conditions, with the cars approaching Venice in bright sunlight before being ferried across to the Piazza San Giorgio where they were displayed – still pleasantly travel-stained – in advance of the awards ceremony which saw Giuseppe Redaelli scoop first prize (a tyre blown from Murano glass) thanks to an impressive performance in his 1923 Bugatti Type 23.
The hero of the hour, however, was William Evans, who coaxed and cajoled his 99-year-old Isotta Fraschini IM all the way round, meriting the jury's 'Special Prize' – and perfectly encapsulating what events such as the Serenissima are really all about.