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Paris, 4th - 8th of February, 2015

The first week of February saw the 40th edition of European premium trade show in Paris. With more than 119.000 visitors in just 5 days the show proved more popular than ever before. 450 different exhibitors, dealers, artists, clubs and manufacturers had more than 500 cars on display, most of them on a very high level making the Retromobile the place to be for the serious collector. Apart from the show itself no less than three auctions from RM Auctions, Bonhams and especially the  annual Artcurial sale were even more reasons to visit the French capitol. Especially the Baillon collection of barn finds headlined by the record breaking Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder were all over the media upfront and drew a lot of visitors as one could see in the long waiting line in front of the dark display area.


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But the Retromobile certainly had more highlights than that with several interesting special displays of annually changing themes. This year saw a gathering of no less than a dozen Pegaso Z-102. Built in Spain in the 1950s the rare Pegaso is one of the most collectable cars on the market and rarely can be seen one, not to mention 12 plus two further examples at different dealers further down the hall. The oldest surviving Z-102 was brought by Spanish dealer Francisco Pueche, the second chassis built. The Pegaso was constructed by Wilfredo Ricart who was previously responsible for the Alfa Romeo Tip 512 showing his sportive genes and this shows at the Z-102. Although intended mainly for street usage the car included very much race technology including a 4-ohc V8 engine with desmotronic valves varying from 2.5 to 3.2 litres with supercharger on request. Unfortunately the styling of the first in-house designed bodies could not match the performance so the majority of Z-102 was rather clothed by an elegant Touring design with a few Saoutchik bodied exceptions. Main attraction was the exciting Pegaso “Thrill” by Touring and one of just three open race versions. Unfortunately the Z-102 was never a success both in racing and on sale so less than 100 (exact numbers depending on the source) were built at the end of 1958.

Even rarer is the Bugatti T41 Royale. Intended by Ettore Bugatti for the Royality of the world the biggest Bugatti ever produced was way too expensive to attract enough buyers in the upcoming Depression of 1929 and at the end just 6 examples were produced. The huge straight eight engine was later used in a train as Bugatti built far more engines than needed for the cars.
Today the six examples are very well documented over the time as they changed their body from time to time, especially the prototype serving as works demonstrator (41100). After a Packard body, a Fiacre and a Weyman Limousine the car ended as the famous Coupé Napoléon, an attractive two tone coupé de ville that is exhibited in the Cité Automobile in Mulhouse (the famous Schlumpf Collection) alongside the second example on show, the Park Ward Limousine (41131).

The most exotic body that found its way on a Royale Chassis was the Esders Roadster named after its eccentric first owner Armand Esders who insisted that he would never drive at night so he needed no head lamps as they would destroy the lines of this huge roadster. Unfortunately the body just stayed on chassis 41111 for two years until it was replaced by the Binder Coupe de Ville as seen today in Bugatti’s (VW) own Collection. So the Schlumpf brothers started with a recreation of the Esders already in the 1970 that was completed decades later and now graces the museum in Mulhouse as well.

But not just single cars or marques are worth a special display as the Retromobile also features special collectors. After Peter Mullin some years ago it was now Corrado Lopresto and his fantastic collection of Italian one-offs and prototypes. Although most of the cars on display are known from the various premier concours on the world, as the Milanese architect loves to share his collection rather than keep it private, it is very impressive to see them together at one place. Over the years the passion for special bodied Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Fiat and small manufactures like Autobianchi, Osca and Cisitalia led to a unique collection ranging from the early 1900 to the late 1970. Lopresto brought 12 cars to Paris ranging from a superb trio of 6C Alfa Romeo to the late Lancia Sibilo. One of his latest “toys” is the Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 GS by Aprile that was shown in Pebble Beach and the Villa d´Este in previous years just as the dramatic duo of 6C 2500 built by Bertone and Pininfarina, all three of them regular class winners at numerous concours. Less known are the Lancia Florida with its unusual 4-door design or the Osca 1600 GT that was just shown last year in Chantilly.

But the Retromobile is not just about show, it is certainly also about sales and so the major European Classis Car Dealers need to be there in a good presence to show their inventory to the international clients as the Retromobile also attracts all the major collectors from overseas who could be already seen on the preview day Tuesday evening. Something in between special display and sales is always the booth of Lukas Hüni as this does not necessarily feature his current inventory but rather the class of cars he is dealing with brought by his clients. This year he brought a spectacular selection of Bugatti and Talbot Lago making this an all French display matching the venue. Headlining was the Bugatti Type 57 SC (57511) of the late Peter Williamson, certainly the next best one could get to Atlantic on the late Type 57 S chassis. The car was born as a normal aspired Type 57 but upgraded with a Supercharger by the factory soon after. The car was joined by a T57 Atalante and a further Type 57 S with DHC coachwork by Corsica.

Certainly Bugatti is especially known for their race cars and Hüni had no less than three GP cars. The first was a Type 35 C formally owned by Maurice Trintignant and raced by him on many events including the Grand Prix of Pau, Nimes and Nice but also on hill climbs at the Mont Ventoux and the Klausen, later with a Type 51 engine. A pure Type 51 was standing next to it with chassis 51127 that is the chassis just next to Trintignant´s 51 engine. In 1932 Bugatti built the 4-wheel drive Type 53, a concept that was not successive at the GP circuit but at some hill climbs. Just three of them where built and the Schlumpf collections owns a chassis only and the car at Hüni’s display is said to be assembled of genuine parts claiming the history of the second car built and driven by Varzi, Chiron and Jean Bugatti himself.

In addition of the Bugatti fleet three rare Talbot Lago T26 GS were on display headlined by the factory team car. The Barchetta with the number 110056 is most famous for almost winning Le Mans in 1952 driven single handed by Pierre Levegh with a four lap lead after 23 hours just to end with a broken crankshaft with less than an hour to go. With this impressive drive Levegh secured himself a seat in the 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR that ended in tragedy.

Even more dedicated to one single person is the history of the next T26 GS, the car that was designed and raced by André Chambas in no less than 5 successive Le Mans entries between 1949 and 1953 with a ninth place at La Sarthe to its credit.

More conventional was the display of London based Gregor Fisken (Fiskens) showing a selection of his superb current stock ranging from a 1924 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost once belonging to Ettore Bugatti to a 1973 Porsche 2.8 Litre RSR. The car on display is the 7th out of a production of 8 factory team cars in the famous Martini livery as raced in the 1973 at the Nürburgring, Spa and the 24 hours of Le Mans where it finished 4th overall. After the European races the car went to the US in the hands of Brumos racing to compete in Watkins Glenn and Daytona before coming back in private hands to Le Mans the year after. Today the car is finished in the team colours of its biggest success, the 1973 Le Mans entry. 15 years earlier the Porsche 550A (chassis 145) could be seen at the same races at the Nürburgring and at Le Mans where it finished 5th overall despite its small engine compared to the three litre capacity of the Ferrari 250 TR, Maserati 300S or Aston Martin DBR1 whose modern equivalent was shown with the DBR9.

Centre piece of the booth was a duo of 12 cylinder Ferrari with the 212 Export and 250 GT LWB California Spyder. The former (0102E) started life as an elegant Touring Barchetta (just as the sister car 0158ED at the RM booth) to be rebodied to the current form for the movie “The Racer” starring Kirk Douglas. The California Spyder spent the first decades in the US before being in Germany for the last 23 years, with its covered headlights in stylish black this is about as good as it gets and when looking at the record price for the SWB example at Artcurial one could imagine the price tag on this one. Also on display was a nice trio of pre-war including the 1924 Bequet Delage 2 LCV that raced the French GP and features a 2-litre DOHC V12 engine, a Bugatti T54 and a Maserati 8CM.

Last year’s Retromobile is also remembered for the display of the Ferrari Race Transporter and the freshly rebuilt Ferrari 330 P4 at the Tradex booth. This year Franco Meiners again showcased a closed race transporter beside several interesting race and sports cars. Porsche was very well represented with a trio of 550 Spyder, 904 and 906. Especially the 904 drew a lot of attention because of its unusual metallic green colour for the Stirling Moss Automotive Racing Team, which ran the car in the hands of John Whitmore and Innes Ireland in Goodwood and Silverstone. The car was just restored recently by a German marque expert and would be a great addition to any Porsche collection. A more regular sight are the car raced by Meiners on various events in the past including the Ferrari 312 B3 nicknamed “Snowplough” to its special form, the Maserati 300S (3061) and the Alfa Romeo 33T3 Spider that raced Le Mans Classic last year. Further highlights included the Maserati 500 GT by Frua that once belonged the Aga Khan and a Ferrari 250 Europa (0303EU).

When walking the big trade shows nowadays there are always several Mercedes-Benz 300 SL available, both as Roadster and Gullwing and with time one tends to pay less attention to the individual cars. This would have been a mistake this time as apart from the selection of cars brought from German specialists Kienle and HK-Engineering especially the small team from the French restorer Classic Sport Leicht were a superb selection of very special cars. Today the Gullwing is mostly remembered as the ultimate gentleman´s express of the 1950s but the Gullwing was also used for racing. The display featured two of just 4 cars delivered new to the factory racing department. Although one might think that these were alloy cars the steel body was chosen because it was much more stable in the tough racing of the days. The first car (198.040.5500640) was Stirling Moss car for the 1956 GT season including the Tour de France where he finished with co-driver Georges Houel second behind the winning Ferrari of Alfonso de Portago. After being in a single family ownership for about 50 years this car made its first public appearance at the Retromobile since its active racing days. The second competition car on display was the training car as used by Stirling Moss before it was sold at the end of 1956.

In addition to these competition cars the 300 SL Roadster on display was no less than the Salon de Paris car of 1958 where it was presented with Hardtop and white wall tyres. One can imagine that its appearance was much more glamorous back then in the Grand Palais compared to the horrible lighting of hall 1 at the Paris exhibition centre.

When slowly walking to the corridors (as fast walking was not possible in a crowded house) one could see a seasons favourite every year, this time it seems that particularly several Ferrari 250 GT Lusso and 365 GTB/4 Daytona were on display as one could choose colour between several examples. Also several Lancia Stratos proof that this is becoming more and more popular as one could see on numerous entries at the annual Tour Auto. But the Retromobile is also known for more exotic French cars and especially the clubs always showcase less known examples like the cars of Jean-Albert Grégoire or various Panhards.

So after 5 days this year’s record breaking Retromobile closed its doors for another year and although the space and especially the amount of visitors increased over the last years it is still a more familiar show than the pure sales show in Essen. Part of this is also the fact that the automotive artists and the master scale model builders get a more prominent space than on other shows giving those with a smaller budget the possibility to take something home other than the multi million Euro cars on display. Certainly the hype of the Baillon collection added to the number of visitors so one will see next year whether these numbers consolidate but one could see that the hobby of classic car is more popular today than it ever was. We are looking forward to the 41th edition next year and we are curious about the next special themes and the development in the car market over the next 12 months.

For more information visit www.retromobile.com

Report& images: Peter Singhof
www.ClassicCarPhotography.de