Worshipping the wacky in Paris

| 6 Feb 2013

Back at Rétromobile this week after a two-year absence and I couldn't be more delighted. This annual Gallic 'season opener' (yes, I know it isn't the first of the year, but somehow it always feels like it) continues to top my list of favourite shows. Why? Because of all the weird stuff.

Any show that has a steam engine chuffing up and down outside – the recreation of the 1829 Marc Seguin loco, in case you're interested –  plus a grounded Mirage jet just to keep you entertained as you queue to get in, has to get my vote.

But more than these sideshows, it's the variety of unusual classics that makes this event a must-visit. I love the NEC, Essen et al, but none of them can muster quite the same number of 'I've never seen one of those before' moments.

So here are my top 10 oddities from Paris this year:

1. 1958/’60 Alfa Romeo-Abarth 1000 Colani

You can always rely on Christophe Pund's La Galerie des Damiers to bring along something out of the ordinary, but this fantastic-looking Alfa is a bit special. The first tubular-chassis Giulietta, it was shown at Turin in 1958 with coachwork by Bertone. Subsequently rolled at Avus, it was rebodied in 1960 in spectacular style by Colani with shark-like nose, 'nostrils' in the bonnet and a Zagato-style 'double-bubble' roof. Very cool.

2. 1956 Voisin 'monoplace du facteur'

Now I've seen Voisin Biscooters before, but never this intriguing prototype, one of one built by the ever-inventive Gabriel Voisin using a 125cc single-cylinder engine mated to a two-speed ’box. Rather delightfully described by Osenat as 'rustic' – just check out that cut-down garden chair bolted to the chassis as a driver's seat! – it's going up for auction in March, wearing an estimate of €15-20,000.

3. 1931 Lambert 'Sans Choc' type TA

Yes, this if France, so there are Bugattis galore – with a particularly fine selection on the Lukas Hüni stand – but surely much more interesting are the Bugatti rip-offs created by multi-talented mechanic/driver/constructor Germain Lambert. I love the way that this TA – Traction Avant (front-wheel drive) – blends a Molsheim-style front end, in particular that horseshoe grille, with a pick-up rear. Look out for the full story of this 1100cc one-off – and its Lambert siblings – in a future issue of C&SC.

4. 1913 Renault Type DM

La Régie has really excelled itself in the oddball department this year. I loved the 12-wheeled 'off-roader', but the most bizarre motorised contraption has to be this 'Balayeuse' street-sweeper, powered by a 2.1-litre, four-cylinder engine with a three-speed gearbox and cable brakes. I love the idea of this veteran behemoth trundling along, clearing the detritus from the Paris streets.

5. 1986 Citroën Xanthia

Just loved this funky AX-based design study, as presented at the Paris Salon in ’86, which reminded me a little of the Peugeot 104 'Peugette' roadster I saw here a few years ago. Apparently 'Xanthia' means 'pleasure and vitality' and the compact two-seater offers the option of a pair of jump-seats in the cavity behind the driver. The technical spec is pretty much standard 1.4-litre AX, but the snazzy interior includes such advancements as a tyre-pressure monitor.

6. 1951 Fiat 1100E Stanguellini Gran Turismo Berlinetta

This cute little coupé has an Abarth-tuned, twin-Solex equipped 'four' to row along its 700kg – which is remarkably light considering that the attractive Bertone body (one of 20 produced) is all steel. This one is on offer with Marreyt Classics for a mere €135,000…

7. 1972 Skoda Type 720

Hard to choose a favourite oddity on the Skoda stand, but this little sports-racer – one of three built – just pips the 1975 130RS rally car and 1964 Formula 3 single-seater. Powered by an overhead-cam 1800cc 'four', the 630kg racer is said to produce 150bhp at a heady 8600rpm, giving a top speed nudging 140mph.

8. c1925/’26 Darmont Special Competition Course A

No, not a Morgan three-wheeler, but a Darmont three-wheeler, a car I had heard about before but never seen – and there are four of them here this year! This particularly handsome example was a 'works' racer for the Darmont factory, with a unique water-cooled and supercharged 500cc single-cylinder engine. Another Osenat car, this one is expected to fetch €50-80,000.

9. 1963 Renault 8 Landon

Another Renault, but the marque definitely justifies getting two entries in my top 10 – I could have filled it with examples of the diamond crest. This attempt at a 'sporty' Renault 8 looked more like a hot-rodder's chop, and the more rakish shape gave a top speed just shy of the magic ton. This prototype was produced by Francois Landon's Service Compétition department, but the rival proposal by Amedée Gordini (more power, not so chic) eventually got the nod for production.

10. 1964 Citroën DS19 Coupé Concord

There are DS celebrations everywhere you look in the Porte de Versailles exhibition halls this year, but none of the gleaming examples on show captivated quite like this Chapron-bodied wonder, one of three built in 1964. The unusual coachbuilt body and bespoke interior – apparently influenced by Rolls-Royce – were interesting enough, but it was this car's 'totally original untouched' state that made it so fascinating, because it appeared to have had a sledgehammer taken to every one of its hand-crafted panels.