HAVE ALWAYS LOVED PARIS
Critics carp on about France’s economic woes - and indeed they are very real and biting hard - but Paris has never been a smiley upbeat place like, say, Miami or Monterey. No, Paris is brooding and crotchety, grey, cold and brusque - well, certainly in early February.
The Eurostar was busting with well-dressed British car types in tweed, waxed jackets and brogues heading for the #2015
edition of the famous Salon Retromobile on the outskirts of Paris near Porte de Versailles. Having been ‘off games’ over Christmas, sheltering from the worst of the winter weather, these car types were once again enthusiastic and raring to go. Yes, Retromobile is the kick-start to the season, and everyone is in good cheer and looking forward to getting back into the saddle.
‘ACTUALLY SEEING WHAT REMAINS OF THESE WRECKS THAT WERE THE BAILLON COLLECTION MAKES ME SAD’
Now that I’ve figured out the complicated-looking Metro system - it’s actually simple with the help of the www.ratp.fr website - Paris is all yours for just 61.80 a trip. Be smart and buy a booklet of tickets at the Eurostar terminal.
This year’s show officially opened on Wednesday 4 February, but all the old hands get there a day or two earlier to bag the choice pieces. With no entrance tickets available that early, it’s a case of blagging your way past the
security guards on the set-up day. Carrying an empty cardboard box and mumbling about it being needed on your stand is one wheeze. Being a gentleman of the press helps, but this being France the process is not simple: you need to get to the Press Office, inside, to sign on. But the security guard won’t let you in because you don’t have a Press Pass. And, of course, you need to get inside to actually get it... pure Inspector Clouseau.
For 2015 the show was held in the huge Hall 1, with 450 exhibitors on the floor and 500 cars on show. Retro always has a slightly mad exhibit, and this year was no exception. Towering above a display of three large Bugatti Royales was an enormous Royal Tiger tank in full battle camouflage, the only surviving fully working example. It made the Allied tanks look like tin cans, with its 18cm-thick armour, 88mm canmon and 70-tonne kerb weight. Powered by a 23-litre, 12-cylinder 700bhp #Maybach
engine, it was impregnable, but it’d overheat and slurped 500 litres every 100km, so the range was limited - thank goodness.
British firm Fiskens had a wonderfully impressive stand, with the immaculate and unique Bequet Delage - powered by a V8 aero engine from a French WW1 fighter plane - in pride of place. Nearby, JD Classics’ eye-watering display included a superb #Porsche-356
quad-cam Carrera finished in original burnt orange. No wonder it was soon wearing a SOLD tag on the windscreen.
auctions taking place on the Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and sales records achieved with a bit of work (are there now too many auctions going on?), the star event was the Artcurial sale of the Baillon Collection on Friday. The remains of these vintage and classic cars were moodily exhibited in a separate hall. (See full report)
The jewel was the #1961 #Ferrari-250GT-SWB-California-Spider
, which appeared solid and totally original. Should it be restored? No! I hope the owner gets it mechanically perfect but leaves it scruffy, just as Alain Delon did, judging by the archive photos. This collection was our cover feature in the last-but-one issue, but actually seeing what remains of these wrecks in metal makes me sad. I know ‘barn finds’ are all the rage and there is a romance about rescuing a car that’s almost totally disintegrated. But these cars - some of them once great examples - have been badly neglected and allowed to perish almost totally.
Baillon must have known that the California Spider was special, because it was kept in dry storage. But the poor old #Talbot-Lago-T26-Grand-Sport
is in a terrible state, yet it sold for £1.3 million! It is just a pile of rust, which is a tragedy. However, classic car collectors are an optimistic bunch, and the word, post-Retromobile, is that the #Delage-D6-11
is going into a full restoration with the intention of showing it at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance next year.
Apart from Retromobile, classics are seldom seen on Parisian streets. The occasional #2CV
van is a rare survivor, which is odd because they churned out millions of them. No, the French don’t seem to care for their automotive history - and parking is a contact sport! But the latest news is that, starting this July, older cars will be banned from the centre of Paris. Haven’t they heard: it’s diesels that are the problem, not classics.
Robert grew up with classic cars, and has owned a Lancia Aurelia B20GT, Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Porsche 356C. He currently uses his properly sorted 1955 Jaguar XK140 as his daily driver, and is a founding editor of this magazine.