Plus ca change ...
French journalist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr once stated 'plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose', or 'the more it changes, the more it stays the same'. This very much applies to the annual Retromobile show in Paris; subtle tweaks are made every year but it nevertheless retains the same atmosphere and remains one of the must-visit events of the year. In 2011 we saw one of the more substantial changes when the length of the event was cut from ten to five days. Especially popular with exhibitors, this has resulted in increased demand for floor space, so for this year the show was moved to halls 3 and 2.2 of the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre. Once inside, however, it felt like nothing had changed compared to last year. In addition to the familiar exhibitors, the 2012 Retromobile hosted a selection of cars from the Mullin Automotive Museum, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Ferrari 250 GTO and had displays for amphibious cars and French one-off sports cars. Two auctions were also held in Paris during the same week; one by local company Artcurial Motorcars as part of Retromobile and another by Bonhams at La Halle Freyssinet.
Another thing that never changes is our arrival at the creak of dawn on the opening day to capture the show before the hordes arrive. This year the result is this 170-shot gallery
, which also includes the two auctions.
Bonhams' The Paris Sale
Following the take-over of the motoring department of rival Christie's, Bonhams briefly was the official auctioneer of Retromobile. When local company Artcurial took over, the British company continued to host a sale in Paris. This year La Halle Freyssinet near Gare d'Austerlitz was chosen as the venue. Named after its creator, the 1929 steel and concrete building was previously used by the French railway for equipment maintenance. Bonhams brought 35 motorcycles and over 100 cars, ranging from a Fiat support van to an exquisite Amilcar racer. Also included was a selection of unusual Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, which sold remarkably well. Sadly the same could not be said of a fabulous collection of Morgans, which struggled to find new owners. At the end of the drive-through auction for just under 7.2 million Euro worth of lots changed hands. Top seller was an Aston Martin DB4 GT, which was the only car to break the 1 million Euro barrier. Other highlights included a very rare Delage D8-105 S that sold for 322,000 Euro, a very early Darracq Flying Star (178,250 Euro) and a mint Ferrari 250 GT Coupe (241,500 Euro). Serving as a preview for the Goodwood Festival of Speed sale, an Itala Grand Prix car and an ex-Le Mans Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 from the fabulous Daniels Collection were also shown.
Artcurial Motorcars Auction
Now with more time to prepare, the Mathieu Lamoure led Artcurial Motorcars team really made the most of the coveted Retromobile slot. The biggest achievement in the build-up was securing the estate from colourful collector Jean-Claude Bajol. Over the years he had owned many great Ferraris including a 250 GTO. At the time of his passing, last year, the top piece of his collection was the 250 GT California ordered new by Roger Vadim, who for all intents and purposes was the French Steve McQueen. Beautifully restored, boasting the desirable specification of covered headlights and including a factory hard-top, it quickly raced to a staggering 4.4 million Euro. This impressive figure laid the foundation for a sale total of 14.5 million Euro, making it the most successful auction ever on French soil. All selling close to 500,000 Euro were a Mercedes-Benz 540K, Ferrari 250 GT Boano and a highly original Delauney Belleville. Selling at no reserve a Citroen DS23ie Pallas went for triple the low estimate at 187,000 Euro. Another Citroen making waves was a 2CV that had covered just 116 miles from new, which found a new owner for 400 Euro shy of 60,000 Euro.
Among the most prominent exhibitors are the various manufacturers, who traditionally bring a selection from their own collections but also fine samples owned by marque enthusiasts. Not known to take things lightly, Mercedes-Benz brought three distinct machines to showcase the manufacturer's racing pedigree. The earliest was one of the mythical SSKs, the second one of the first generation 300 SLs and the third one of the Sauber built C9s that won Le Mans in 1989. German rivals BMW also brought competition cars but in this case three more obscure models that matched the spirit of Retromobile perfectly. The earliest was the privately built, BMW 328 based 'HH'. Also on display was a Brabham BT7 Formula 2 car powered by the unconventional twin-cam BMW engine with four radial valves. Not to be outdone by the foreigners, the three French manufacturers also put on a sizeable show. Renault celebrated the birth of the Alpine A110 and the '5', while Peugeot looked ahead to the introduction of an all new model in the 20X range with a long line of its predecessors. There was also room on the vast stand for a special display dedicated to long-time Paris distributors 'Darl'mat', who became famous for modifying numerous Peugeot models. Further manufacturers represented were Skoda, Bentley and Bugatti, who displayed a beautifully restored Type 55.
One of the great things about Retromobile is that it always brings out a plethora of surprises and unusual machines. Among them this year was a barn-find Ferrari 250 Monza. Not seen in public since the 1956 Mille Miglia, it was recently reunited with its original engine. Although in rather derelict condition, we understand it can be restored using most of the original Pinin Farina panels. Appealing to the partisan crowd British dealer Fiskens had three of his top pieces, all with French racing history, unveiled by Olivier Panis. Among them were a Panhard & Lavassor and a Ligier Grand Prix car. Across the isle at Hall & Hall, our eye was caught by the rarely seen Mirage M2 BRM in ever striking Gulf livery. The stand also featured two pieces of Nick Mason's Ten Tenths Collection; the ex-Gilles Villeneuve, Canadian Grand Prix winning Ferrari 312 T3 and the one-owner-from-new Porsche 962C that was raced only once. Taking centre stage at Hall & Hall was the Auto Union Type D that had been offered recently by Christie's and Bonhams but now finally has all its paperwork sorted. Loyal exhibitor Lukas Huni was again out in force with a selection of machinery highlighted by a Mille Miglia winning Alfa Romeo and two fabulous Talbots. According to the signs, not all of these were for sale, but we all know that can change quickly if the right bid is made.
Mullin Automotive Museum
Headlining the 2012 Retromobile show was a selection of ten cars sent by the Mullin Automotive Museum from Oxnard, California. Opened in 2010, the fabulous museums is a tribute to the great Art Deco era dominated by French manufacturers and coach-builders. Although not officially part of the collection, the absolute star of the museum is the Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic that was acquired by an anonymous owner for over $30 million at around the same time the museum opened. It was joined on a remarkably accessible stand by a fine selection of French and French-bodied machinery. Among them were no fewer than four V12-engined Delahayes of around a dozen built in period. Three were of the Type 145 racing variety, two of which were later converted to road car specification by Chapron. The surviving racing car was the winner of the fabled 'Million Franc' price awarded in 1938 by the French motorsport federation and industry for winning the French Grand Prix at Monthlery and more importantly beating the German rivals. The fourth V12 Delahaye was a Type 165, which at the end of the 1930s was the manufacturer's top-of-the-range model. Clothed by Figoni & Falaschi, this curvaceous Cabriolet originally served to represent Delahaye at the 1939 New York World Fair. Fresh from its Best in Show win at Pebble Beach, the Museum's Voisin C25 Aerodyne was also on display.
If there is one Retromobile certainty, it is that the show never ceases to surprise. Each year the exhibitors manage to present numerous cars and displays, of which each alone would be worth the trip to Paris. Most people we spoke to felt that this one of the best selection of cars yet and we would certainly not argue with that.