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Paris, Porte de Versailles 6.-10.February, 2013

This year's Retromobile was held on the second weekend of February at the exhibition centre in the south-west periphery of Paris. Already in its 38. edition the oldest classic car trade fair in Europe gained a reputation that attracts visitors and collectors from all over the world to the French capitol, but still after all those years it retained a familiar ambience compared to some of its competitors. With a self-imposed restriction in size the Retromobile was able to keep its own character that seems to be less commercial than the big shows in Germany with a balanced selection of dealers, works displays, car clubs, automotive art and scale models. Certainly the intention is also making business but the absence of the “quantity dealers” trying to sell Mercedes, Porsche or Austin Healey in large numbers keeps the focus on the special cars like the French pre-war classics of Bugatti, Delage, Delahaye or Talbot-Lago.

The Retromobile features some very interesting special displays year by year, be it to a legendary driver like Fangio two years ago, the museum of Peter Mullin last year or round anniversaries of iconic models. This year Swiss dealer Lukas Hüni revived the Salon de Paris of 1955, the birth of the goddess (“La Déesse”) Citroen DS including period fashioned models. Back then the innovative car caused a sensation and more than 12000 cars were ordered on the first day. Built for about 20 years the DS has a huge fan base today and the display featured several models reflecting the history including different body styles like the break, the cabriolet or even rare coach built examples of Chapron. Beside the special display Citroen itself and marque specialists showed even more examples making the DS the car of the show.

Just over the corridor Lukas Hüni had his own booth showing some fine examples of the rarest machinery representing the quality of his portfolio. On two podiums three Alfa Romeo and Bugatti were lined up with a Grand Prix, a sports and a touring example each. The two rivals of the late 1920s and the 1930s fought on the international circuits in the hands of the most talented drivers of its era, the Italian Marque with the iconic 8C 2300. The Monza (2111046) was an original works team car before it was sold to its first private owner and is to be believed one of the most original remaining Monza's in existence. It was restored just prior to the Pebble Beach Concours in 2010 where Alfa Romeo was featured marque. As in Pebble it was joined in Paris by the Short Chassis Zagato Spider (2111006) that was also part of the Alfa Works team both entered under the cloverleaf and later the prancing horse when the Scuderia Ferrari took over the race car program from the factory. Even more important this is a proven Nuvolari driven car, the most famous of all Alfa works drivers. The trio was rounded off by a late third series car with continuous Swiss history, this gorgeous Pinin Farina bodied long chassis (2311217) was restored for Hüni himself by marque specialists to its original configuration.

Not less imposing was the set of Bugatti with a lovely patinated T35 C that started life as a T51 (51128) and a Type 55 (55213). The Type 55 was a true supercar of its era with a race proven chassis and the double overhead camshaft engine of the Type 51 bodied to the design of Jean Bugatti. Unlike many other marques Bugatti had some in-house designs available beside the special coach build cars, this small elegant two seater roadster was one of them. The ultimate touring car of the late 1930s was the Type 57 and the Type 57 S identifiable by the lower chassis and the vee-shaped radiator. The car was available in several different body forms named Stelvio, Ventoux or Aravis (after the alpine passes) or the Atalante that might be the second exciting body just surpassed by the famous Atlantic. This Atalante is even more interesting as it was in period upgraded to the supercharged version by the factory making this a very rare Type 57 SC. With superb provenance of the late Dr. Peter Williamson (who also owned one of two surviving Atlantic) this is one of the most valuable Bugatti in today´s market.

One of the main rivals for the best dealer display at the Retromobile is traditionally the booth of British sports car specialist Hall&Hall. This year again the display featured some of the most significant examples run in the sports car world championship and certainly in Le Mans. The Jaguar D-Type (XKD510) was extensively raced in period and was unfortunately involved in some serious crashes including a fatal in Goodwood 1956 and later again in Johore (Singapore). Today the car is restored to a high standard and nothing remembers of the afflicted history.

At the end of the 1960s the dominant cars in the WSCC were pure prototypes like the Ford GT40 or the Porsche 917. Matra's competitor in that time was the Type MS650, the first open prototype (after the closed predecessors) and the first of the Matra prototypes to finish in LM. The displayed chassis 01 finished fourth behind the winning GT40 and Porsche 908. This was the base for the later victories at La Sarthe with the MS670 when the regulation restricted the cars to 3 litre.

After the victories of the open prototypes the Porsche 956 started the era of the famous Group C, the 956 and 962 were the dominant cars in that period and the car on display (956-001) is the very first example. It was only driven in two races and just a restriction in the fuel consumption prevented a win in its first outing at Silverstone as Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell came home second after a pole position and reduced race speed. It won its second race before it was retired, its sister models became dominant in the years to come.

The Hall & Hall display also included a genuine Le Mans Winner, the 1990 Jaguar XJR12, the last of Jaguars victories, almost 40 years after the first success with the XK120 C.

Just over the corridor London based Gregor Fisken had his impressive selection. Three pre-war Bentley of the Cricklewood era could be seen including the private entered (although with factory support) 1926 3 Litre 100mph model with unique special coachwork to correspond the regulations. After changing hands more privately this is the first time this car is publically offered for sale (according the description). More common is the 3 Litre that was upgraded to 4 ½ Litre specification or the 4 ½ Litre Saloon on display. Many of the 4 ½ Litre were delivered to their first owner in rather “ordinary” Saloon body but as many of them were rebuilt over the years to Vanden Plas tourer or even more often to fabric body Le Mans configuration original Saloon become rare these days.

Another British icon is the Aston Martin DB3S, the car on display is one of the clients car with American race history and was recently restored after long term ownership to the original colour scheme. One of its rivals back in these days was the Ferrari 250 TR, the displayed model (0716TR) has some early South American race history before it was rebodied by Drogo. Today the car is back to its original body style and was the centre piece of the display, joined by one of the competition 275 GTB/C. The second to last of a total production of 12 cars, chassis 09079 was entered three times in the original Le Mans race (including a class win in the GT class 1967) and is today both welcomed on the concours and the race circuit.

Two Maserati 250 F were shown at the Retromobile, chassis 2521 at Fiskens, 2533 at Tradex. Both cars started life as a works entered racer but were just recently repainted in the livery of their second racing career showing the trend to personalize cars with unique race paint schemes.

Another trend is the still increasing value of blue chip cars. In times where many buyers are coming into the market it is difficult for the dealers and even more for the auction houses to get suitable cars as some owners seem to be afraid of selling to early. Most of these cars are in wealthy hands today (unlike the last high at the end of the 1980s when enthusiasts became afraid of the value of their long-termed owned cars and had to sale due to the insurance rates), so for them there is no need to sell. Nevertheless the Canadian auction house RM Auctions proudly announced a star lot for the forthcoming sale at the Concorso d´Eleganza at the Villa d´Este later in May just a few days before the Retromobile and the Ferrari 375 MM (0320AM) could be displayed in Paris. The car was entered in 1953 at Le Mans in the hands of Mike Hawthorn and Guiseppe Farina before it was reworked with a different nose for the later season (including the Carrera Panamericana). Just a few years later the nose was altered again (but this time because of a road accident) and the car stayed in that shape for many years. In the late 1990s the car was re-painted in the Carrera Panamericana livery before it was restored for the present owner in the Le Mans configuration with the higher nose and the open headlights. After a “hybrid” appearance with Le Mans body style and Carrera Panamericana livery at Goodwood in 2010 the car is now in proper Le Mans livery to headline the auction in Como.

Beside the dealer displays several manufacturers displays could be seen in Paris. Certainly all the French marque were present at their home game but also some German marques were prominently represented. The oldest manufacturer Daimler-Benz has a long history to choose from and after a celebration of the 300 SL last year this year's display featured some early examples before Daimler and Benz merged, the Benz GP cars including a 1908 example and the famous Blitzen-Benz with 200 hp out of 21,5 litre displacement giving the chain driven racer a top speed of more than 220 km/h.

The two only remaining Benz entered in the 1910 Prince Heinrich race across Germany and France could be seen as well, one displayed by Daimler-Benz themselves, one by the Louwman Collection. The Dutch museum joined forces with the factory for the restoration of these cars and has a close relationship ever since as could be seen at the last Silver Arrow display at museum in Den Haag.

After a rather small display last year Porsche celebrates 50 years of their main model, the 911. The display featured some rare examples ranging from an early study (Type 754), a 2.7 RS lightweight, a 911 Rally car and the turbo-charged 935, one of only a handful of works cars.

BMW showed two of their most iconic models, the 328 and M1 plus two design studies referring to these two models.
Finally the Volkswagen AG had a small display for two of their premium marques, Bentley and Bugatti. With one model each the display was very selected, the famous Embiricos Bentley and the Bugatti T59 were certainly some of the highlights of the show. Especially the T59 is rarely seen, this might be the most beautiful GP car ever. Ettore Bugatti was known for the beauty of its mechanics, the sleek riveted body and the piano wire wheels are unique to this model. Few original cars survived, one in the collection of Ralph Lauren, this one in the possession of the former Bugatti CEO himself.

As mentioned earlier the quality of the cars at the Retromobile was again second to no other show but Paris is also known for the scale model and art display. At many other fairs these two parts of the classic car hobby have a shadowy existence, not so in Paris. Several years ago the automotive artists formed a club that reserves a good place in the middle of the show, named the “Galerie des Artistes” to avoid being pushed to a corner of the hall. Concentrated at one spot all the artists can be found easily by those interested in and for most of the artists this is the most important show with a lot of good customer contacts. Traditionally Paris is also a must for all scale model collectors. Several of the best craftsmen exhibit highly detailed models in various sizes, most of them making their only appearance here during the year.

A few year ago the concept of the Retromobile changed from a full 10 day show to a more practical 5 days. Soon after the change it became clear that the number of visitors was not affected by this step as the figures were the same as before. This year one had the impression that the stream of visitors was even higher than in previous year, on the first day (Wednesday) even in the evening people still came in and the main hall was still very well visited after 9 pm. It would not be a surprise if the number of visitors hit an all-time high, the official figures will show.

Certainly all visitors saw a great show with many highlights and the exhibitors should be happy with the very international clientele. Even if the dealers had less cars for sale than in Essen a lot of good contacts might come to fruition in the next months when some of the blue chip cars change hands privately. For all those less fortunate this is a great opportunity to see some superb cars in the cold season and we are looking forward to next year's show, the 39th of its kind.

Text & images ... Peter & Wolfgang Singhof www.ClassicCarPhotography.de