Everyone enjoys Rétromobile - Hardly possible not to
Follow us on MediaCenter
Follow us on Twitter
Everyone enjoys Rétromobile - Hardly possible not to
Everyone enjoys Rétromobile - Hardly possible not to
Everyone enjoys Rétromobile - Hardly possible not to
Everyone enjoys Rétromobile - Hardly possible not to
Everyone enjoys Rétromobile - Hardly possible not to
Everyone enjoys Rétromobile - Hardly possible not to
Everyone enjoys Rétromobile - Hardly possible not to
Everyone enjoys Rétromobile - Hardly possible not to
Everyone enjoys Rétromobile - Hardly possible not to
Everyone enjoys Rétromobile - Hardly possible not to
Everyone enjoys Rétromobile - Hardly possible not to
 Previous page

Paris, 06 – 11 February, 2018

Over the years I’ve been lucky to visit many car shows and automotive exhibitions plus, in recent times, be present at a selection of major historic auctions. However, until now, all of these have been in the UK. Therefore, it was an exciting prospect to spend a few days in France for Rétromobile, attending not only a huge European event, but the three associated classic and historic car sales put on by the biggest and most respected names in the business; Bonhams, RM Sotheby’s and, the home nation’s, Artcurial.

An additional bonus of the location being the heart of that country’s Capital. But the icing, quite literally on this Parisian gateaux, was that arriving visitors found the city covered in snow. Some local media reports suggesting the heaviest for about 60 years. Many major roads were almost deserted, but fortunately the subterranean trains of the Metro were running normally. All exhibiting cars and those up for auction were already in place, each one in sparkling condition.

 Next page

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 absence.

The one exception being an almost brand new and florescent 4x4 Mercedes G-Wagen whose official paint code was termed as Alien Green. A youthful attention seeker in such mature company, but far more in keeping with tradition for the three pointed star were a collection five splendid cabriolets, built between 1933 and a decade later. However, the ‘Gullwing’ featured representative wasn’t a younger cousin, but from a different country altogether. The Italian Red DeTomaso Mangusta, of course, had its wings positioned further back on the body to reveal the engine, rather than any occupants. (A flying Mongoose? OK, perhaps not.) Personally familiar to me from a previous role, I’d noted Artcurial had another British registered sister car, in slightly more subtle Lime. Stability near maximum speed in these, I had read, was something of an issue for the design, but RM’s Bugatti Chiron, absurdly fast yet limpet-like, in French racing-blue, topped the sale values at €3,323,750, with three other Lots grossing over a million Euros. However, the double Mille-Miglia Ferrari 166MM Spider and the late Johnny Hallyday’s Iso Grifo A3/C did not reach the required threshold figures to provide them new owners.

The next day it was the turn of Bonhams. Certainly the best venue for a big sale, the Grand Palais, with its curved glass roof, providing both natural light and vast amounts of space in which to display nearly 140 cars, a Ferrari liveried bus and a huge 36 Litre V12 Hispano-Suiza aero-engined Powerboat built for the fearless in 1934. As well as artworks - priced just as highly - for a future sale, two vehicles were revealed as forthcoming headliners; the Aston DB4GT Zagato ‘2 VEV’ and an Alfa Romeo Tipo B Monoposto, being auctioned at Goodwood. Again I was hugely impressed. Not just because of the building, but the eclectic mix and quantity of fabulous pre-war cars Bonhams were offering. The aforementioned Minervas - numbering one more than even Lukas Hüni’s SWBs - and manufacturers totally new to me: Imperia, Nagant, Pipe, Zedel and, the fittingly French, Turcat-Méry. With photographs, newsreel and feature films invariably in black and white dated before the 1950s, it was a revelation to see so many Edwardian to Post-Vintage era cars painted in bright and cheerful colours. As befitted Henry Ford’s 1909 statement, it seemed only the Model ‘T’, from his early production line, was in appropriate black.

Friday was the big opportunity for Artcurial, back at the Porte De Versailles. Just as well I had spent some time photographing their Lots earlier in the week because, upon arrival that morning, all but the non-runners had completely vanished. I soon learnt that overnight they’d been moved down to the car park floor, a level below, where the auction was to take place. A wide central corridor of carpet and seating had been prepared, flanked by panelling and heavy curtains either side. A strict cordon of security personnel forbade any person, other than staff, going to the left to view the lines of cars in catalogue order waiting for each to be called for their moment of glory on stage. Most were driven up the ramp while a platoon of young employees in berets pushed the silent ones. The ‘auditorium’ was absolutely packed, every seat taken and about 20 rows of standing spectators (possibly even a few bidders) in an arc behind.

Several auctioneers, rather than one, were exclaiming the bid prices, sometimes not in sync with each other, but the atmosphere was consequently quite excitable. Thankfully, only the senior figure, Monsieur Hervé Poulain had a gavel so there could only be one hammer price, but those coming through by phone had to rely on his other assistants to verbally keep pace and advise what was going on in what might have seemed, to them, quite a melee.

Of the two star lots, Artcurial’s low slung Ferrari 250 GT PF Cabriolet with a vivid green, yet stylish, interior, could hardly be seen in the metal, so those of us far back benefited from the projection screens. However, it peaked at €5.5 million, one and half short of the lower estimate. By contrast, the swooping red curves of the Bugatti Type 57C Atalante were a little more visible and it went to a fortunate new custodian for €2.5 million net, 500k below lower estimate. That said, the fee and commission added much of it back on, and brought the total sum up to €2,903,200. To the right hand side of the ‘sale room’, cars were again parked in lines ready for onward collection and transportation, but this time the gradually growing fleet was distantly viewable by those making their way towards ‘rest room’ facilities.

I imagined the automobiles having personalities and minds of their own. All of them silent and patient under the dim lighting, but some gloomy and feeling unloved where bids had not met the reserves. While most would be anticipating new homes and new masters, perhaps the majority in excitement, a few could be in trepidation and anxious about how they’d be treated henceforth. No doubt several were destined to be stripped and rebuilt for a complete new lease of life, others to be enthusiastically exercised, but perhaps a sizeable proportion would be put back into hidden hibernation, covered up in private collections and seldom, if ever, spotted on the open road again.

That would be a shame, not only for the cars - each one obviously built to be driven and enjoyed - but we, the enthusiastic collective public at large, who were at least privileged to see so many hundred of these mechanical jewels, brought together on one wintery week in Paris. If you haven’t been before, type February 6th-10th 2019 in your digital diary now. Go on, it won’t take a moment and if you’ve persevered reading down this far, you certainly won’t regret the visit. There’s so much more to see than I have mentioned or photographed here.

Report and Photos:
Classique Car Conduits