St. Moritz has been a famous health resort in Engadine since the 19th century. At first, it was only frequented by spa guests, before the village developed into a high alpine sports centre, which now enjoys a worldwide reputation for its excellence. The backdrop to the village is the picturesque Swiss Alps, with Lake St. Moritz lying at its heart. The frozen surface of the lake, which can only be described as a desert of snow, now serves as a symbol of the resort itself. For nine months of the year, it is quietly forgotten.
But every time the ice lends its surface to polo tournaments, horse races, and the rich and beautiful who make the pilgrimage down the mountains from their grand hotels, St. Moritz seems to transform. Now, for the second time, it is now also serving the International Concours of Elegance St. Moritz – or The ICE St. Moritz – as a kind of classic car museum with an adventurous character. The horology house and main sponsor, Richard Mille, invited us to experience the classic cars and the race up close.
The ICE St. Moritz
Since the first ever The ICE St. Moritz in 2019, historic rally cars have been exhibited to the sports car-crazy public on the opening day, before demonstrating their horsepower on the ice racetrack on the second day of the event. However, the fact that The ICE is taking place on Lake St. Moritz, of all places, is no coincidence. In 1985, a group of Scottish and British sportsmen drove their vintage Bentleys to St. Moritz to celebrate the centenary of the Cresta Run. As part of the festivities, they drove their cars on the racecourse across the frozen Lake St. Moritz. Amongst the amazed spectators was ICE founder Marco Makaus, who was inspired by the scenes before him.
This year, however, things are planned slightly differently. For the first time, the event is held on two days: Friday 24 and Saturday 25 February. On the first day, the lake is transformed into an open-air museum, where the jury evaluate the cars on display from an aesthetic perspective. Then, on the second day, the actual race takes place, whereupon the jury can evaluate the classic cars from a performance perspective.
We reach the self-proclaimed ‘top of the world’ early in the morning and soon experience the prestige of St. Moritz first hand. For once, music is not sounding from behind the thick stone walls of the luxury hotels, but down in the valley at Lake St. Moritz. A number of vintage cars are already on show, stealing the limelight from the beautiful scenery of St. Moritz itself. They radiate the glamour of a bygone era, with each car telling a story of its own. With almost bated breath, we admire the odd Ferrari, and are quickly enamoured with the unusual Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa.
One of the greatest sporting successes of this race-proven rally car, affectionately known as ‘Lucybelle’ during its racing heyday, was a seventh-place finish in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1958, when the driving team Ed Hugus and Ernie Erickson, who were also responsible for the blue-striped design, took it to the track against stiff competition with starting No. 22.
Also on display was the Mercedes-Benz C 111-II. This bodywork of this prototype from 1970 indeed looks more like a makeshift model than a permanent design. Yet when the very first photos of this experimental car with legendary gullwing doors reminiscent of the 300 SL were circulated, it led to speculation of unimagined proportions. Shortly afterwards, the first orders arrived at Mercedes-Benz, some even accompanied by signed blank checks.
A champagne-filled alpine paradise
A voice coming from the loudspeakers requests that the jury to evaluate the classic cars. A little later, from the sidelines, we observe the jury carefully examining the cars, taking notes and occasionally listening to the roar of the engines. The participating vehicles are judged on the basis of their history, special features, authenticity and condition, and are divided into five categories, for each of which a winner is chosen.
Photocredit © The ICE
The first category, ‘Open Wheels’, features single-seater racing cars from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, representing the golden age of racing. In 1948, the historic Ferrari 166 was christened the Barchetta (Italian for ‘little boat) by journalist Giovanni Canestrini. Ever since then, the term has been used to designate the open two-seater racing cars of the 1950s and is also used for the name of the second competition category, ‘Barchettas on the Lake’.
The third category is devoted entirely to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, of which the 100th race will be held in June 2023. It presents a selection of racing cars that have been successful in the world’s most important endurance race. Meanwhile, we felt that the cars of the fourth category, ‘Concept Cars & One Offs’, most engaged our and other visitors’ imagination. It brings together disruptive and innovative concept cars that sprang from the minds of creative designers, whether brought into mass production or produced only once. The fifth and last category, ‘Queens on Wheels’, gathers a group aristocratic ladies’ rally cars belonging to the St. Moritz jet set.
After the jury’s appraisal draws to a close, we make our way to the VIP area, which resembles a private club where guests can hedonistically indulge in food, wine, and other finery. Here, various eccentric characters from the high society that St. Moritz and its international jet set have to offer cultivate their personal idyll, somewhere between a champagne festival and a fur parade. It’s a sight that aptly sums up the spirit of St. Moritz: pulsating with people from all over the world, never boring or, God forbid, ordinary.
Photocredit © The ICE
Waiters on ice skates, straight-backed in their smart black tails, also contribute to the atmosphere. The image of their graceful movements and expert pouring of champagne to St Moritz’s guests is impossible to forget, as they flow from one carefully choreographed performance to the next. Amidst this vibrant hustle and bustle of glamour and elegance, our first day slowly but surely comes to an end.
Even in the depths of winter, when the landscape of St. Moritz lies covered with snow as far as the eye can see, the sun shines on the south-facing slopes of Engadine. In fact, the location is flooded with sun about three hundred days a year, making it comparable to Marseille or Los Angeles. On the second day, it is this same brilliant sunlight that lures us back to the lake at 9 o’clock in the morning. The day of the race has finally arrived, and the classic cars are already assembled in starting position.
The ICE, much like St. Moritz itself, knows how to play host to the world, bringing together people who are united by one thing: a love of racing. Many more people are gathered on the ice than the previous day. The ICE St. Moritz, as it lives and breathes, exudes a real festival flair on race day.
Photocredit © The ICE
We are overcome by a sense of excitement as, carried away by the roaring warm-up of the engines, the drivers prepare for what is probably the most spectacular phase of the competition. We push our way towards the edge of the racetrack to secure a good view. Now, the drivers not only concentrate on manoeuvring their classic cars elegantly over the icy surface, but also expose the chemistry between themselves and their car. This is of importance to the jury, too, who judge the cars and their drivers from a dynamic perspective based on this criteria.
A futuristic concept
After the completion of many exciting laps across the ice, the awards ceremony can begin. A number of prestigious prizes are reserved for each of the five categories. However, one concept car that was honoured with the Best in Show award left the others in the dust – or, in this case, snow. The Lancia Stratos HF Zero features a design that expresses as much innovation as it does futurism, and with a ground clearance and height of just 84 cm, it caused quite a stir. Coming from the mind of Marcello Gandini, this wedge-shaped car caused quite the stir when it was first unveiled in 1970 at the Geneva Motor Show.
In the ‘Open Wheels’ category, the 1958 Maserati 420M/58 “Eldorado” held its own. Meanwhile, the ‘Barchettas on the Lake’ category crowned the Ferrari 500 Mondial Series II from 1955 as the winner. My personal favourite, the aforementioned Ferrari 250 Testarossa ‘Lucybelle’ emerged as the winner in the ‘Le Mans 100’ category. As expected, Lancia Strato’s HF Zero of 1970 came out on top in the ‘Concept Cars & One Offs’ category. Last but not least, judges crowned the 1958 Bentley S1 Continental Drophead Coupé as the winner of the ‘Queens on Wheels’ category.
Photocredit © The ICE
The evening gala takes place at Badrutts Palace, which towers over the city like a castle with its high stone walls. In the stimulating semi-darkness and under shimmering candlelight, riders, collectors, enthusiasts, the public and media from all over the world celebrate the conclusion of one of the most anticipated competitions in the Engadine.
Richard Mille’s role at The ICE St. Moritz
Finally, what role does Richard Mille play at The ICE St. Moritz ? The answer can be found in its racing slogan: ‘A racing machine on the wrist.’ That’s how Richard Mille’s watches are marketed, as is widely known. Unmistakable in design and choice of materials, racing is probably the biggest driving force behind the timepieces. Thus, it is no coincidence that Richard Mille is the main sponsor at The ICE. A coherent strategy, in which Richard Mille presents itself as the ideal matchmaker between watch and car lovers.
Photocredit © The ICE