Even for seasoned enthusiasts the Retromobile show in Paris is highly anticipated. Held for the 34th time this year, the annual event always contains many very interesting and often rarely seen machines. These are brought by a mix of clubs, manufacturers and classic car dealers. The anticipation is further increased by the layout of the show with walled off booths; there can be something special around each corner. That was certainly quite often the case this year. Complementing the 'regular' show was the Bonhams auction, which already grabbed headlines in the world media beforehand.
Also brimming with anticipation, we were on the showfloor first thing to capture all the highlights before the crowds flocked in. The results have been compressed in a 130-shot slideshow
and you can expect more detailed features on many of the individual cars in the future.
Bonhams Auction: Automobiles d'Exception a Retromobile
In these difficult times each major auction is a new test of the strength of the market. After a difficult sale at Gstaad, Bonhams was also certainly in need of a good result. The headlining barn-find Bugatti Type 57S Atalante created plenty of attention even in the mainstream media. Ordered new by the great Bugatti enthusiast Lord Howe, the black Atalante entered the ownership of Dr Harold Carr in 1955. He used the car sparsely and eventually stored it in a shed. In the spring of 2007, after Dr Carr had passed away, the completely original Type 57S reemerged. With no other low chassis Type 57 likely to ever emerge in this condition again, the Bonhams auction of chassis '57502' offered a truly unique opportunity. This was grasped with both hands as during bidding the price was driven up to a formidable 3.4 million Euro.
The tone had already been set earlier when the equally rare Bugatti Type 18 'Black Bess' came up for sale. Once owned by legendary aviator Roland Garros and one of just a handful of chain-driven Bugattis, it sold for nearly 2.5 million Euro. These were no incidents as impressive figures were achieved by a Citroen DS23 Cabriolet (337,500 Euro), an OSCA MT4 (370,500 Euro) and a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster (370,500 Euro).
Retromobile goes green
Searching for alternative methods of propulsion seems very much like a quest of recent years. A prominent display with a wide variety of machinery provided a kind reminder that many of the alternatives are as old as the conventional internal combustion itself. The early steam and electric engined cars are well known but the display also featured a petrol-electric hybrid dating back to 1947. Dubbed the 'Gonnet Hybrid' after its creator, the small two-seater sports a two cylinder Zundapp engine and a rear-mounted electric motor.
Perhaps the most famous electric car of all time is the Jamais Contente (Never Satisfied) built by Camille Jenatzy in 1899. It was the first car of its kind to break the 100 km/h barrier. The example on display at Retromobile is a meticulously built and fully functional replica. Another electric car of great interest on display was the Bugatti Type 56 built back in 1931. It was shown at the Paris Salon that year and another was used by Ettore to inspect his factories.
Petrol shortages in the War years resulted in some of the more unusual alternatives. The most common of these was the adoption of a wood gasifier on a regular internal combustion engine. The Peugeot stand featured a 402 fitted with such a devise.
Strong manufacturer presence
Quite a few major manufacturers are regular exhibitors at Retromobile. They traditionally bring a sample of their large collections. Citroen celebrated their 90th anniversary with a display featuring many of the French company's greatest cars ranging from the very first Type A Torpedo to the all new C3 Picasso. Also included were an early (1934) and a late (1957) Traction Avant; it was remarkable to see how little the design had changed in well over two decades.
Loyal Retromobile participants Mercedes-Benz celebrated the 75th anniversary of the 'Silver Arrow' by displaying the 1939 Tripoli Grand Prix winning W165 and Lewis Hamilton's championship winning McLaren MP4-23. Both Grand Prix cars were placed in front of a huge wall with pictures of many of the German company's great single seaters.
Not really adhering to any particular theme, Alfa Romeo's Museo Storico simply sends two cars from the collection each year. For this edition they rolled out their V12-engined 12C 36 Grand Prix racer and the evocatively styled Giulia SS Bertone Prototype of 1965. Around the corner sister-company Lancia showed a 1930 Dilambda. With a V8 engine and an underslung unitary chassis the Lancia was well ahead of its time. The example on display is believed to be the only surviving two-seater Spider and is still regularly campaigned in rallies around the world.
Dealers bring out the best
Often with help of their clients, the classic car dealers put on the best show at Retromobile. Particularly the displays of Swiss dealer Lukas Hüni and British racing car specialists were a sight to behold. Exhibiting for the very first time, Fiskens also held its own with a colourful mix of classic cars. The display was highlighted by a Ferrari 250 GT 'TdF' with a highly unusual but period correct yellow and green stripe, an ex-Ford France GT40 and one of the two 3-litre Peugeot single seaters that raced at Indy in 1921.
Lukas Hüni's booth prominently featured two Saoutchik bodied Mercedes-Benz S-Types. The two supercharged Mercedes were surrounded by an evocative selection of Italians sports cars. Among them was the only Lancia D24 in private hands, the ex-Maranello Concessionaires Ferrari 250 LM and the 1932 Le Mans winning Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 clothed by Zagato.
Just like in 2008, the most interesting selection of cars was found on the Hall & Hall stand. The bulk of the nine cars on display were provided by the fantastic Donnington Collection. Included was perhaps the most successful Grand Prix chassis of all time; the ex-Alberto Ascari Ferrari 500 F2 that he used to win to the 1952 and 1953 World Championship in very dominating fashion. Our favourite was the Porsche 804 F1 used by Jo Bonnier in the 1962 season. It was bought straight from the factory and remains in absolutely original condition. Placed on a pedestal was the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Competition Coupe used for testing by the Works team in 1952. It made its public debut after a full restoration by Mercedes. Interestingly it has been brought back to its 'Le Mans' configuration with a roof mounted air-brake. Although never used in racing a similar device was used a few years later on the 300 SLR.
For those of you having read our previous Retromobile reports, the final thoughts of the 2009 may sound very familiar; the high expectations were once again fully fulfilled. One of Hall & Hall representatives promised us an even better display next year. This year's show is still open until next Sunday (February 15th), so you still have time to take a step into motoring heaven. If you can't make it out to the city of lights, our 130-shot gallery
is the next best thing.