For many historic car enthusiasts the annual Retromobile show in Paris is a must visit event. The reason why is quite simple; Retromobile is the best event of its kind. Even for the most seasoned visitors of historic races and car shows, there is always something ‘new’ to see in the Porte de Versailles Paris Expo Centre. Over 100,000 people flock to the French capital from all over the world in the first week of February to visit the 300 stands filled with historic motor cars, automobilia, parts and literature. Few of them, if any, leave the exhibition centre disappointed.
For the sixth year running our photographers were on hand and have captured all the highlights in a detailed report and a 150-shot slideshow
Bonhams €10 Million Auction
In recent years Christie’s served as the official event auction, making headlines last year by almost offering one of the surviving Auto Unions. A few months ago the company’s motoring department was taken over by competitor Bonhams and they also took up Christie’s Retromobile spot. Following a predominantly American tradition, but breaking new ground in Europe, the cars were actually driven on the auction block. It was clearly well received as at the end of Saturday evening the result was just shy of €10 Million; an increase of 40% over any previous Retromobile auction.
The English auctioneer managed to assemble a collection of vehicles that fitted nicely in the show’s spirit with some quite exceptional and rarely seen gems. One of our favourites was a meticulously restored Farman A6B, which is believed to be one of only a handful Farmans remaining and the only one in private hands. One of the most highly regarded cars of its day; the offered Farman combines exquisite lines, with superb engineering and rarity. It was quite surprising that the bidding stopped shy of the €500,000 - €600,000 estimate. The more famous French manufacturer Bugatti captured more bidders’ attention and rightly so as some great examples were offered. Top seller was a Type 43 Grand Sport, which found a new owner for a record breaking €1,200,000. From the same Dutch collection came one of the very last Bugattis built, a Type 101. Equipped with a remarkably elegant coachwork by Guillore, this post-War Bugatti sold for €162,000. This is a real bargain considering that similarly engined and much more common Type 57s usually sell for several times this amount.
While the many French built cars offered were well received, it was a car from German manufacturer Mercedes Benz that claimed the highest bid. This was a Saoutchik bodied Type S, which had been owned by the same family from new until sold at a Monterey / Pebble Beach auction in 2006. Back in Paris for the first time since it was clothed by Jacques Saoutchik, it changed hands for €2,100,000. A much more familiar sight in Paris was the Mercedes Benz 500 K Cabriolet offered by local artist Georges Mathieu. He used the car on the road for over half a decade and was on hand to see his ‘muse’ leave his ownership for a modest €800,000.
The Retromobile Show
While the show was hosted by another two of the Paris Expo’s many halls, the successful setup remained the same. Each of the many booths was separated by relatively narrow aisles, which aids to create the unique atmosphere as it is impossible to look ahead more than one or two booths. So around every corner there can be a pleasant surprise and this year there were quite a few.
Bonhams was not the only auctioneer present at Retromobile. Both RM Auctions and Artcurial also had booths. The latter showed a Voisin C25 that was offered later in the week during an auction at their headquarters across town. Fitted with the famous ‘Aerodyne’ coachwork, it found a new owner for just over €500,000. RM Auctions were at the show to promote the upcoming Leggenda e Passione sale in Maranello. Two of the Ferraris to be offered in the sale, a 246 Dino Sport and a 250 GT California Spyder, graced their stand.
One of the show’s most loyal exhibitors is Swiss dealer Lukas Hüni, who fills one of the largest stands. As with many other dealers, far from all of the cars displayed are actually for sale and are shown on behalf of private collections. Hüni always manages to amaze us with something very special and this year he brought the Maserati 250 F used by Juan Manuel Fangio to record one of Formula 1’s most legendary victories. Halfway through the 1957 Nurburgring Grand Prix, he was almost a minute behind the leading Ferraris, who were running at lap record pace. The Great Master managed to close the gap by recording faster times lap after lap. He set a new lap record on 10 of the race’s 22 laps. With two laps to spare, Fangio rushed past Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn to record one of his last and certainly his finest victories.
Hüni was only eclipsed by English dealers Hall & Hall, who showed six very special racing cars. Of pre-war vintage were the supercharged Mercedes Benz SS and Bugatti Type 39A. A little newer was a 1950s Aston Martin DB3s, which was last painted back in 1964. The highlights on display were two 1960s mid-engined Ferrari racers. Appropriately displayed on a pedestal was the 330 P, which was one of the first Ferraris to have the trademark V12 engine mounted behind the driver. Very few of the very successful 250/275/330 P range have survived. The example at Retromobile finished second at Le Mans behind a sister car and subsequently to a victory in the 1964 Nurburgring 1000 km race. The other mid-engined Ferrari was a 206 SP, equipped with the rare hill-climb style Spyder bodywork.
Complementing the dealers were many clubs and manufacturers, who traditionally use their little plot on the Retromobile show floor to celebrate an anniversary of sorts. This year was no exception as for example BMW celebrated 30 years of the M(otorsport) department, the Delahaye Club commemorated the 70th anniversary of the French manufacturer’s Le Mans win by showing the winning and second placed cars and newcomer Honda celebrated the company’s 60th birthday. Both Fiat and Lancia also had a reason to celebrate as one of their successful models of the past has made or will make a come back; the 500 and Delta respectively.
The show was also used to promote upcoming events. One of the most unusual stands was that of the Le Mans Classic, which featured three electric cars. These cars will be piloted by children on the Bugatti section of the Le Mans circuit before the actual Le Mans Classic will commence.
Each year I travel to Paris with great expectations and rarely am I disappointed. Having been in this business for nearly a decade, people often ask me if I haven’t seen it all by now. The Retromobile show always reminds me and a large majority of the other visitor that I have by far not seen it all. Paris is well worth a visit every day of the year, but during Retromobile it is really irresistible!