Rétromobile 2018 Review – classic cars in snow

Paris recently hosted the 43rd Retromobile show (7–11 February) and the event will go down as a memorable one that had quite a romantic feel, thanks to the thick snowfall (the heaviest the city has seen in a decade) that greeted the participants and visitors. Even though the conditions created some difficulties, affecting flights and making it impossible to find a taxi, everything else went according to plan. In fact, several truly passionate collectors, including one in at the wheel of an open car built in 1904, did not let the snow stop them driving to the event in their classics.

As always Retromobile, now considered among the world’s top classic car shows, was impressive, both in size but even more so for the quality of the cars shown. Being the first international show of the season in Europe, it attracts major traders and the classic departments of the most important car manufacturers. Furthermore, continuing what has become an established tradition, it offers one of the most important showcases for spare parts (mostly pre-war) and refined automobilia. Walking through the hall, it was impossible not to be struck by the caliber and sheer number of the collectors and restorers who were there “just to have a look”. With Retromobile, it has now become difficult to work out whether it is the show that swells the attendance at the linked classic car auctions, or the other way around.


The celebration of Bruce McLaren

Tragically, New Zealander Bruce McLaren died at just 32 years of age while testing a McLaren sports car at the Goodwood circuit, but although his life was too short, he packed a lot into it. He is remembered as a talented racer who swapped rugby, his original passion, for the world of car racing, a field in which he certainly left his mark, as both a driver and a constructor. In 1959, just a year after making his racing debut, he became, at 22 years of age, the youngest driver to win a Formula 1 race. Just a few years later, in 1963 he founded his own firm, winning prizes as a constructor, both in sports car races and, especially, at Le Mans, with an upgraded Ford GT 40.

The firm then went on to produce if not the fastest, then certainly some of the most beautiful looking Formula 1 cars. Racing McLarens — the first was a 1967 M6A Can-Am — were mostly painted in a warm shade of orange so as to stand out better on color television, then a novelty. Just a few months after Bruce’s death in June 1970, Emerson Fittipaldi drove McLaren to victory in the Formula 1 World Championship. McLaren’s team carried on, and it is now Formula 1 racing’s second most successful team ever, after Ferrari.

Following another World Championship victory in 1976 (with James Hunt), the early 1980s saw mechanic Ron Dennis taking the helm: this was to be the decade of McLaren, bringing Championship victories with drivers like Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and, of course, Ayrton Senna. In the 1990s, as the racing team went on winning (by this time with Mika Hakkinen as star driver), Dennis, partnered by technical genius Gordon Murray, launched a road car: the now legendary MP1, a three-seater that has proved capable, in its racing versions, of winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Today, McLaren is an affirmed constructor of sports cars, often proudly ordered by future owners in McLaren orange, or Historic Orange to give it its official name.


Lucas Hüni and the art of impressing

Preparing a stand for a classic car show is no easy undertaking for a classic car dealer. To begin with, he has to have the right cars. And then, of course, the costs involved are considerable: in addition to the cost of the space, and of the stand itself, he has to deal with the extremely expensive and delicate process of moving and insuring the cars. This is why the cars brought to shows tend to be the ones that the dealer feels will be most likely to be spotted by prospective new owners. There is little room for anything else.

For some years now, Swiss dealer Lukas Hüni, too, has been using the Paris show to draw attention to cars he wants to sell. But he also does far more. Every year he picks a theme and uses it to create a display of his own, mainly featuring cars on loan from customers who have become friends. This year, he surpassed himself by assembling a line-up of ten Ferrari 250 SWBs, including alloy versions and one-offs. Topping off the display were several cars belonging to the Mexican Rodrigues brothers. This “collection” of cars gave visitors a perfect opportunity to discover, first hand, the differences between a Competizione and a Lusso version. It is important to underline that these ten cars were not for sale, but they certainly represented a valuable visiting card, showing just how much this firm is trusted by its customers. Well played!


Carlo Abarth

Born in November 1908 to an Austrian mother and an Italian father, Karl Abarth (or Carlo as most people called him) was interested in mechanics from a very young age. Early in his career, he worked for the Vienna subsidiary of Castagna & C., before moving to the Motor Thun workshop. The first time he was given the opportunity to compete in a motorcycle race, he was the fastest qualifier and went on to win. In 1938 he was asked to race for Italy, and in 1946 was invited by Ferdinand Porsche to represent the company in Italy.

Abarth played a pivotal role in the partnership between Piero Dusio and Porsche that led to the creation of the Cisitalia single seater. On March 31st 1949 he founded, in Bologna, the firm bearing his name, also setting up a subsidiary in Turin. This is where he did the work that best reflects his credo, tuning spare parts for racers (or wannabe racers) and making competition weapons out of humble utilitarian cars. His Scorpion badged cars won practically everything going, mostly Tourism races for small capacity cars, Sports races and hillclimbs, and also set countless speed records. The cars on show, like the Fiat Abarth 1000 TCR (Radiale) and the Fiat-Abarth 2000 Sport SE010 4-fari, both manufactured in 1968, perfectly epitomize this still much revered brand.


Jaguar Heritage

Jaguar Land Rover Heritage used the Paris show to present its 2018 project, namely its re-creation of 25 D-Types. The cars, totally new in every single component, will replicate, as far as possible, the technical features of the original model and they will look exactly like their predecessors. Being Jaguars built by Jaguar, these vehicles, 60 years younger than the original ones, can be defined official re-creations. The cars, all already sold, have just one limit: they can’t be registered for road use, as they do not meet the equipment criteria and safety and environmental regulations imposed on new cars, even though I feel sure some of the owners will find a way of getting them registered.

For more impressions on Rétromobile 2018, please have a look at the photos of Julien Mahiels: 

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