Rétromobile 2017 review

The Rétromobile 2017 show, held at the Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles from Febraury 7th to 11th, was a huge success. Walking along the aisles, it was easy to see, not only from the number of visitors, but also from the caliber of the collectors, restorers and traders in attendance, exactly why François Melcion’s “creation” — the first Rétromobile was held in 1976 — is now firmly established as one of the most important events in the classic car world. While it is probably true that the majority of the participants and stands at this year’s event might be summed up in the words refined, classy and wealthy, there is also no doubt that some of the stands, organized by traders, clubs or museums wanting to promote the culture of automobile or celebrate some important anniversary, were absolutely amazing too.

The Classic Car Trust’s “DBs”: an Aston Martin celebration

We feel that, for once, we might be allowed to start by talking about something of “our own”. At Rétromobile, the Classic Car Trust mounted an amazing display of all the most symbolic cars Aston Martin built during its David Brown years. We will not look in detail at our stand in this report, since it is to be the subject of a special article, but after so much effort from all the team, and from historian Eric Le Moine, it was a great pleasure to note that the friends who stopped by for a “quick ciao” ended up staying at the stand much longer than they intended. It was also gratifying that countless television crews asked to use our Aston Martin display as a backdrop for their interviews. There is no doubt that the star of the stand was the original DB5 used by 007. Even after all these years, this car still has what it takes to attract the attention of a Bond girl, and it was a wonderful surprise when Diane Thierry-Mieg herself — she was the Bond girl in the 1979 movie Moonraker — paid a visit to the Classic Car Trust’s “David Brown’s Aston Martins” stand. Even the far humbler David Brown tractor got some much deserved attention: one gentleman even declared he was willing to buy it on the spot and was not happy to learn that we could not let him fulfil his dream!

The Group B Rally cars

They spanned a period of just four years, 1982–1986, but their impact and influence on the Rally world is everlasting. From a marketing point of view, the Group B rally cars are a nightmare for the car makers’ marketing teams trying to promote the WRC championship today. Indeed, whereas the high quality and professional videos of current cars uploaded on YouTube are viewed thousands of times, clips of Group B cars, despite being less than perfect, average several million “hits”. These amazing, fast, dangerous, and quite often even lethal, machines are now pure legend and the “Group B – already 30 years old” exhibition at Rétromobile was absolutely unforgettable, as it included almost all of them. Personally, I can’t recall another occasion, since Corsica 1986, when it was possible to admire, together, all the most important Group B models manufactured. Nissan, Leyland, Lancia, Audi, Peugeot, Citroën, Ford, Mazda, Renault, Ferrari and Opel were all represented with at least one car, with Lancia showing a 037 and a S4, and Citroën a Visa and a BX. An amazing display indeed.

70 years of Ferrari

The Ferrari company was established in 1947, and to celebrate the 70th “birthday” of this car brand, the most famous in the world, the Cité de l’Automobile – Collection Schlumpf moved three of its Ferraris from Molhouse to Paris. These stunning cars helped to make this year’s Rétromobile exhibition one of the most impressive ever. What makes these cars really amazing is their entirely preserved condition: imperfect paintwork, old chrome and used interiors have never been so attractive. The three cars sent by the museum were  a 1963 F1 156B, winner of the 1964 Austrian GP where it was driven by Lorenzo Bandini, a 1957 500 TRC that once belonged to Adrian Conan Doyle, son of the creator of the legendary Sherlock Holmes, and a 1964 275 LM, originally sold in Sweden. Still equipped with its first set of Dunlop Racing tires, this is the most original survivor of the 32 that were built, and it has less than 2000 kilometers on the clock.

1927 World Champion

Although it is no longer a familiar name, 90 years ago Delage was one of the most renowned, admired and respected car manufacturers. Indeed, in 1927 Delage won the Grand Prix championship, the equivalent of today’s F1, thanks to its straight eight-cylinder, 1.5-liter engine equipped with a Roots type compressor (15 S 8) designed by engineer Albert Lory. Racer Robert Benoist drove Delage to victory in the Italian, French, Spanish and British Grand Prix races, in other words all the most important races in which it competed, except for the Indianapolis one. Four cars (and five engines) were built in 1926 and another two cars, featuring independent front suspension, were built for the 1936 season. Amazingly all of these survive today, although their conditions vary.

Chassis number #1,

today part of The Revs Institute, Collier Collection in Naples (Florida), is the most original; it has never suffered an accident and still has its original bodywork. It competed in the very first Monaco Grand Prix and is fitted with engine number 5.

Chassis number #2

is the “laboratory car” that was driven by Robert Benoist in the first race of the 1927 season, the Monthlery Grand Prix. Now in restored condition, it is kept at the Brooklands Museum (GB).

Chassis number #3,

which was built around engine number 4, is today in a private collection. In 1927 it won several races with Benoist at the wheel, and in 1932, driven by Lord How, it was involved in a serious crash in Monza. After being left unrestored and unrepaired for over eighty years, it is only now that a restoration project has been undertaken. The current owner is keen to repair as much as possible, keeping part of the original chassis and re-manufacturing the body. To facilitate their task, the technicians from the restoration shop involved in the work, just before Rétromobile opened, spent some time taking a 3D scan of  the “Collier” car, with a view to using its perfect originality as a reference source.

Chassis number #4

was driven by André Morel in 1927, and in 1929 it was shipped to the USA to race in the 500 Miles of Indianapolis, where it was driven by Louis Chiron. Once back in the UK, it was bought and raced by a young Dick Seaman, who went on to win numerous races and, thanks to this, was hired by the Mercedes-Benz works team. The car is fitted with engine number 3 and is now owned by a European collector.

Chassis number #5

was ordered by Prince Chula of Siam for his cousin Bira to race. Last driven by Bira in the Geneva Grand Prix of 1946, the car, equipped with engine number 2 and now in restored condition, is part of a private collection in France.

Chassis number #6

raced at Goodwood in 1949 equipped with a Delahaye engine and sporting the Rob Walker racing team colors. After suffering an engine failure, it was equipped with an ERA engine. Its career lasted until 1952, an amazing life span for a racing model. Now in restored condition, it belongs to the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard (California).

Traders and not only…

Traders played a big part in the Rétromobile show, with the most important companies in the business giving a strong display of their wealth. Interestingly, however, the majority did not only bring along cars for sale, but also cars they had sold in the past and that are now happily owned. This served to underline the level of trust they enjoy among their customers. The level of the cars offered for sale was very high and there were indeed some exquisitely beautiful and rare pieces. Speaking personally, the car that impressed me the most was a 1926 Voisin, in totally original condition, quite battered and “unpainted” outside, but still complete with its original interiors, which were decently preserved. In expert hands, this car could be turned into a strong contender for the Pebble Beach Preservation Class in 2018. Rétromobile also devotes an area to both remanufactured and original used components. To see someone like Paul Russell, one of the greatest restorers in the world, “surfing” the parts department with a “shopping list” written by his technician was quite an unusual experience —  a sight you are unlikely to see at many other shows around the world!

The car manufacturers

Mercedes-Benz, the first manufacturer to appreciate the value of its heritage, founding a “classic” department well before other manufacturers even existed, brought along a nice selection of cars, ranging from a pre-war 540 K Special Roadster, with an amazing mother of pearl dashboard, to a 1952 300 SL, one of the early, carbureted racing cars, paired with a C107 450 5.0 SLC used in rallies in the 1970s. The selection also included the C111 prototype used in the late 1960s to develop a sports car equipped with a Wankel engine. The French manufacturers were well represented at the event, with Peugeot, Citroën and Renault (with Alpine too) showing both classic cars and futuristic prototypes, as though to make the point that their future is, more than ever, linked with their past. Porsche showed a 928 “shooting brake”, made in period for Mr  Porsche himself, to be used with his family. Based on a stretched standard 928, this is a very interesting car, particularly considering the latest trends in sports sedan-style cars. Jaguar-Land Rover went the extra mile, showing a recently rebuilt XKSS and launching its Ranger Rover heritage project. Not only will the company rebuild, to as-new condition, 10 Range Rover classics — a number that is actually likely to rise to 25 given the number of requests received on the first day alone —, it will also re-manufacture all the spare parts required for restorations of this kind, thereby helping the thousands of collectors around the world who are keen to restore their “old Range”.

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