Retromobile Paris 2022 ... Back to the roots!

Ferrari 512 BB Competizione s_n 24129

Ferrari 512 BB Competizione s_n 24129


Paris, 16th-20th of March, 2022 

Back to the roots! In 1976 the Retromobile opened its doors for the first time and back in the days the show primarily hosted the French Automobile, namely local dealers and a lot of car clubs. Even in the 1990s the major part of the exhibitions was dedicated to the pre-war coachwork of the French artists and the great names of Delage, Delahaye or Bugatti.

Over the years the exhibition certainly changed just as the entire classic car scene changed, the early enthusiasts with their old cars for decades in family ownership were replaced by new buyers when the cars increased value and so more and more dealers took over the space once reserved for the clubs. In the 2000s also the car manufacturers came with more expensive and impressive works displays, not just the French ones but also Porsche, Mercedes and others. The show changed the location a few times within the huge exhibition centre and was spread out over two halls. The main halls reserved for the big exhibitors and the smaller for the clubs and the Artcurial sale that is part of the show. Some might say that the show lost a little bit of its original charm but at the same time it became the international no.1 attracting visitors from all over the world like none if its contenders. This attracted the high-level car dealers as most of their clients were present and the displays of Lucas Hüni (although more a presentation than a sales display), Gregor Fisken, Max Girardo and a few others dominated the headlines.

Then after the show in 2020 the world changed for obvious reasons and this certainly affected the indoor shows the most as they became impossible to justify during a pandemic. In 2021 the show had to be cancelled and now in 2022 it was postponed for a few weeks from its annual February date to profit from new regulations in France that were on its way. So finally, the show was able to open its doors in the mid of March even without a mask mandate. 

But already when the date was still intended to be in February a lot of the premium dealers announced that they would not attend the show this year. Probably because they have changed their way of selling cars over the years to online presentations and a constant growing base of their key clients, they might have come to the conclusion that the massive amount of money involved in the transport, insurance and building up a booth might not be worth the efforts. So even now a few weeks later most of them were missing, with one exception: Simon Kidston

The Brit located in Geneva took the opportunity to make the headlights of the show with a massive display of no less than 7 McLaren F1s. Over the last years the 3-seater designed by Gordon Murray became very much the modern equivalent to the Ferrari 250 GTO. A limited production and a very steep price tag made the car an ultimate collectors’ car of its period, rare enough to make them special but enough examples to create a steady market. Just like with the Ferrari 250 GTO tour an F1 provides you the exclusive entry in a McLaren F1 tour and the exclusive club of ownership. The McLaren was a successful race car both in the long-tail and short tail GTR versions in the 1990s endurance racing but the cult might have been created by the street version. Kidston’s display was centred around the example of the late George Harrison (chassis 025), a purple street car with various exclusive features like numerous Hindu symbols on the wheels or steering. Simon Kidston made quit the show out of it as his booth filled the halls with Beatles music during the days and showed memorabilia both from the Beatles as of the F1. The other 6 examples of the McLaren gave a great impression of the different variations like a long tail Le Mans GTR in Gulf livery, a short tail in the BMW Fina colours, two “ordinary” street versions as well as Gordon Murray´s former Experimental car and the rarely seen long-tail street version. So maybe only an F1 GT version was missing for the complete set.

Just opposite of the only major dealer booth was the small and exclusive display of Lamborghini Polo Storico. Last year at the Villa d´Este they revealed the reconstruction of the lost Countach prototype that was built to exact specification in countless hours for one of the major Lamborghini collectors in the world. Also interesting was the bare metal body of the first of the supercars, the Miura.

Just a few meters further a small racer from Modena drew a lot of attention, a Maserati A6 GCS (chassis 2074) nicknamed “the Cuban car”. The car had its early racing career in Italy before the owner took it to South America when he immigrated there. The car was then seen at the Cuban GP before it had its engine replaced with an American V8 and finally ended in a sorry estate when discovered by Colin Crabbe. Today the car has an engine from a A6 GCM (2032) but is in the need of a major rebuilt or could be admire as a piece of art.

Ferrari was not very well presented this year as only a few examples could be seen in the halls. Mainly the booth of Jean Guikas featured one of the small 312 PB as well as a 512 BB Competition and the 365 GTB Nart Spider Comp.

The most interesting car to see might have been a Ferrari 212 Inter Vignale Cabriolet (chassis 0125EL). Originally bodied by Vignale as a Berlinetta and then as Cabriolet the car lost its original body in 1987 when it resurfaced as a spider. Since these days the car was seen on a few events with this body style and now the car is reunited with its original body by DK Engineering.

Talking about coach built brings us to finally to the French part of the exhibition. The French restorer L’Atelier des Coteaux is specialised in the splendid French coachwork of the pre-war era and their reconstruction and restorations are always a highlight of the show. This time they had a Delahaye 135 M by Chapron on their stand as well as Bugatti Type 73. After the war Bugatti tried to revive their company but the small 1.5 litre engine Type 73 remained an afterbirth of the great history of the pur sang. There is an example of the 73 in Mulhouse and now there is a chassis with a newly constructed body by the French restorers. Although the car looked really nice with its roadster design this was the end of the Bugatti name for the decades to come. 

Another French coachbuilder is Vanvooren which was located in Paris. A very nice Bugatti T55 Roadster is on offer at Historic Cars of Paris. The cars were seen at the Retromobile a few times, last year it was intended to be sold by Artcurial but not only was the show cancelled but also the car failed to sell. This year it is available again, but not on auction. The interesting story was that an identical looking car is available at Aguttes on Wheels with the Omega Six with Hispano-Suiza technology. 

Starting in the 1930s as well but better known for the early post war years is the history of Gordini that was represented with a special display of 9 cars, many of them provided by the Schlumpf Museum in Mulhouse. Just across from the ex-Fangio Gordini Type 18S that sold for more than 1 million Euros at the Artcurial sale was a very nice Type 31S with very impressive race history. It was a class winner at the 1954 Le Mans 24h and a winner of the Tour de France in the same year. Later it won in Montlhery, Tours and Pescara. The formula 1 car of the Type 32 was 6th in Monaco and Pau as well as winning in Montlhery. 

Talking about Montlhery: the track south of Paris is known for some of the best vintage car events for the popular voiturettes and other exotic pre-war cars. In Paris they have shown a very nice selection of those cars in the shadow of Bugatti. Amilcar, BNC or Spag were present alongside more curious examples of Voisin or Antony including a driven bathtub. 

So, what does one take back from Paris after this slightly downsized version of the Retromobile? Unlike the Techno Classica in Essen the Retromobile never took too much space in the huge exhibition centre and so the organizers are very flexible to adjust the rented space to the offering. This time in the more modern hall 7 on two floors the place did not look empty. A better light than in the older halls adds to a more modern atmosphere. Maybe the big highlights in cars were missing but most of the visitors are not coming for them anyway. They might be more interested by the general condition of the car culture in France with the clubs and special exhibitions. And it could be seen that the show was very well visited as after 2 years most people were obviously keen to get out again and meet like minded car enthusiasts.

It remains to be seen what the high-end dealer takes out of their year off, whether they will realize that they can go without a booth or whether they come back in the years to come.

Also, the manufacturers will need to make their mind whether they still want to represent their history of fossil burning classics or whether these shows do not fit the current direction of an electrified future. Looking at the recent record earnings at Mercedes for example the money cannot be the reason for their absence. Renault was there showing the history of their popular Renault 5 in addition of an EV version for the future.

Assuming that the pandemic might be history in a years’ time it will be interesting to see what direction the show will take


Report & images ... Peter Singhof