For 35 years now, the Retromobile show in Paris has been the traditional start of a new automotive season in Europe. This year's edition opened its doors a few weeks earlier than normal but that is about all that changed. So once again various manufacturers, marque clubs and dealers shared the limited floor space with books, parts and accessory vendors. Although not as prominent as the stands with cars, the smaller booths usually attract the most interest. What was on offer ranged from a complete 1900s DeDion Bouton engine to the rarest of books. The most valuable of these collector books were prized higher than some of the cars on display. Of course they did not have the particular book we were looking for. In addition, one corner of the hall was reserved for auctioneer Bonhams who held a sale on the first Saturday of the show.
As always we visited the 'Porte de Versailles' exhibition centre on the first Friday before the impatient crowd crashed through the doors. In relative peace and quiet we have managed to capture all items of note in an exclusive 150-shot gallery
Bonhams: Automobiles d'Exception a Retromobile
For the third year in a row, Bonhams was the official auctioneer of the Retromobile show. Having previously experimented with the American tradition of driving cars across the block, the British company now settled for a more conventional stationary auction. Considering the large number of cars consigned, there also simply would not have been enough room for a big ramp. Making up a considerable chunk of the sale were complete collections of cars.
The single biggest was the 28-lot 'Andalusian Collection.' This eclectic selection of predominantly 1930s through 1960s luxury and sports cars was built up over many years by a Spanish enthusiast. Among them were prime examples from all over the world, including a V16 Cadillac, an 8C Alfa Romeo, a V12 Auburn, a Silver Ghost, a Delahaye, a Horch, two Lagondas and of course several Hispano Suizas. Results of note were a T56 Hispano Suiza that found a new owner for €475,000 and a Mercedes-Benz 630 K that changed hands for €398,000.
One of the auction's most prolific lots was a Bugatti Type 22 Brescia Roadster, which had recently been recovered from the lakebed of the Lago Maggiore on the border of Switzerland and Italy. It had been submerged at 54 metres under the surface for nearly 75 years. Story has it that it was dropped there in 1936 to avoid paying duties on the Bugatti. At a sizeable expense it was brought back to the surface in 2009. In a very deteriorated condition it was offered with no reserve with the proceeds going to the 'Fondazione Damiano Tamagi.' Although it was estimated to sell for €70 - 90,000 the bidding did not stop until it reached a startling €260,500. The winning bidder was American collector Peter Mullin, who intends to display the car as is in his new museum.
One of the other headline grabbing cars in the auction was the unique Monteverdi Hai 450 SS prototype that was first show at the 1970 Geneva Motor Show. Painted in its correct purple, Switzerland's first supercar was passed into new ownership for €398,000. Several of the remaining high profile lots did not make it past their reserves but Bonhams did manage to flock many of the more affordable machinery; a total of 70% of the lots changed hands for a total of €6.72m.
Manufacturers, clubs and events
Among the most loyal Retromobile exhibitors are the French sister companies Peugeot and Citroen. They always boast impressive displays with examples from their own collections as well as cars provided by the marques' enthusiast clubs. In 2010 Peugeot marks its 200th anniversary and the celebrations kicked off at Retromobile. The large display sported carriages, bikes and cars built by Peugeot during these two centuries. Across the isle, Citroen relived the introduction of the futuristic GS and SM models exactly 40 years ago. One of the displays even featured very retro wallpaper to get the mood just right. On the other side of the hall a very special SM made its debut. The original Maserati sourced V6 was replaced by a four-litre V8 engine. The car had only run for the first time a day before the show but we can confirm it sounded unlike any other Citroen. Although no V8-engined version was built in period, plans for this conversion actually did exist.
Over at the Mercedes-Benz stand the 'Gullwing' took centre stage. Flanking the recently introduced SLS AMG model were two classic examples. One was a prime example of the legendary 300 SL road car but the other was much more obscure. The eleventh and final racing car built in 1952, it was only used in testing. Compared to the earlier and very successful 'W194' racers, it features a more powerful engine and a heavily revised exterior. Of all 'Gullwing' racing cars this is the one that comes closest to the new car. Particularly the prominent star and horizontal bar in the grille on the SLS AMG seems to be lifted straight off the unique W194 evolution.
The Alfa Romeo Club France had a bigger stand than usual to celebrate the Italian manufacturer's centenary. Centre piece of the display was a brand new 8C Competizione, which was surrounded by some of the company's finest products. Included were a 6C 1750 Grand Sport, a TZ racing car and one of the rare Disco Volante show cars. The expansion of the Alfa stand left the Lancia Club with space to showcase just one car. They filled that space very well by displaying the spectacular D25 sports racer. This was the final evolution of the Vittorio Jano designed sports racers of the 1950s and sported a 3.5 litre, 280 bhp V6 engine. Only very few of these successful and sophisticated machines have survived.
To our knowledge, making its first appearance at Retromobile was Mazda. The Japanese company brought out some of their most evocative models. The 'piece de resistance' was a Cosmo or 110S sports car. Introduced in the 1960s, it was the first Mazda production car to be powered by a rotary engine. Also included were a first generation RX-7 and MX-5 as well as a brand new RX-8.
Organisers Peter Auto, had a small stand to warm people up for the upcoming Le Mans Classic. Through small Le Mans Classic signs in front of all cars eligible for the retrospective to be held in July, its presence was however felt across the show. In related news, Le Mans regular and Rally Dakar winner Luc Alphand launched a historic racing team and displayed a Le Mans Classic eligible competition Corvette and a Sauber C6 Group C car that could be used for this 24 Hours of Le Mans support event.
Traditionally some of the finest vehicles at Retromobile are brought by Europe's best dealers. They usually bring a mix of cars they have on offer and exquisite machines from the collections of their clients. Although not all of the dealers made it out to the show this year, there were still some extraordinary displays. In sheer numbers there was no match for the CarClassic.com stand that was literally packed with classic (racing) cars. Rarities included a 1982 Rondeau and a 1988 Formula 1 Dallara.
Much better spaced were the cars brought by Swiss broker Lukas Huni. Year on year he manages to create one of the show's most fascinating displays. This year he again did not disappoint. Our favourite was a Maserati 300S that until recently sported a very bright red finish. It has now been restored to a much nicer, and infinitely more correct deep red. Complemented by blue and white stripes, this must be one of the best looking 300S Maseratis in existence today.
Also included were a highly original Ferrari 512 M and an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 with a very elegant Spider body by Touring.
Huni's closest rival for best display of the show during the last few years has become Hall & Hall. Best known for preparing racing cars, they today work for some of the world's finest collections. Among their clients is the Donnington Collection and the passing of founder Tom Wheatcroft late last year was marked in great style. Prominently displayed was the perfect Bugatti Type 41 Royale Replica he had built from the original drawings. Sporting the same blue and black paint-scheme was the Type 46 'Superprofilee' that formed the centre piece of the Hall & Hall display. Further cars on display included a Ferrari 312 B, a BRM P261, a Nardi Alfa Romeo and a superb works built Austin Seven racer that used an engine with twin camshafts and twin superchargers. It was only the second time and the first time since the 1930s that it had left the British Isles.
It is no secret that the Retromobile ranks among our favourite shows each year. Its quality over quantity approach makes it one of the most visitor friendly events of its type. We are certainly not alone in our love for Retromobile; over half an hour before the show officially opened, a massive crowd had already gathered in front of the doors, very eager to get in. They were certainly not going to be disappointed as once again the Paris show managed to live up to the high expectations.