Over the last decades, the annual Retromobile show in Paris has grown to be the leading European indoor classic car event. Now in its 31st year it's one of the very few events of its type enthusiasts travel from all over the world to visit. Traditionally the show has one or two main themes, but this year’s edition had at least a dozen themes. A recent addition to the show is the Christie’s Auction, which takes place on the first Saturday of the schedule; the auction cars remain on display for the remainder of the event however. With surprises around every corner we spent the four hours of preview to capture it all.
Christie’s ‘Automobile de Collection’ Auction
Headlining the Christie’s sale were three Jaguar road and racing cars, representing a very important era for the British manufacturer. The oldest example was one of the rare first series alloy bodied XK120s built in 1949. Setting the scene for Jaguar’s commercial and sportive successes, these early XK120s are highly desirable, which was translated in the price of nearly €200,000 it changed hands for. Due to the XK120s success, steel was used for the bodies from 1950 onwards because of its ease of shaping and cheap price. Although not quite as sporty as the alloy cars, these were also used for racing. One example offered by Christie’s was the highest finisher of its type in the Le Mans 24 Hours, but offers failed to meet the reserve set. For motor racing Jaguar developed the highly successful XK120 C; today usually referred to as the C-Type. Being the first Ecurie Ecosse car and having an extensive victory sheet made C-Type ‘XKC 006’ the biggest seller of the auction at €1,386,250.
The most beautiful car on the Christie’s stand was undoubtedly the Alfa Romeo 6C-2500 SS ‘Tubolare’, which combines a unique tubular chassis with a stunning Ghia body. Remarkably it found a new owner for less than €200,000. Also from Italy (although mainly from France) was the Quattroporte II. One of only fourteen constructed of this type, the rare Maserati was a Paris show car and sold for €64,625. Showing its age, the ex-Pope John Paul II FSO Warszawa M20 failed to sell despite a modest pre-auction estimate of €5,000 - €15,000. That was quite a contrast with an original Citroen DS 23 'Decapotable' that sold for €176,250; well above the top estimate.
At the end of the day 80% of the lots had found a new owner at a total of €3,619,711.
It is the diversity concentrated in a relatively small hall that makes Retromobile so special. The floor is shared by several major manufacturers, classic car brokers, clubs, auctioneers and a large number of vendors. All of them try to sttract the visitors by presenting the most interesting displays ranging from a striking Ferrari to a very rare book.
The three major French manufacturers all had large stands where they celebrated various anniversaries and model ranges. At Peugeot the upcoming introduction of the 207 was the reason to celebrate the 200 series first introduced in 1929. Among the many cars on display were early 201 convertibles and a far more modern 205 T16 rally car. In similar vein Citroen had a 1931 C6 at the heart of their display one month before the new C6 will arrive in showrooms. Renault arguably had the best display of the show, which celebrated the 60th anniversary of the legendary 4CV. Built for the model’s 50th birthday, the Renault Fiftie concept was a nice contrast among the large number of older variations brought out.
Christie’s was not the only auctioneer present at the show with Artcurial, Bonham’s and RM Auctions all present to display one or more vehicles to be auctioned off in a future sale. They were joined by a large number of car brokers who seem to have taken over from the clubs. The Alfa Romeo club stand formed an exception with a TZ2 and Tipo B / P3 on loan from the Alfa Romeo museum.
In front of many cars on display there was a small sign with ‘Eligible Le Mans Classic’, referring to the third edition of this retrospective to be held in July. On their own stand, organizer Peter Auto built up the anticipation even further by displaying the Howmet TX turbine racer, which is expected to compete as well.
Last year Louis Vuitton announced their renewed association with the concours d’elegance world, but not with an actual event as they had done before. They created a competition for concours winners and concept cars to determine the best of 2005. The two winners of the ‘Louis Vuitton Classic Awards 2005’ were the Pebble Beach winning Delage D8-120 Pourtout Coupe and the Pininfarina designed Maserati Birdcage 75th concept. Prior to the show both cars were displayed in downtown Paris on the Champs Eleyses.
Remarkably three insurance companies housed the show’s highlights. On the LDA stand the two Bentleys associated with the legendary Blue Train were displayed; the Speed Six Mulliner Sedan that Barnato actually used in the race and the Gurney Nutting Coupe that is considered the ‘Blue Train Special’. The unique Lamborghini Miura Roadster was found on the Tea Cerede stand. A later Targa conversion was also present on a dealer’s stand, but merely underlined how special the Bertone built Roadster is. Our personal favourite was the Jaguar XK120 equipped with a Ghia designed and built ‘Supersonic’ body. One of only three built, it was shown by ICC Assurances.
It could be that we are getting spoiled, but this year’s Retromobile did not live up to the high expectations created by earlier editions. It seemed like the manufacturers all agreed to celebrate their lower end cars, which does not add much to the excitement. The stands were also overly crowded making it more difficult to appreciate the cars on display. Fortunately there were still a number of stunning cars like the Jaguar Supersonic, Vanwall VW7 and Miura Roadster on display to get our blood pumping a little faster. Despite the slightly disappointing turn-out there is still no event like it and we will surely be back next year!