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Paris, 8th - 12th of February, 2017

Soon after the start of the Classic Car season in Scottsdale with the first auctions of the year the attention went over to Paris with the first major event of the European season. The Retromobile certainly is the most important indoor show on the continent, although not the biggest it always attract a lot of attention due to the unmatched quality of the cars on display. Visitors, collectors and journalists from all over the world head to the Parc d´Exposition at the Porte de Versailles every first week in February, both dealers and the classic car departments of the large manufacturer offer their cars, goods and services to the international clientele. It is no surprise that apart from the official auction house of the Retromobile (Artcurial) both Bonhams and RM Sotheby´s choose the periphery of the show to host some of their main auctions were one gets a direct comparison of the American and the European market within just a few days.

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After the preview and media evening on Tuesday the halls officially opened on Wednesday morning for the masses who flooded the three halls over the next days and according to official numbers the amount of visitors is not short of those when the Retromobile was still held over two full weekends giving an impression how packed the corridors were at peak times. Many high profile dealers but also special displays had many highlights on offer for every taste. Not to forget that the Retromobile is also a main event for the scale models collectors’ scene and with the addition of the “Village of Artists” the place to look for automobilia related art.

2017 marks the 70th anniversary of one of the most iconic brands on the market – Ferrari. Looking over the auction results of the last year’s most of the top prices realized are by the marque with the prancing horse and despite the fact that the classic Porsche 911 are on the rise the scene is still very much focused on the Italian Sports Cars. Celebrating a round birthday certainly a special display of Ferrari was one of the main attractions although for some reasons it was placed in the last hall 3 that was added to the show for the first time and therefore not in the focus of everyone.

Although Ferrari today is more linked to Formula 1 Enzo Ferraris first creations were especially successful at road and long distance races, early models were named after the victories at the Mille Miglia, the Tour de France, Le Mans or Monza and maybe one of the most beautiful designs ever to grace a Ferrari represented this early era with the 166 MM Touring Barchetta. Although Pininfarina should become the choice to cloth the later models the first examples of the 12 cylinder engined 2-litre cars very bodied by Carrozeria Touring of Milano just as some of the most iconic pre-war Alfa Romeo in a time when Enzo Ferrari was still team manager of the Alfa race department. Scaglietti became the coachbuilder for a lot of racing cars like the 500 TRC on show, one of the 4-cylinder cars that should be both used in road racing or in Formula 2 just like the 500 F2 on show. After Alfa Romeo winning the championship the previous year with the Alfetta it was Alberto Ascari to secure Ferrari its first Championship in open wheel races founding an everlasting relationship of Ferrari and F1 to the present day. In the 1960s the GT cars became more important and the 250 GT SWB and the Pininfarina Series 1 Cabriolet on show are two great examples. When Le Mans went towards the prototype racers it was the 250 LM securing Ferrari the last victory at La Sarthe, the example at Paris was the highly original example of the Schlumpf Collection in Mulhouse making one of its rare appearances outside the museum.

But as mentioned earlier Ferrari today is more linked with Formula 1 than it is with sports car racing. Ferrari today is the only existing team to enter a car in every season of F1 but although people all over the world support the Scuderia the actual F1 cars rarely get the display they deserve. So it was a more than pleasant surprise to see the booth of Methusalem Restoration of Mario Linke and classic car dealer Tradex of Franco Meiners setting up a display of no less than 7 examples of late 1960s/early 1970s. Although this was not the most successful era for Ferrari struggling to keep up with the Ford and Cosworth engined cars of Stewart, Rindt and Fittipaldi the early Ferrari 312 F1 nevertheless is famous for its artfully designed “Spaghetti”-exhaust pipes. Both chassis 017 and 019 on display were driven by Chris Amon and Pedro Rodriguez during the 1969 season but never made it to the podium. In 1972 it was the 312 B2 that was driven by Ickx, Regazzoni, Andretti and Merzario and the displayed chassis 008 was driven to a third place by Regazzoni in the Spanish GP. The car was later in the famous Albert Obrist collection before being displayed in the Ferrari Museum on a long term loan. Now the car is out of the museum and intended to be carefully brought back to track over the next years. Also in Obrist’s collection was the B3 prototype nicknamed “Spazzaneve” or “Snow plough” due to its form. In 1974 finally the high air box was seen in F1 and the 312B3 on show was the Regazzoni car.

Highlight of the display was another highly original car, the Ferrari 1512 F1 of 1965 driven by Surtees and Bandini. With only 1.5 Litre displacement the 12-cylinder engine is rather fragile and a work of art. This might be a nightmare for every scale model builder but great to look at and another car every Ferraristi cannot wait to see being back on the Race Track prepared by the specialists of Methusalem.

Talking about filigree 1.5 litre engine brings us directly to the next special display of this year’s show. In 1927 Delage won the GP Championship with a total victory over Bugatti and Talbot with the new straight-8 twin am 1.5 litre engine. 6 cars in total were built and no less than 5 of them found their way to Paris for an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these jewels reunited on one place including a bare chassis with the beautiful engine. Especially two chassis are today prominent highlights of two of the best collections/museums of their kind, chassis number one of the Collier Collection in Naples and chassis number 6 of the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard. The first built is considered the best preserved example still carrying its original components as well as the first body. The last chassis on the other hand was “upgraded” in 1950 with an ERA-engine when the original failed, it was entered in time by privateers rather than the works team just as was chassis 5 on display as raced by Prince Bira and therefore in the typical Siam color rather than French racing blue.

Other F1 related displays could be seen at the booth of Richard Mille who brought some impressive machinery including the two unusual 6-wheeler, the Tyrrell P34 and the less known March 2-4-0.

Less obscure from the outside but not less exotic were the other 4 F1 cars on display as they all represent a very small species of 4wd single seaters. The Lotus 63 remained a small chapter of the otherwise very successful Lotus history both works drivers Hill and Rindt refused to drive it in the Grand Prix as it was difficult to set up and was not considered safe by them. The history of the other 4wd cars is even shorter as the BRM P67 was only used once in practice by Richard Attwood and the McLaren M9A was only driven once by Derek Bell in 1969. But even if these cars were not winners it is even more impressive that someone puts love and money into them and present them together as a rarely seen history lesson.

When talking about the Retromobile one has to mention the high profile dealers who set up their great selection of blue chip cars year by year for their international clientele. Whereas Gregor Fisken, JD Classic or Axel Schütte always have a diversified selection of sports, race and luxury cars both post and prewar usually Lukas Hüni goes a different direction. Rather than showing his current inventory he sets up a themed display of cars he dealt in the past or who belong to very good customers who entrust him to show them in Paris. This year’s display was dedicated to the different approach from famous marques with the “B”. On one side Bugatti with the artificial approach of the design and on the other side the “fastest lorries in the world” (acc. To Ettore Bugatti), the large capacity engined Bentleys.

Although many of the cars are well known on the concours circuit it certainly is a show-stopper to see a Bugatti Atlantic (the “Holzschuh”-Car), both a T57S (c) and T57 Atalante as well as a wonderful T57 Aravis by Gangloff. Although the Atlantic has a rather difficult past the Figoni-modified Atlantic design is certainly an eye-catcher and one can leave it to the experts to discuss the originality of this particular car. Not far behind in design is the T57S Atalante of the former Williamson collection where it shared a stable with the other Atlantic that is today in the Mullin Museum (and won the recent
Arizona Concours). Not less interesting was the pack of GP cars including the T59, T54 and a highly original patinated T51/35C. One of the favorite design of many Bugatti enthusiasts is the sports car derivate of the Type 51, the T55 Super Sports with the design of Jean Bugatti.

Maybe less elegant but not less exciting are the creations of W. O. Bentley. At the end of the 1920s the 4- and 6-cylinder cars from Cricklewood dominated Le Mans and all the key models were lined up, a typical VdP bodied 3 Litre Speed Model as well as a 4 ½ Litre Tourer, one of the original 50 Bentley Blowers built, the Speed Six “Old Number Two” as raced at Le Mans as well as the late 8 Litre Tourer of Woolf Barnato himself, Bentley Boy and longtime financier of the company.

To talk about all the other special cars on display would break the mold but one has to mention the Aston Martin display of the David Brown Era including one of the famous James Bond DB5 as well as the jubilee of the Rally Group B cars as shown between hall 1 and 2.

The Retromobile 2017 was again well worth a visit and certainly the most interesting of the indoor shows but one cannot overlook that it develops in a more commercial direction as well. More and more car dealers are packing their booth with cars as one is used from the Techno Classica and the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL is represented by no less than 4 different companies alone. This might be a good development for some but on the other side the Retromobile is losing a little bit of its French charm. A good example is the repositioning of the club stands into hall 3 at the end of the display. One might argue that they are together now as are the artists but unfortunately the hall 3 was the least frequented of them all and the loosening up element in between the high money cars was missing.

Still it was a great show and with no less than three auctions to visit during the week it was worth the travel.

The date for the 2018 edition is already set running from the 7th-11th of February, for more information please visit

Report ... Peter Singhof
Images ... Peter & Wolfgang Singhof