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2004 Retromobile
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Click here to open the slideshowNew organisation
Although this year's Retromobile was run by new people, it had the same look and feel we have all become so familiar with. One minor change was the additional hour given to the press for snooping around before the public rushed in to admire the many fine cars on display. This did unfortunately mean that we had to get up an hour earlier as well to fully benifit from the extra time. The results of a very useful morning's work in Paris can be read in the following paragraphs and seen in the 75 shot slideshow.

One of the biggest reasons Retromobile is on the favourites list of many automotive enthusiasts is the show's exclusive setup. Many manufacturers, clubs and classic car dealers have a small stand available, large enough for only a handful of cars at best. This forces them to bring out the very best they have to impress the crowds. A great example is Alfa Romeo, who generally only display two cars, but one of these is traditionally one of the biggest show stoppers, this year was no exception. For the third year in a row Christie's was also present on the floor with a very nice collection of cars, which were on auction on the first Saturday of the show.

Italian highlights
A number of exceptional Italian cars were the highlights of the show. No, they were not Ferraris, but the prancing horse's two biggest racing adversaries of the 1950s: Alfa Romeo and Maserati.

On the Alfa Romeo stand a 1954 prototype for a new racing car took the breath of many visitors away. Being part of the extensive Alfa Romeo Museum collection, the silver Bertone styled 'Sportiva Coupe' is just one of four of these two litre prototypes constructed. The four Sportivas are the final examples of the great Alfa Romeo racing cars, that dominated motor racing for three decades.

A true work of art was on display on one of the vendor's stands, but it was not for sale. The Maserati A6 GSC/53 Pinin Farina Coupe is regarded as one of the best looking cars ever constructed. With only four examples clothed by Pinin Farina and the car on display the only one with its original body still fitted, it might be the most valuable Maserati around. Ferrari's close cooperation with Pinin Farina prevented any production Maseratis to be bodied by the Turin masters. On the same stand a rare racing version of the Pegaso Z102 was on display. Pegaso also has an interesting Ferrari link; founder Wilfredo Ricart once worked for Enzo, when he was still in charge of the Alfa Romeo racing department.

Other notable cars on display
In good Alfa Romeo tradition, the Mercedes Benz stand had only two cars on display. One was the extremely rare Mercedes Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe and the other the brand new Mercedes Benz SLR McLaren. The three big French manufacturers traditionally have the largest displays, but very often display the same or similar cars every year. Citroen had the nicest displays this year; with three displays mimicking a desert environment the French manufacturer celebrated the three successful expeditions through Asia and Africa between 1922 and 1932. For the first time in seventy years the Citroen 'halftracks' used were lined up together again.

Peugeot celebrated seventy years of the 400 series. The competition versions of the various models were the most interesting cars on display, most notably the 402 Darl'Mat and the rally Paris-Dakar winning 405 T16 Raid. Combined with the introduction of the new 6-series coupe, BMW paid hommage to a long line of the marque's high performance coupes. A rare BMW 503, powered by a V8 engine, took centre stage amidst a pre-war 327 and a 635Ci.

Christie's Auction
For the third year now Christie's joined forces with Retromobile to offer an auction of 'Automobiles de Collection'. At Retromobile a second cooperation between a French event and Christie's was announced; the British auctioneer will host an auction at the LeMans Classic race in July.

Another French connection was the large number of Bugattis included in the sale. All eyes were on the beautiful and extremely quick Bugatti Type 55 Roadster, the last of just 38 of these 'supercars' constructed. It was estimated to sell between 1.6 and 2.2 million, the offers failed to meet the reserve set. The Type 55 was powered by an engine derived straight from the Type 51 Grand Prix racer of which a fine example was also included in the sale. Very interesting was the Type 15 offered, the sixth oldest surviving Bugatti and fitted with the rare squared off radiator only found on the earliest of Bugattis. Although not sold under the Bugatti name, the Peugeot Bebe was one of the most successful Ettore Bugatti designs.

Further sale highlights included a number of racing cars. Rarely offered for sale, the Porsche 917K took centre stage on the Christie's display. The auctioneer estimated the price of the 1971 Sebring winner to be between 1.5 and 1.8 million, but like with the Type 55 Bugatti, offers failed to meet the reserve. Equally interesting, but far less valuable was the Abarth 205A Coupe, which changed hands for just over 100,000. The Group B rally cars required a production run of 200 cars to be homologated, which resulted in some of the wildest cars ever seen on public roads. One of the these was the road version of the all-conquering Peugeot 205 T16, although it was downtuned to 200 bhp, it was almost identical to the 450 bhp World Championship winning T16.

Conclusion
Under new leadership Retromobile has once again lived up to its reputation. The variety and quality of the cars on display on both the Retromobile and Christie's stands was of a level we had not seen in recent years. Seeing the Alfa Romeo Sportiva, Maserati A6 GCS/53 Pinin Farina or Mercedes Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe separately would already be worth a visit, but together they make an event truely special.

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Report and images by Wouter Melissen.