Retromobile may be the coolest car show du monde
Retromobile may be the coolest car show you haven’t been to yet, perhaps mostly because it’s in Paris. It’s where cool cars combine with offbeat, quirky cars and motorcycles to create a collector car experience unlike any other. Comme il est mignon! Every year for the past 44 years Retromobile has taken over the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles, the same location as the Paris auto show, and every year it has been something worth seeing.
It’s unique because it’s half classic car show, half retail opportunity. It’s spread over three of the Expo’s eight halls – taking up almost 18 acres - and features more than 600 cars and 600 exhibitors. The exhibitors range from artists and restoration shops to classic car dealers and un gars selling the European equivalent of Hot Wheels. Among its featured voitures are a magnificent Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring, no less than three Serenissima sports and GT cars, and what may be the largest collection of MV Augusta motorcycles ever assembled. There’s even an exhibit of tanks.
The auction portion of the show is called Artcurial, or "Rétromobile 2019 by Artcurial Motorcars." It’s the official Salon Rétromobile auction. It began Friday February 8 with the collectors’ car sale, followed on Saturday by the sale of 90 MV Agusta motorcycles, and concluded Sunday with the sale of a collection of F1 drivers’ helmets and race suits. There was a lot of stuff there that you wouldn’t find in your average stateside auction.
You’ve already read our coverage of Retromobile’s magnificent T100 desert truck and the beautiful BRM Grand Prix car. But those were just a toe-dip in the bouillabaisse that is Retromobile. This year there was a tribute to 60 years of Mini, 50 years of Lamborghini, a gathering of the wacky pre-war tandem-seat carmaker Bedelia, and there were those three tanks.
Let’s start with the three tanks, or rather, two tanks and an armored personnel carrier. The Musée des Blindés de Saumur – or Saumur Tank Museum - in association with L’Association Univem – the National Union of Collectors of Military Vehicles - brought a German Panzer IV an American Sherman tank, the latter being, “…the symbol of victory and liberation,” according to the show’s notes. De rein. The Panzer had a crew of five and a 75-mm cannon. It was powered by a Maybach V12 mated to a ZF seven-speed. The Sherman, meanwhile, was built by Chrysler in 1943, also had a crew of five and a 75-mm cannon, and was powered by a 280 cid V8 mated to an automatic. The museum also provided a Cadillac M114 Reconnaissance Carrier, which it drove around outside the show. The 6.8-ton beast was painted up in desert camo, and visitors were allowed to help start it and even drive it, Retromobile said.
A couple halls away, the Compiegne National Car Museum, located just northeast of Paris past Chantilly, organized two Retromobile tributes: one to De Dion-Bouton and another to Lamborghini.
De Dion was one of the most important carmakers of the early years of the automobile.
“Without the invention of the De Dion Bouton ‘high speed’ engine at the dawn of motoring, many other early marques would not have existed at all, and so De Dion Bouton played a pivotal role in the evolution of the motor industry,” said the intro page to the De Dion Bouton Club UK’s website.
An 1899 De Dion-Bouton D type was on display, along with a 1905 three-quarter drive coupe. A parade of De Dion-Boutons circulated around outside the show, each one a tribute to whomever took such good care of it that it should be in running order in 2019.
The Lamborghini presence was led by the Flying Star II concept car originally shown at the Turin motor show in 1966, along with other raging bulls.
And have you ever heard of the French motorcycle builder Gnome & Rhone? The two names were merged into a single company and in 1919 produced the Type A motorcycle, which was followed, surprisingly, by the Type B and so on for several decades, until the company was nationalized, along with Avions Voison, by Charles De Gaulle. It is now known for aerospace projects. So along with 20 motorcycles, the Gnome & Rhone exhibit also featured a three-stage rocket engine used by Ariane.
For the hipsters, Retromobile featured the French equivalent of Radwood, with the magazine Youngtimers celebrating 35 years of the PRV engine and the vehicules into which it was placed. You remember the PRV engine? It was made by Peugeot, Renault and Volvo – thus the name PRV - and powered any number of conveyances of that era, including a Panhard armored vehicle, Robin airplane, a motor home, at least one motorcycle, and the stainless steel DeLorean sports car.
And let’s not forget the Bedelia, the unlikely tandem-seated French car seen on the streets of Paris over 100 years ago. Retromobile exhibited 14 of the 18 Bedelias extant.
Was it glorious? Mais oui! Should you make plans to go next year? I know I am, perhaps I’ll see you there, n’est pas?