HomeThe MarketRetromobile is French for classic car indulgence

Retromobile is French for classic car indulgence


A 1931 Harris Leon Laisne Type R restoration project near the Peugeot stand at Retromobile 2016 | Dirk de Jager photo

What happens when you combine Paris, arguably the most beautiful city in the world, with some of the rarest and most elegant automotive creations of all time? The answer is Retromobile, the annual classic car exhibition held annually right in the middle of the French capital city.

No matter whether your heart (or stomach) longs for warm croissants and café culture, or for the magic carpet-like ride of a Citroen DS driving down the Champs-Elysees, Paris is a city steeped in culture, tradition, and effortless elegance.

Bonhams sale venue

What makes Retromobile so special, however, is the incredibly diverse range of stands and exhibitors present during the show, which is slated to run this year from February 8-12. Whether you’re an armchair enthusiast, or you’re searching for the perfect headlight to repair your 1937 Delage, Retromobile is one of the most entertaining and eclectic car shows anywhere in the world.

This year, with the show taking pride of place in Halls 1, 2 and 3 at the Porte de Versailles Expo center, Retromobile’s 550 exhibitors have the stretch-out space that previous editions have sometimes lacked. With 60,000 square feet of room, the 2017 edition promises to be even more accessible to show-goers. And considering approximately 500 cars will be on display in the exhibition halls, that room is definitely going to be needed.

Major automakers get into the spirit, with elaborate displays highlighting iconic models or significant eras in each company’s history.

Of these, Citroen routinely has one of the larger and more extensive stands at the show. That’s no coincidence, since the French automaker has kept in its own private collection, located a short drive from the city center, almost every concept car it has ever produced. Bet on Citroen to roll out notable examples of past hits, like the minimalistic 2CV, SM luxury coupe, and the aforementioned DS sedan – the latter of which still looks as fresh and modern as it did more than 60 years, when it was launched in 1955.

Another major factor in the success of Retromobile is the diverse owners club support that’s on display every year. Renault, Matra, Citroen, Peugeot, Panhard and countless other French marques are well-represented. Though don’t be surprised if a 1960s Mustang or Camaro happens to be sitting alongside a teardrop-fendered Delahaye. This is simply that kind of show.

The club presence can be dizzying, with seemingly every conceivable car company represented in some way or another. Illustrious and long-gone firms such as Hispano Suiza, Bugatti (the non-VW variety), Salmson, Simca, Berliet, Panhard et Levassor and Talbot all have their legions of owners and fans present.

That holds true for American-built sheet metal, too, thanks to organizations like the Mustang Club de France. We’re not sure we’d opt for hamburgers over steak tartare, but the moxie of American car fans in Paris is something to be admired – and not simply because filling your vintage ‘Stang sets you back about $6 bucks per gallon.

Porsche prototype on the Paris docket | RM Sotheby’s photo

Auction houses such as Bonhams, RM Sotheby’s and ArtCurial place huge importance on Retromobile when it comes to sparking interest in a vast array of classic automobiles looking for new homes. Vehicles can range from the most mainstream of cars, or even scooters and mopeds, to multi-million-dollar machinery. Last year, ArtCurial reported approximately $62-million-dollars’ worth of sales during the Retromobile weekend.

This year, we’re particularly intrigued by what ArtCurial refers to as its “Raging Bull Collection,” comprising six Italian machines that would take pride of place in any collection. If the auction firm’s enticing 1972 Lamborghini Miura SV is out of your price range with its sales estimate of roughly $3 million dollars, then a 1954 Lamborghini DL 25 N tractor might be worth the wave of your auction paddle. Offered with no reserve, this classic Lambo doesn’t have scissor-doors or a V12 engine, but at least it’s a fetching shade of red and gives new meaning to the term “barn find.”

Another car that’s certain to drop jaws is a black-on-tan 1969 Bizzarrini GT Europa 1900. Wide, low to the ground, and absolutely menacing, Italian exotics simply don’t come with more gravitas than this one.

If you’re in the mood for something racier, RM Sotheby’s has a 1970 Porsche 917 Can Am Spyder for sale at an anticipated cool $5-million or thereabouts. The car served as a factory tester and has had only four private owners since it was new. Powered by a 5.0-liter flat-12 engine, this air-cooled monster delivers upwards of 600-horsepower to its rear wheels.

For an even more rarefied racecar with an impeccable pedigree, there is always Lot 161, a 1934 Alfa Romeo Tipo B originally campaigned by none other than Scuderia Ferrari in 1934 and 1935. Past drivers of this outstanding machine include Rene Dreyfus and the legendary Italian ace, Tazio Nuvolari.

Or you can always buy one of each, in 1:24 scale, to make the trip home a little easier in terms of logistics and luggage fees.

Nick Kurczewski
Nick Kurczewski has covered all the automotive world has to offer while living and working on both sides of the Atlantic. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he began his career in New York City before spending nearly five years in Paris, France, before returning stateside. He has driven a Zamboni, hit 197 miles per hour on the autobahn, diced with traffic on the streets of Mumbai, and has driven the world's oldest Citroen 2CV. If it has wheels and a great story, he wants to drive.

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