The annual Retromobile in Paris has come a very long way since its humble beginnings in the old Bastille train station in 1976. It has grown out to become one of the finest classic car shows, presenting some of the best cars and related collectables that each year attract enthusiasts and collectors from around the world. By restricting the space available to the exhibitors, quality is almost guaranteed. For the 2011 edition a new organisation stepped in and some of the biggest changes in years were made to the formula. The most important was a cut in the show's length from ten to five days. To compensate for some of the time lost, the show remained open until well into the evening on two of the weekdays. A new official auction partner, Artcurial Motorcars, also stepped up to take the spot previously held by Bonhams and Christies.
The vital ingredients were fortunately retained and Retromobile once again provided for a colourful spectacle. All this and much more can be seen in our exclusive 170-shot gallery
Artcurial Motorcars Auction
For years, the Paris-based auctioneer Artcurial hosted a sale during the Retromobile show at their 'Palais de Congres' headquarters. In 2010 the versatile company set up a separate Motorcars department, which had successful sales at Le Mans and on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. As part of their expansion, Artcurial Motorcars also took the Retromobile slot for 2011. Appreciating the unique character of the show, the company's experts consigned a collection of very remarkable cars. Among them were around two dozen limousines formerly owned and/or used by heads of state, the likes of Brezhnev, Kennedy and De Gaulle. Included was a replica of the Citroen DS that made a famous escape with two flat tyres after a failed assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle. Although it was not the actual car, it did come complete with bullet holes. Also included in the sizeable sale was a collection of Aston Martin grand tourers, which featured early DB cars, later V8s and even one of the angular Lagondas.
Many major manufacturers dip in their collection each year to bring something exciting to Retromobile. At the entrance, visitors were welcomed by a Mazda booth with a selection of the company's racing cars, celebrating the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans win twenty years ago. Next up was Peugeot, who followed up their bicentenary celebrations last year with a selection of unusual and one-off cars. Among them was a 104 styled by Pininfarina and the teardrop shaped 402 penned by Jean Andreau. Sister company Citroen focused on the marque's off-road and rallying heritage. Displayed were cars ranging from the especially prepared half-track C4, which crossed the Asian continent from Beirut to Beijing in 1931, to the brand new DS3 WRC car that will be used by Sebastian Loeb to defend his world championship in 2011. Mercedes-Benz is also a long time exhibitor at Retromobile and this year they celebrated the 125th anniversary of the Benz Patent Motor Wagen with a line of cars, displaying the progress made over the years. Renault marked the 50th anniversary of the versatile 4, Skoda made their Retromobile debut and Nissan displayed the company's legendary Z-cars.
Traditionally some of the show's most spectacular cars are brought by the leading classic car dealers. This year was certainly no exception with Lukas Huni, Fiskens and Hall & Hall displaying their finest inventory. Swiss broker Huni prominently showed the resurrected Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic that caused such a stir at Pebble Beach in 2010. Equally impressive were the Ferraris he brought, which included one the very rare 555 Super Squalo Formula 1 cars. At Fiskens all eyes were on a 'barn-find' Squire with an elegant Ranelagh Tourer body. This was the first time it was shown in public for over thirty years. It clearly needs a lot of attention but Gregor Fisken was adament that the car was complete. He also brought a freshly restored Ford GT40 and a rarely seen Jaguar E-Type 'Lightweight'. Across the isle at Hall & Hall our eye was caught by a lovely Lola Mk6 sports racer, which can be considered the father of the Ford GT40. One of just three built this was the only one fitted with a Chevrolet engine for its first owner John Mecom. Painted the wrong colour blue, it was part of the fabled Rosso Bianco collection until 2006. Now refurbished in the correct Mecom colours, it should make for a very potent challenger in the Goodwood Revival's Whitsun Trophy.
Further cars of note
Really hard to miss this year was the 'Fardier de Cugnot' brought by the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum. It is a faithful and fully functioning recreation of the original built by Nicolas Joseph de Cugnot in 1769 to tow canons across the battle field. Powered by a steam engine, it is generally considered the first 'automobile'. The original still exists but has not moved under its own power in almost two centuries. Another French creation that starred at Retromobile was the Lorraine-Dietrich that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1926. It has survived in very original condition and has only been owned by three families. Placed alongside was a slightly earlier Lorraine-Dietrich racer brought by the Brooklands museum. This beast is fitted with a 16-litre four-cylinder engine and shares a remarkable similarity with the legendary Blitzen Benz. In fact it is so much alike that it could very well have been built by Benz for the French company. The 36th Retromobile also honoured one of the greatest racing drivers of all time; Juan Manuel Fangio, who had have 100 this year. On a special display, four of his World Championship winning cars were displayed, including one of the Mercedes-Benz 'Silver Arrows' and the Maserati 250F that he drove to the legendary victory in the 1957 German Grand Prix.
ROFGO Gulf Collection by Duncan Hamilton
The display dedicated to the ROFGO Gulf Collection was one of the absolutely crowd favourites. As the name suggests this is a collection of Gulf liveried and/or backed racing cars, which was assembled for a German client by Duncan Hamilton in a very short time. The powder-blue and orange livery is certainly one of motorsport's most iconic and seeing a dozen or so examples together is just mesmerising. All of the famous Gulf cars are represented including the Ford GT40 of a type that won Le Mans twice and the Porsche 917K that achieved legendary status by the Le Mans movie starring Steve McQueen. It was certainly no coincidence that a stand full of Gulf apparel was located across the isle. Also included were two Mirages and one of the McLaren Can-Am cars that were backed by Gulf throughout McLaren's dominance of the popular series. Gulf was most active as a sponsor in the late 1960s and early 1970s but has since made several returns to the sport, including most recently as the primary partner of Aston Martin racing. In the 1990s the oil company's colours and logos were also found on the McLaren F1 GTR racers. A rare 'Longtail' version as used in 1997 is also part of the collection. The owner does not plan to permanently display the cars, so this could very well have been a one-off opportunity to see all of them together in public.
At no time was Retromobile at risk of losing its appeal but the changes made for 2011 were very welcome. All the exhibitors we talked to were particularly happy to see the show shortened to just five days. An estimated 100,000 visitors were treated to around 400 cars brought by 300 different exhibitors. They certainly did not leave the Paris Porte de Versailles exhibition centre disappointed.