Paris show dazzles with Deco delights, racing greats and one-off weirdies

| 2 Feb 2012

Regulars to Rétromobile, France’s most prestigious classic car show, voted the latest event the greatest ever. 

An expansion with two new halls together with inspired themed displays topped by the remarkable Deco motoring set from the Mullin Museum made it a very special event. 

Match one of the finest displays of pre-war French glamour – including two Pebble Beach winners – with a pair of Ferrari 250GTOs, a dazzling dealer display, and bizarre groups of amphibious vehicles (below) and super-rare Gallic home-built sports cars, and you appreciate why the organisers felt proud of the 2012 event.

French cars with UK dealers were a talking point with London outfit Fiskens keeping its surprise star exhibit hidden until the opening morning when former GP ace Olivier Panis pulled off the covers of the 1908 Panhard racer.  

The 12.5-litre double-chain-drive titan has been owned by the Walker family since 1972, and will take a rumoured £5million to find a new home. 

Across the aisle Hall & Hall (main image) was not to be upstaged and produced another stunning group of historic racing machinery with the beautiful black 1927 Grand Prix Delage a favourite with many. 

This 1500cc dohc vintage voiturette was made famous by ‘Dick’ Seaman in the 1930s and ERA-beating success led to his works drive with Mercedes. 

Also making a return to Europe after many years in America was the 1969 Mirage BRM. One of two built, it’s the only survivor with 48-valve V12 motor as raced by Jacky Ickx and David Hobbs at Spa and Brands Hatch.

Matching the UK specialists was the Rétromobile debut of Italian dealer Tradex with a remarkable group of Latin exotics including a Ferrari 250 Monza discovered in the Brazilian jungle (above) and a  newly finished 1945 Maserati 1500 with dramatic Zagato ‘Panoramica’ coupé body.

Aside from the exotica, the rarest special display group featured homebuilt French sports cars from the 1960s and '70s.  “I never dreamed I’d see all these together,” said a very excited  Gary Axon, Goodwood press office and fan of arcane Gallic autos.  

Most had never heard of Collet, Renaudat, Farrel, Glasson, BLF, and Piollet, but the show united them as a tribute to their unsung builders. The kit car market in France was always restricted by expensive crash test legislation.

Not to be outdone by the dealers, the factory displays were given more space this year. Skoda made its debut with a fascinating group including a magnificent Hispano Suiza 25/100hp built under licence by the Czech marque. 

BMW’s stand had a strong motor sport theme with ex-Hans Stuck 1960 700S Spyder  grouped with exotic 16 valve 2-litre BMW-powered Brabham BT7 and a rare 328 based F2 single seater. 

But Renault upstaged all with a comprehensive eight car 50th anniversary set of A110s headed by a Gordini-tuned 1964 road car that could have driven straight out of a Michel Vaillant comic book and a trio of Tour de Corse rally greats.

All week French enthusiasts examined Reg Winstone’s newly discovered vintage streamliner. Designed and built by Jules Gérin in 1923, this rear-engined maverick saloon turned up in Ireland last year and, presented in its stripped skeleton state, it was another British-owned show star.

Art and models have always been a Rétromobile highlight, and talk of the miniatures was a remarkable one-off 1:18 hand built Porsche 908/80 Le Mans prototype. With body not yet completed, the stripped chassis dazzled with amazing detail made by Stephan Dufrene and Patrick Buvat that has taken four months.

A wealth of automobile ranged from replica Porsche 917 doors to a huge automotive themed spider. While outside in freezing temperatures hardy visitors could climb on to the largest engine ever built, a 330-litre 38 ton Duvant.

Such unforgettable attractions confirmed the Rétromobile team has reaffirmed  the Paris event’s special appeal, but following 2012 will be a mighty challenge.

More pictures (Mick Walsh/James Mann), click on the lead photo to view all images in a slideshow

But is it art? We think so. Every 917 door is really and these certainly are

Porsche 917 helping to publicise the Le Mans Classic

Autojumble was busy with bargain hunters

Barnfind Chrysler Ghia was the talk of the Artcurial auction lots

Ex-Stuck BMW 700S, 16 valve 2-litre BMW-powered Brabham BT7 and 328-based F2 car.

This Bugatti T55 – on the Bugatti works stand – has a one-off cabrio body by Billeter

Ferrari California

1973 Citroën GS X2 with paintwork by artist Jean-Pierre Lihou

1927 Grand Prix Delage on Hall & Hall stand is the famous ex-Dick Seaman car

The astonishing 330-litre 38-ton Duvant engine, the world's largest

Recently discovered streamliner, built by Jules Gérin in 1923

Another view of the impressive Hall & Hall stand

Amazing Bugatti T59 chassis 1:43 model by Alain Bouissou

The 1938 Lancia Astura on Lukas Huni's stand was bodied by Boneschi and very original

Recently restored 1945 Maserati 1500 with Zagato ‘Panoramica’ coupé body

Hispano Suiza Xenia came from the US for the streamlined and deco special display

Pebble Beach-winning Voisin and Bugatti Atlantic travelled from the Mullin Museum

1908 Panhard racer on the Fiskens stand has been in the Walker family since 1972

French market poster for classic British movie The Fast Lady

Brilliant spider sculpture had an engine at its heart