Winning Best-of-Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is the classic car equivalent of winning the World Series. However, winning Pebble Beach without ever having entered any car show before is like skipping sand lot baseball, Little League and high school baseball and still winning the World Series on the first attempt. We’re talking serious achievement.
Fortunately Richard Mattei entrusted his first collector car, the winning 1936 Lancia Astura Pinin Farina Cabriolet, to Jeff McDonald, a master with plenty of experience restoring fine cars. McDonald’s previous successes include a class win at Pebble Beach and many best of show wins at other concours.
Although he hadn’t tackled a Lancia before, McDonald was no stranger to exceptional luxury automobiles of the 1930s. The marque may not be well-known in the United States, but in Europe it was always respected for its engineering prowess and fine build quality. The Astura, which was first introduced in 1931 sat at the top of the Lancia model line. Available in either a long or short wheelbase version, it used a conventional ladder chassis with Lancia’s sliding pillar independent front suspension, followed by a traditional live rear axle. Power came from a single overhead camshaft narrow-angle V-8 displacing 2,973-cc by the time this third series model was built in 1936. The Astura chassis was a popular platform for a variety of fine custom coachbuilders, including Pinin Farina, Castagna and Boneschi.
Richard Mattei’s Pebble Beach winning Astura was one of six bodied by Pinin Farina in a style known as the Tipo Bocca, although each of the six varied in detail. In the 1960s it was found in poor condition and returned to Pininfarina (as it was known by then) and restored to ensure its survival. According to the 2016 “Pebble Beach Car Guide,” this example is distinguished by a “power top, curved side glass and engraved side trims running around the entire body.” Part of the leather interior is trimmed in a basket weave style and the entire car is extremely elegant, thanks to its restrained trim and full rear fender skirts.
After its initial restoration, Pininfarina sold the Lancia to rock star Eric Clapton, who eventually sold it back to Pininfarina, where it was long kept in the company museum.
By the time the Astura arrived in McDonald’s Canby, Ore., shop, the original restoration was roughly four decades old. As with any with any rare coachbuilt car, there was no rushing the restoration and the project was under way for almost six years. From the look on Mattei’s face as he hoisted the trophy or from McDonald’s moist eyes and slightly broken voice as he talked about the win, the results were well worth the wait. The wait was a bit longer for Lancia, which had its first Best-of-Show victory at the famed concours in the event’s 67th year.