Review: THE ICE St. Moritz with Persol

By Georgia Peck | 04 Mar 2022 | Sport, Travel, Speed

Tempus heads to this unique, ice-bound concours to bask in a celebration of snow, scenery and scintillating classic motors

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* Credit: Freddie Atkins

In a terrifyingly fast sideways fashion, a black Ferrari 250 GTO emerges from the shadows of the surrounding snowy peaks and into the sunlight, drifting around the U-bend of the frozen racetrack; its studded snow tyres spraying fresh white powder into the faces of the transfixed crowd peering over the fence.

Just as my eyes squint back open from behind my newly decorated Persol Protector sunglasses, a grin of disbelief still wide, an original 1956 Jaguar XKSS, one of just 16 ever made, hoons around the bend at a near 45 degree angle, hot on its Italian counterpart’s wagging tail. As their engines ebb out in symphony to the other end of the frozen lake, the notes of the IWC Mercedes-Benz 300SL-S ‘Porter Special’ closes in and unashamedly fill the air, as it too glides over the snow in sideways succession. "Well, this is rather special," I thought. "By anyone’s standards."

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For more than a century, the tiny Swiss mountain town of Saint Moritz has been famous for its timeless style, elegance and class, for giving birth to the high-life ideal of the glamorous winter getaway, and for playing host to some of the world’s most illustrious individuals including artists, intellectuals, wealthy scions, and Royalty of both Hollywood and the Monarchy. In the 1980s, St. Moritz’s glitz-infused name became globally recognised and was registered as a trademark, along with its nickname Top of the World.

It was here, also, many years prior in 1864, within the towering Alps peaks of Switzerland’s Engadin valley, that Alpine winter tourism was born. St. Moritz has hosted the Winter Olympics twice, playing host to the hallowed Cresta Run (a nail-biting ice skeleton toboggan track), a world-championship bobsled run made of natural ice, and an outdoor Olympic ice rink. Each winter, its picturesque lake transforms into a frozen playground, hosting polo, cricket, horse racing, and, now, The International Concours of Elegance - The ICE - sponsored by luxury eyewear manufacturer, Persol.

The ICE was conceived by a group of British Cresta Run Members led by the flamboyant (and somewhat controversial Laird of Eigg) Keith Schellenburg, famed for racing a Barnato Hassan Special, amongst other things. The group decided, one January in 1985, to voyage across Europe to St. Moritz in their vintage open-top Bentleys to take part in the Cresta Run, and thus a legend was born.

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* Credit: Freddie Atkins

Upon completion of the Run - a historic pillar of St. Moritz culture - in good time and scot-free of the all too common fractures usually endured, the honorary ‘Bentley boys’ thought what finer thing to do than race their 1920s pre-war chariots around the frozen horse racing track on the lake. And so they did. The glorious sight did not go unnoticed by onlookers in the town, who lapped up this magic vision on ice and spent the next 30-odd years, with a lot of hard work and luck, trying to recreate it.

And so here we are today, under the dazzling sun and blue skies of the Swiss Alps, in -13°C cold, standing amongst 50 or so of the world’s most coveted motor cars, on the unlikely footing of 60cm of thick ice. At what is, with utmost certainty, the coolest car event on the planet - both figuratively and literally speaking.

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* Credit: Alex Penfold

Where else in history have you, or will you ever, see Bond’s original 1965 Aston Martin DB5 complete with bullet holes, the Meyers Manx that Steve McQueen designed and drove himself in The Thomas Crown Affair, the 1969 Mercury Cougar XR-7 from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a 1971 Fiat 130 “Villa d’Este” Introzzi, a Jaguar C-Type that’s been in the Finburg family (who were all in attendance) for over 50 years, one-of-four long-nose alloy-bodied Ferrari 275 GTB driven by blonde bombshell and racing driver Katerina Kyvalova, Kidston’s purple Countach, an Aston Martin DB3S, the Coupe Des Alpes Rally winning 1967 Mini Cooper S, the Lamborghini Miura that starred in the original The Italian Job, a 1939 Maserati 4CL Grand Prix car, and a 1964 Fiat 500 Jolly Ghia -*takes breath* - all categorised into classes covering cinema, motorsport, and lifestyle; such as the ‘Stars on Wheels’ class, and ‘Barchettas on the Lake’; with most motors sporting fashionable Alpine accessories, such as designer skis, or antique sleds? 

It was a once in a lifetime lineup, and a feast for the eyes and ears, with cold-starts accompanied by the crunch of snow, scenic mountain backdrops, and the lively chatter of English, Italian, German and French speakers.

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* Credit: Alex Penfold

Amidst the inexplicable thrill of millions of pounds of cars being drifted and thrown around a frozen lake, one might forget it was in fact a Concours event. Something perhaps - dare I say it - may now look boring by comparison. After what must have been one of the hardest judging gigs on the planet, it was the 1933 Alfa Romeo Tipo B P3 that took home Best in Show, with a set of joyous victory laps around the lake that left the crowds practically dancing in the grandstands.

Persol, in addition to launching their iconic new remake of ‘The Protector’ sunglasses at the event, also brought along two very special Porsche’s to the party: a 356 Speedster owned by vintage collector and brand ambassador Alessandro Squarzi, and our personal favourite, the 911 (964) Safari, fresh off the cargo ship home from the legendary the Dakar Classic 2022, where it was driven by Agostino Rizzardi and Alberto Vassallo. If you looked closely at its hand-painted livery, you could see the West African grains of sand still embedded happily in the nooks and crevices of its bodywork.

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* Credit: Alex Penfold

Persol, synonymous for adventure - whose name is an abridged form of per il sole (‘for the sun’) - has been at the forefront of Italian eyewear design for over 100 years, and seemed particularly fitting as a partner for The ICE at St.Moritz, which enjoys 320 of unrivaled sunshine per year, and also shares the same vocation for excellence, innovation and style.

All in all, The ICE St.Moritz was a breath of fresh winter air in the car industry, and so much fun I didn’t even consider quaffing champagne in the VIP tent until the very late afternoon.

The afterparty at Badrutt’s Palace flowed late into the night, and left us all longing for next year’s frivolities, and the next chapter of this very special story.