You never know who you will meet at Rétromobile

| 8 Feb 2013

One of the many joys of Rétromobile is the fascinating people you meet when admiring the dazzling display of classics or investigating the tempting automobilia.

The unique social aspect of the Paris show attracts personalities, collectors and enthusiasts from all over the world. Fastest man at ‘Retro’ this year was undoubtedly Bonneville legend Charles Nearburg who jetted in from Dallas for the show.

The 414.316mph record holder with Spirit of Rett is also a serious Porsche fan as his haul of new books confirmed. “I have a 917 that I’d love to race in historics but the cockpit is just too tight for me. We’d have to make a bubble in the roof,” said Nearburg, who also owns a 935 K3 and a 936.  

There were several long-awaited book launches at the show, none more so than a splendid new biography on the dashing French ace François Cevert written by his sister Jacqueline Cevert-Beltoise (main pic) with Johnny Rives. The wife of the ever popular Jean-Pierre Beltoise (above) caused quite a stir on Thursday when she arrived for a book signing with fans queuing all morning to meet her.  

“I find it very hard to think about his death but those were tough years,” said the glamorous blonde who confirmed the story that François had
once visited a fortune-teller on the advice of his girlfriend. “We lost so many friends. Jim [Clark], Jo [Schlesser] and then François. I’m really pleased with the book that Jackie [Stewart] kindly wrote the forward for. They were very close.”

Movie producer Bill Pohlad has written a script and is planning to make a film about the friendship between Cevert and Stewart: “I’ve read the script and it’s very Hollywood.” If you are a Cevert fan, the new book, packed with previously unseen photos from family albums, is published by L’Autodrome Editions priced €39.

Jacqueline’s husband Beltoise, the Matra ace and 1972 Monaco Grand Prix winner, was also at the show, but keen not to upstage his wife’s spotlight. When I asked which machine he has the fondest memories of, Beltoise surprisingly selected his Bultaco 125cc racing motorcycle.

“Those were happy years and that Bultaco was fantastic,” he said. “There’s nothing like racing a motorbike at Clermont-Ferrand. What a fantastic track.”

Amelia Island Concours founder Bill Warner is another Rétromobile regular and was enthusing about the entry for the premier East Coast event: “This year we have a GT40 group to blow your mind, and the 20 Millers will be the largest ever gathering. We’re also hoping to cap our 911 birthday group with the stainless steel show car from the Deutsches Museum in Munich.”

Another book hot off the press was Walter Bäumer’s Maserati A6G 2000 by Zagato (above). Packed with fresh research, the former fashion photographer, turned Trident authority discovered an unused shoot featuring a young Clint Eastwood. “They were taken in 1957 at Palos Verde and I think Clint was short of money at the time”, said Bäumer.

Every year the amazing sculptures of Martin Otto Lambert are the talk of the automotive art village, and the talented German didn’t disappoint this year with his fantastic barn-find fantasy of the beautiful Maserati A6GCS Pininfarina coupé.  “When I saw it at Goodwood, it was love at first sight,” said Lambert. “It’s a stunning-looking car. It takes a year to make these pieces and I’ve still to finish the wheels and engine. Before I’d shown it, I had a call out of the blue from a mystery Italian who demanded to buy it.”

Few are more passionate about the amazing propeller-driven Leyat than Nashville based Jeff Lane who specialises in oddball motors. When he learned that Les amis de l’Helica was planning a centenary tribute to the eccentric designer Marcel Leyat, he pledged two of his three replicas for the display.

“Only two survive and none are for sale,” said Lane, “so the only option was to build one. I’d virtually given up on the project when my friend Claude Guéniffey phoned to say he’d found a stash of drawings. I’ve done about a hundred miles in my Harley-powered closed version in America. The most dangerous feature is other road users who try to get too close to take photos!”