A simple description of the annual Retromobile show in Paris is ‘not really all that many cars, but always a handful of special ones’. In this year’s 32nd edition the quality / quantity ratio was even higher than usual with something very special on almost every stand. As usual these were brought by dealers, clubs, manufacturers and Christie’s for their auction. It was this auction that grabbed Retromobile more pre-event headlines than ever before with Christie’s announcing the sale of a very rare Auto Union that they estimated could break the current world record set almost two decades ago by a Bugatti Type 41 Royale. The story was even picked up by many non-automotive media, so it was disappointing to learn a few days before the show opening that the car was withdrawn to further research the Grand Prix machine’s racing history. Fortunately for the many visitors, it was brought out on display as the centerpiece of the impressive collection gathered by the auction house. As always we were present in Paris early to shoot all the glorious machines, which have been captured in a 130-shot slideshow
and the following report.
Even without the Auto Union entered in the actual auction, the cars assembled by Christie’s for their fifth annual Retromobile sale was without a doubt one of the finest yet. Included were the usual suspects such as Ferraris and Rolls Royces, but in keeping with Retromobile’s reputation there were quite a few lots to appeal to the connoisseurs. One of the most interesting was the unique Barchetta-bodied Talbot Lago T26 GS that was almost driven to victory at Le Mans in 1952. It was an amazing single handed performance by the ill-fated Pierre Levegh, who refused to hand the wheel to his team-mate fearing he would destroy the engine that Levegh had so carefully preserved from the opening hours of the race. Sadly the engine failed, with less than an hour to go. Also present was a similar Talbot Lago, but instead bodied with a somewhat unusual fixed-head body. There was also plenty to rejoice for Grand Prix car enthusiasts with Renault and Ferrari F1 racers of the turbo era and one of the early Repco-engined Brabhams that dominated F1 in 1966 and 1967. Another F1 car present was the 1997 Ferrari used by Michael Schumacher in the infamous championship-deciding Jerez incident with Jacques Villeneuve.
At the end of the day 77% of the lots had found a new owner for a monetary value representing 70% of the estimate. Levegh's former Talbot was the top seller at well over €1.3 Million. Another big seller was a one-owner Mercedes Benz 540K Cabriolet, which changed hands for an impressive €1.2 Million. The biggest surprise was no doubt an 1890 DeDion Bouton steam car that was estimated to sell for €120,000 - 180,000, but instead found a new owner for just over €700,000.
Best known as the drummer of the legendary band Pink Floyd, Nick Mason is also one of the most prolific British collectors. The motoring seed was planted at a very early age by his father who was a highly respected director of automotive documentaries. As soon as he was financially able to, he carefully assembled a very impressive collection of mainly racing cars, which are frequently exercised by Nick and his family. For this year’s Retromobile, he brought out a sample of his collection including his favourite, the Ferrari 250 GTO and his first the Aston Martin Ulster, but also a more modern McLaren F1 GTR. Also present was a Lola T297 in which Mason competed in one of his five 24 Hours of Le Mans races. The cars were lined-up in a large square with Mason’s drums set up prominently in the centre. For this special occasion the cars were cleaned and polished to the extent that Nick himself had never seen before. The world could use more collectors like Mason who on many occasions showcase their collection in public for all of us to enjoy. For an in-depth and aural description of his collection we highly recommend his ‘Into the Red’ book, which comes complete with a CD of sound clips from many of his cars.
The rest of the show
As mentioned earlier the remaining stands and/or booths were filled by dealers, clubs and manufacturers. The latter two in particular had a clear theme on their stand like the 50th anniversary of the Fiat 500, a century of racing at Peugeot, or 70 years of diesel engines at Citroen. All of these were celebrated with a display of familiar, but also lesser-known examples fitting in the theme.
This year we were particularly impressed with the vehicles displayed by the car dealers. Retromobile is a prime opportunity for them to show they’re also enthusiasts and not just in it for the money. Most of their stands graced exotic machinery with highly informative plaques. Among the dream-garage eligible machines on the dealer stands were the likes of the Ferrari 250 GT ‘Breadvan’, Jaguar XK-SS, Aston Martin DBR4, BRM P25, Bugatti Type 57s and many more.
Our clear favourite of the entire show was the Delage 2LCV, displayed by Lukas Hueni. Built for the new 1923 2-litre regulations, it features a twin-cam V12 engine that supposedly had Enzo Ferrari interested in so much that he adopted it as standard some thirty years later. The 2LCV showcased is the only survivor and has recently been completely restored.
Of quite a different vintage was the unique Heuliez Pregunta that was shown on the stand of Autodrome. Based off a Lamborghini Diablo, the striking machine was designed to showcase the French specialist manufacturer’s coachbuilding abilities. Debuted at the 1998 Paris Auto Show, it could have signaled a new direction for the Italian company, but the Audi take-over abruptly ended all running projects.
Also deserving a mention is the stand of the Federation Francaise des Vehicules d’Epoqu (FFVE), which housed two Voisins. Both cars used a similar fabric for the interior, although in different colours and the stand had seats to match.
Christie’s was not the only auction company present on the show floor with Bonham’s, Artcuriel and RM Auctions also making their presence known. RM used the opportunity to promote their upcoming Ferrari sale in Maranello, while Bonham’s previewed a few lots of their always interesting Grandes Marques sale in Monaco.
With this report we tried to give an impression of the 2007 edition of Retromobile, but in reality nothing beats the experience of walking through the tight isles of the show floor and discovering something new and exciting around every corner. It is not unlike the proverbial feeling like a kid in the candy store. All we can do is highly recommend visiting Retromobile, but beware; it’s easy to get hooked!