Super-rare supercars, quirky curiosities, a lot of Citroëns and one very large lorry… it can only be Rétromobile. Words & Photography Drive-My Team.
A MONSTER IN PARIS – RÉTROMOBILE 2019
In Citroën’s centenary year, you could be forgiven for expecting the famous brand to be the star of the show at its ‘home’ classic event, Rétromobile in the French capital. Yet the Double Chevron had its thunder comprehensively stolen by another Gallic marque, as roads were closed around the Porte de Versailles expo centre to deliver the simply vast Berliet T100.
At its 1957 launch in the same venue, the T100 was the world’s largest truck and at 5m tall, the example on show at Rétro – one of two survivors – towered over lesser vehicles. The 50-tonne behemoth gave a backdrop to selfies throughout the 6-10 February show.
A vivid contrast to the Cummins V12 diesel-powered 700hp beast was provided by a wonderful group of 14 Bédélias, the largest-ever gathering of the Paris-built cyclecars. Designed by 18-year-old Robert Bourbeau and Henri Deveaux, these belt-drive machines featured distinctive tandem seating, with the driver at the back. Highlights included a WW1 ambulance from the collection of Belgian André Plasch. The display also presented a pair of fascinating recreations, the low-slung Jappic and the Anzani-powered Elfe, both of which will appear at Vintage Revival Montlhéry on 11-12 May.
Other curated special displays included 100 years of Gnome et Rhône, with a selection of the firm’s motorcycle production along with a charming little 125cc, 150kg Biscooter, a joint project between the former aircraft-engine manufacturer and French automotive innovator Gabriel Voisin. But more impressive was the expected tribute to 60 years of the Mini, with a superb line-up of variants headed by a Grand Marnier crêpe vendor based on a tiny pick-up. Drawing most attention was a cutaway ’1959 Mini on loan from the Haynes International Motor Museum, with the organisers also courting controversy by displaying alongside a 1947 Charles Dechaux front-drive chassis that was rumoured to have inspired BMC designer Alec Issigonis – a claim refuted by DRIVE-MY’s resident Mini expert Jon Pressnell.
It might not have been the main talking point, but Citroën’s centenary display was still superb, featuring lines of concept cars – including the ’1956 C10 ‘Coccinelle’, ’1972 Camargue by Bertone and ’1980 Karin – along with rally machinery plus a 1922 B2 from the famed ‘Croisière’ adventures across Africa. A celebration of the firm’s origins featured André Citroën’s first model, the 10hp Type A. Not wanting to be outdone on home turf, Renault’s stand ran under the heading ‘From track to road’. A wild 5 Turbo from Renault Classic was one of the stars, but the brand’s main focus was the 40th anniversary of Renault’s first F1 win – also the first of the turbo era – with the RS10. Appropriately enough, this was with a French driver (Jean-Pierre Jabouille) at the 1979 French Grand Prix.
The show hosted the launch of a remarkable new book on Ballot, with authors Daniel Cabart and Gautam Sen present on the stand of Peter Auto, organiser of the Le Mans Classic, with a 1920 Ballot 3/8LC. The 1921 Italian GP winner was later raced by speed-record legend Malcolm Campbell.
“This great car was built close to the show in the amazing Art Nouveau factory on Boulevard Brune, so it’s appropriate we launch it here,” said Cabart. “Sadly, the magnificent building is now gone.”
The centre of the main hall was dominated by specialist dealers, all competing to attract millionaire buyers with spectacular displays. Girardo & Co made an impressive debut, while Fiskens presented a glorious set of British greats with a fabulous Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato taking centre stage. The green beauty was fresh to the market after long-term ownership with marque specialist Richard Williams, who discovered ‘0181’ in Italy in 1972 and paid just £1800 for the ex-Gianni Zagato car.
Swiss specialist Lukas Hüni presented a remarkable group of 25 Lancias, from vintage Lambda to seven Stratos supercars. In pride of place was the now unique D23 sports-racer, chassis 0002, from the Louwman Museum. There was further Italian exotica to be found with Kidston SA, and Lamborghini Polo Storico was also celebrating the Miura, having just completed the exacting rebuild of an SV for FIA president Jean Todt – who was on hand for the car’s public debut. In contrast to the glittering stock from UK dealers was a super-rare Invicta Black Prince with drophead bodywork and exotic 3-litre, twin-plug straight-six. One of just four survivors, the Invicta will be sold in France by Stanislas Machoïr.
British Bugatti specialist Ivan Dutton Ltd added further intrigue by presenting a fascinating group of Molsheim marvels, including the ex-Raymond de Saugé ’1937 Le Mans T57S and a wild American midget racer built by the Caruso Brothers. The car is powered by half a Bugatti straight-eight found in a US scrapyard, and Tim Dutton plans to run it at Prescott for La Vie en Bleu.
The much-improved art village presented a fantastic range, from James Henry Atkinson’s life-size 2CV being crushed by a huge mousetrap to the latest sculpture by Martin Heukeshoven, featuring a Ferrari 250GT SWB wreck on a GMC truck. “It’s taken six months and is my most challenging piece yet,” said the German artist. “It weighs 40kg and is made entirely of recycled steel and wood.”
Among the stars of the club hall was the Stratos Zero concept car, borrowed from the new Marcello Gandini exhibition at Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile in Turin and shown by Lancia Club France. In the same hall, the ‘Cars for sale under €25,000’ area always yields plenty of fascinating treats, and this year was no exception with some unusual Fiats including coachbuilt 600 and 128, a superb pair of 130 Coupés and a bizarre half-track Fiat 500 Lucertola. With 500F engine, 600 ’box and chain-drive to all four rear wheels, this tiny off-roader was originally built for the use of missionaries in Africa and was on offer for €22,500.
With so much variety, this was a vintage year for the premier French show – it’s no surprise to learn that a record 132,000 visitors were welcomed through the door.
Next year’s 45th Rétromobile takes place from 5-9 February; see retromobile.com
MIURA MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
Among the show debutants this year was top Geneva-based specialist Kidston SA, which presented a dazzling display of seven Lamborghini Miuras including the chassis that first stunned the world at the ’1965 Turin Auto Salon, and the unique Miura Roadster. “It took us a long time to decide about exhibiting, and we only wanted to come with something exceptional,” said boss Simon Kidston. “The company has grown and we felt the time was right, plus we also have an exciting new Miura book to announce.”
With purple carpet to complement the striking hues of the Lamborghinis, the stand was designed by Peter Russell, the talent behind the Goodwood Revival displays. “Marcello Gandini had a thing about exuberant colours, which really suited the Miura,” enthused Kidston. Taking centre stage was the ex-Shah of Iran P400, chassis 3303, fresh from restoration by Cremonini Classic. Delivered new to the Shah at his winter retreat, Villa Suvretta in St Moritz, on 9 February 1968, the prized Lamborghini sold to a well-known American Ferrari collector on the first morning of Rétromobile.
OUR PICKS FROM PARIS
1957 BMW 507 MOTORBOAT
All those fabulous cars, and what do I choose? A boat, of course! But this 1957 launch is pretty special, built to the order of BMW by shipyard Rambeck on the banks of Lake Starnberg, Bavaria. Marque aficionados will spot the clues to what makes this unique craft so interesting – the steering wheel, dashboard and chromed ‘gill’ wing vents come straight from a BMW 507 roadster. More importantly, so does the engine, and it’s easy to imagine the sound of that glorious 3.2-litre, 150bhp V8 as it thunders across Lake Como.
After being used for engine sales brochures, the boat fell into disrepair and was discovered in a barn by enthusiast Felipe Garcia, who had it beautifully restored. AC
1957 AC ACE BRISTOL
I also loved the BMW-flavoured speedboat, but my show find was an Ace from the same year that had once belonged to an American club racer. The headrest, though original, wasn’t to my taste, but the car’s story is engaging. US-based enthusiast James Cockrell bought the Bristol-powered Ace new in ’1957 and raced it in Sports Car Club of America events until the following year, when he was reassigned to Germany. There he competed in hillclimbs before taking on the 1959 Nürburgring 1000km, but lasted barely a lap before flipping the car. It was repaired and sold to another American working in Germany. Although the Ace had been mechanically restored, the body and paint looked great. JB
1964 CITROËN DS19 COUPÉ LE CONCORDE
France’s endearing loyalty to its homegrown marques meant that Citroën’s centenary was always going to be celebrated in style and, away from the manufacturer’s own stand, the most impressive display came from a private collection of Chapron-bodied Double Chevrons (we counted 18). Even in such rarefied company this one-of-38 Coupé Le Concorde stood out – and it’s not hard to see why.
The DS originally belonged to the wife of a restaurateur and, angry over their separation, she vandalised the coachbuilt beauty and it’s never been restored. While we hate to see any classic in such a state, this Citroën must surely be unique and it has almost been transformed into a work of art. LP
1966 SERENISSIMA SPYDER
Every year, French auction house Artcurial presents a remarkable selection of unrestored lots, many from secret Gallic collections, that have remained unseen for decades. From an as-found 1936 Panhard et Levassor Dynamic to a remarkable MV collection, this year’s catalogue was worth the trip to Paris alone. The undoubted highlight was a set of three Serenissimas, with Tom Tjaarda-styled Ghia GT and Agena road cars matched with the sole surviving ’1966 Le Mans prototype. Sold directly by team patron Count Giovanni Volpi, this superb timewarp racer featured a 3.5-litre V8 and a Fantuzzi body inspired by the Ferrari 250LM. Watch out for the full story in DRIVE-MY soon. MW