So, for this enthusiast at least, the impressively vast venue at the Expo Porte de Versailles was dizzyingly
spectacular, jam packed with the highest quality ‘voitures’ - absolutely everywhere. The proverbial kid in a
sweet shop, I really didn’t know in which direction to look, and it took a couple of days to fully establish my
bearings while repeatedly criss-crossing the three arenas.
Some familiar names from London were showcasing their finest. Gregor Fisken and Max Girardo - industry
respected worldwide - were both welcoming and generous with their time, even though they knew I wasn’t a
potential buyer, but the majority of vendors I’d only seen in magazines or via their websites. From France,
Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Italy, as well as Belgium, Austria, Portugal and Spain, the best purveyors
in Europe were all present. Among recent contacts it was good to meet Nick Aalderling and Laurent Auxietre.
We shared a specific Aston Martin interest and I was helped by their perfect English, otherwise I would have
immediately drowned in Dutch and still been well out of my depth, floundering in French.
Impossible to name all the major players to whom I talked, and perhaps unfair to select just a few for
comment over others, so hopefully the accompanying pictures will highlight the eye-catching selections from
most. A huge number of the cars they brought out have never been, and will never be, seen in the UK, but
most astounding of all, as first witnessed on the initial preview evening, was the vision of the collection
assembled by just one company. It is certainly deserving of a mention here, and is that of Rétromobile
regular, Lukas Hüni, based in Zürich.
First, let me run through the list of his very special cars, the complete inventory of which I only worked out
subsequently. We saw Ferraris; 250 TdF & 275 GTB, Maseratis; 250F & 300S, Bugatti; Types 54 & 59, an
Alfa Romeo 8C Monza, a Mercedes-Benz 680 S Saoutchik, an Avions Voisin C11 Torpedo Belvalette and a
Vauxhall 30/98 Wensum. That would have half filled a International Concours event in its own right. But no,
there was more. Some 250 GT Short Wheel Base Ferraris graced the frontal width. I started counting as I
walked round. One, two, three, four. A quartet? No, more than that, keep walking. Five, six, seven. Not
finished yet, keep going. Eight and nine, then making double figures, a very special unique Bertone bodied
version right in the middle. That was Ten! I wasn’t the only one to shake my head in total incredulity. Others
were heard muttering expletives in sheer amazement.
Here I must apologise for, despite a few hundred pictures of cars taken over three days, I was in such awe of
so many similar iconic Ferraris in one gathering, that I failed to capture most of the other marques in the
display. However, all are available elsewhere and that visual research exercise was my only means of
confirming them for myself!
The standard was equally high throughout. Non mainstream French manufacturers are rarely seen outside the
UK, so it was an education to view more coach-built styles by Voisin, plus the curvaceous Delages,
Delahayes and Facel Vegas. Pioneering partnerships from the dawn of motoring such as Panhard et Levassor
and De Dion-Bouton, are familiar names from my pre-1905 ‘Brighton Run’ experiences, but this the first time I
had viewed impressive limousines, produced in the 1920s. Bonhams alone offered an incredible collection of
Minervas, plus a couple of FNs, also from Belgium and other grandees such as Hispano-Suiza, Horch,
Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Bugatti all graced the auction houses in addition to the Rétromobile exhibitors. The
company of FN from Liège, by the way, standing for “Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre”, had its origins
in the military weapons industry from 1896, and manufactured cars until the early 1920s.
Nearly a century later, modern Citroën cars look much like any other European manufacturer’s offerings these
days, but 30 years ago and further back in time, they were highly distinctive and often innovative. It was
Artcurial who presented a selection of the Henri Chapron special bodied examples, and others could also be
found in various displays in the main hall. Convertible DS models - Décapotable of course, in French - and
notchback saloons with names such as Palm Beach, Le Dandy and Lorraine, then later limousine or
drop-head SM models called Milord and Opera. Rare as hens’ teeth in France, but almost impossible to see
elsewhere. However, the real ‘Queen Bees’ of Chapron Citroëns, exclusive to Paris itself were the gargantuan
Présidentielle models. The DS for leader of the Nation, Charles de Gaulle, and the SM open tops used by
Georges Pompidou through to Jacques Chirac. CdG’s 1968 DS 21 was 6.3m long (21ft. 5ins.) and seven feet
wide at the front, but then Le Président himself was over six foot five tall, so perhaps he could justify wanting
extra legroom from the rear seats.
More compact, with a far more sporting heritage, but arguably similarly successful in France, albeit on a
different platform - owing to five 1950s wins at the Le Mans 24 hour race - is the originally English company,
Jaguar. Now overseas owned, and combined with Land Rover, the heritage department of the business,
Jaguar Classic, chose Rétromobile to launch a series of Continuation cars, celebrating the most famous of
their racing models, the D-type. Twenty-five individual units will be constructed and customers can choose
some of the detail themselves, not just the colour, but whether they want long or short-nose bodywork. Both
faithfully matching the specification of the original 1955 and 1956 designs.
The announcement follows two other strictly limited ‘re-launches’ of famous sporting Jaguars: Six Lightweight
E-types were completed during 2014-15, followed by nine XKSSs, the last of which will be finished later this
year. Hot on the heels of Aston Martin Works beginning 25 Continuation DB4GTs, and Lister Cars of
Cambridge building further ‘Works’ Knobblys, it seems competition cars of yesteryear, put together by the
original manufacturer, are increasingly popular and obviously must be good financial business for the
companies themselves. A large number of customers might already have an original, but the ever increasing
values make owners reticent to use them for fear of serious damage. For them it’s a sensible opportunity,
especially now that ‘guest' or paid professional racing drivers are seen sharing the wheel during classic race
meetings, pushing the limits of adhesion and performance, and a more inherent desire to be first at the flag. A
brand new group of facsimile versions, campaigned as they were intended, with equal determination to their
illustrious heyday, is likely to be less of a worry for all involved.
Trudging through the snow on Wednesday morning wasn’t a worry to me either. During my journey to reach
RM Sotheby’s portable structure, at the Place Vauban, underneath the imposing dome of “Les Invalides” (do
look it up), there was a noticeable air of tranquility with everything enveloped in powdery white and an almost
total absence of any moving vehicles. Staff at RM were hastily repairing part of the roof where the naturally
falling blanket above had become rather too heavy with the frozen stuff overnight, but all the cars remained
pristine and untouched. Perhaps it was me, or the bright ‘rouge’ contrasting carpet underfoot, but the most
attractive cars seemed to be the ‘blanc’ ones, and there appeared to be more of them than would be usual.
You don’t often see Maseratis and Lamborghinis in white, let alone an Aston Martin V8 Vantage, and what
was most surprising of all was the leather interior similarly bleached. Not a mark or scuff to be seen, so all
the more unique for a 25 year old car. I suppose the ice blue and silver cars further enhanced the ambience of
a proper ‘Winter collection’, but Summer, Autumnal and day-glow shades were definitely conspicuous by their