Scheduled during the first week of February, the annual Retromobile show in Paris is the traditional kick off of the classic car season in Europe. The event attracts enthusiasts from all over the world to the ‘city of lights’, who are treated to three jam packed halls of the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles. Among the exhibitors are the leading classic car dealers, major manufacturers, specialist clubs and vendors of all sorts of car related memorabilia and parts. The event organisers had also reserved special display areas this year for Tatra and the collection of Bertone show cars owned by the Automotoclub Storico Italiano In addition to the regular show there were three auctions with RM Sotheby’s and Bonhams holding theirs off site and local specialists Artcurial staging the official Retromobile sale on the show floor.
The three-day barrage of sales was kicked off on Wednesday by RM Sotheby’s, who held their 7th annual auction on the Place Vauban behind the imposing Hotel des Invalides. Headed by a BMW 507 Roadster that sold for just under €2 million, the sale grossed €16.5 million with 75% of the lots sold.
The following afternoon, it was the turn of British rival Bonhams. Their venue of choice is the equally imposing Grand Palais just across the Seine from Les Invalides. Thanks to the one-off Bugatti Type 55 Figoni Roadster finding a new owner for €4.6 million, Bonhams had their best ever result in this venue with a total of just under €20 million.
While the lot list did not contain the potential record-breaking lots sold previously by Artcurial at Retromobile, the Paris-based auctioneer did top the sales this week at just shy of €23 million. The top performer in this sale was the six-carb, short-nose Ferrari 275 GTB that has the longest period racing record of all 275 GTBs.
Many major manufacturers have discovered just how lucrative the classic car market is and now offer to certify, supply parts for or even completely restore your car. Showcasing the latter at Retromobile were the likes of Porsche and Aston Martin, who showed a partly restored 911 and DB2 Cabriolet respectively.
Lancia and Lamborghini, meanwhile, launched their spare part business with Delta HF Integrale bumpers and an exhaustive area of Miura parts. Lamborghini Polo Storico also had one of four Miura SVJs on display that had just been submitted to a ‘preservative’ restoration. Bugatti, on the other hand, reserved their stand for a selection of the collection of one Swiss enthusiast; a Type 35 C, EB 110 SS and a more recent Veyron Grand Sport.
Peugeot and Porsche were also keen to highlight that the recent addition of hybrid and full electric cars to the line-up was not a first. This was illustrated, for example, by the all-electric Peugeot VLV, which was built during the War as a response to fuel shortages. Porsche on the other hand showed a Taycan Turbo alongside the Lohner-Porsche Semper Vivus hybrid of 1900.
At the dealers
Of all the exhibitors, those that usually work the hardest to make the most of the limited space allocated to each exhibitor are the dealers. With many of the major collectors and enthusiasts on hand, Retromobile offers dealers a unique opportunity to strut their stuff and also eclipse their rivals. Among the most highly anticipated cars on display was a Nissan R390 GT1 racer that was brought by the Ascott Collection. Of the eight examples built during the late 1990s, this is the only one in private hands and was shown for the first time since it was lifted from the clutches of the Nissan museum in Japan. Just around the corner fellow French trader Classic Racing Cars showed off a freshly restored Porsche 917 LH that is expected to be raced this season.
As always, Ferraris took centre stage on several stands with Tradex showing one of just three 330 P4s, Fiskens offering the 275 GTB/C that won its class at Le Mans in 1967 and Girardo & Co. displaying the very 412 T2 in which Michael Schumacher completed his first laps as a Ferrari Grand Prix driver.
Rarely outdone, however, is Swiss broker Lukas Hüni, who always has one of the largest stands of all the dealers available. He always finds thought provoking ways to fill this floor space and this year was no exception as he marked the 110th anniversary of Alfa Romeo. Headed by no fewer than six 8C 2300s, the fabulous line up of Alfa Romeos showed just why the Milanese company is still so revered. In addition to the the 8C, the stand also featured a fabulous example of the Tipo B Grand Prix car and the highly unusual, twin-engined Bimotore that had been developed for Alfa Romeo by the Scuderia Ferrari. Of a slightly later vintage was the only Sportiva in private hands and we were also impressed with the late 1950s and early 1960s Zagato bodied SVZ, SZ Coda Tonda, SZ Coda Tronca and TZ.
While strictly speaking not dealers, North American auctioneers RM Sotheby’s and Gooding & Co. also used the Retromobile to present their wares. The former offered a first glimpse at their upcoming Essen and Monaco sales with three early consignments on display. Gooding used their first ever appearance at the show to draw attention to the Passion of a Lifetime sale scheduled for April 1st on London. This auction has just 16 lots from a single collection but with one even more desirable than the other, it has the potential to be the sale of the year.
As mentioned earlier, there were special sections of the Paris Expo reserved for quirky Czech brand Tatra and a selection from the Collezzione ASI Bertone. The Tatra display in the corridor provided an interesting history lesson about the company that is best known for the rear-engined sedans. A wide variety of these familiar machines were on display up to the last model built by the company, the 700 of 1990s. True to Tatra’s heritage, it still used an air-cooled V8 mounted behind the rear axle. Among the earliest examples on display was a Tatra 11 chassis of the early 1920s. This was constructed from a single tube connecting the rear axle with the flat four engine. Its use of a backbone chassis and fully stressed engine meant it was decades ahead of the similarly equipped an often described as ground-breaking cars like the Lotus Elan and Lotus 49 Cosworth.
Above all, the Bertone display was a celebration the lost art of show cars. Unlike most of the ‘design studies’ shown these days, all but one of the one-off Bertone cars were still fully functional. These included the Ferrari 308 GT Rainbow and the Lamborghini V12-engined Genesis MPV.
First held in 1976, the Retromobile show rarely disappoints and this year certainly was not the exception to prove that rule. The 122,000 people that visited the event over the five days were treated to a diverse and interesting selection of cars and other displays. While Wouter Melissen has mentioned a few of the highlights above, many more can be found in ultimatecarpages 260-shot gallery.