Rétromobile 2017 will go down as one of the best ever. It might not quite compare to 2015 due to the absence of the Baillon Collection – one of the truly great "moments" of the collector car hobby – but that aside, it was hard to think of a better all-round event.
One of the hallmarks of the Paris event is its clear willingness to spend money to secure the best features. This year, visitors were treated to everything from the inevitable Ferrari at 70 displays to a celebration of visionary engineer Victor Bouffort, from Clément-Bayard to Ballot, tanks to Grand Prix Delages. Magnifique!
There were two utterly fabulous Ferrari displays at Rétromobile. The first was the curious-but-still-mind-blowing mix of road cars, single-seaters and sports-racers that comprised the 250-heavy celebration of the marque's 70th anniversary upstairs. Meanwhile, downstairs, on a big stand but with little fanfare, mass drooling was breaking out around a huge selection of seven singe-seaters. At the heart of them was a 512 F1 V12 surrounded by various different incarnations of 312 showing the development and evolution of the Grand Prix car through the 1960s and 1970s. Youngest of the selection was the ex-Clay Regazzoni 1974 312B3.
Stanley H 'Wacky' Arnolt was a Chicago industrialist and British car importer who carved out a niche for himself in applying Bertone bodies to a range of manufacturer's cars and selling the results (at least partially) under his own name. He started with MG and ended with his most famous product, the Arnolt-Bristol, but in 1953, way before his signature car, came this dramatic take on an Aston Martin DB2/4. Aston stopped the venture after just a handful of the Scaglione-penned cars were created. Chassis LML 505, the concours-winning Deluxe Spyder on the JD Classics stand, was the only one built to that precise spec.
Rétromobile is a truly international event, as proven by the presence of so many British specialists and dealers. But exhibitors do come from even further away, such as Steve Tillack from Redondo Beach California. Best known as a Ferrari dealer, Tillack also showed the stunning glass-domed Alfa Romeo 8C 3000M Disco Volante Superflow IV Pininfarina Coupé (just imagine if they put all that on a tail-badge!). Starting life as a racer and then a fantasy Giulia prototype, it was an oft-evolving concept car at PF that has for nearly 60 years been in its fourth incarnation with amazing two-piece retractable roof.
It's all back to front. While we should have been staring in wonderment at the curvy 1968 Bizzarrini 5300GT Strada (estimate €600-900,000) at the Artcurial auction at Rétromobile, the C&SC team was instead drawn to its far more rare, younger sibling, a Europa. The Pietro Vanni-styled one-of-12 factory built scaled-down Bizzas may have packed only 1900cc in the form of the same motor that powers the Opel GT, but the idea for a smaller version for the Italian sports car market was sound. As was shown when, after its debut at Turin in 1967, the order books overflowed. So much so that Bizzarrini, already on the brink financially, couldn't fulfil them. This example, now packing a 200bhp 2.4-litre Opel engine and estimated at €250-350,000, appeared at the 1969 Paris Salon and scooped an armful of awards at Essen last year.
The recently launched Automobili Lamborghini PoloStorico is the Sant'Agata company's heritage and restoration arm working in association with the huge historical resources in its Archivo Storico and running a certification scheme similar to Ferrari Classiche's. PoloStorica was appearing at Rétromobile for the first time and displayed just a single car on its sizeable stand – 350 GT (chassis 0121). The Touring-(re)styled car is the first example of Ferruccio's debut road car for which PoloStorico has masterminded a restoration – and only the fourth Lambo of any type – and it looked magnificent in white with black interior on its post-resto public première. That is no surprise because the works started in January 2015 and finished in September 2016 with 1150 hours dedicated to the bodywork and interior and a further 780 hours spent on the mechanicals (including the legendary V12) and electrics.
This car might be familiar to people who attended the Concours of Elegance at St James in 2014. It is, of course, a 1955 Pegaso Z-102 Touring Berlinetta, after Hispano-Suiza, close to the heights of Spanish motor manufacture. As part of state bus and truck manufacturer Enasa, Pegaso was run by ex-Alfa Romeo engineer Wilfred Ricart and its objective was to showcase Spain as capable of building cars rivalling the very best in the world. Using sophisticated four-cam, dry-sump 2814cc V8s (there was also a 3200cc option) with as many Webers as you liked and five-speed transaxles, the first closed GT (badged as an Enasa) appeared at Paris in 1951. Later cars, though remaining distinctive, were substantially more sleek and the car on the Pueche stand was one of just 86 Z-102s manufactured.
Many shows and events come up with innovative ways to decorate boring tunnels and walkways between halls, but few – if any – that we have seen come close to rivalling the superb Group B feature that Rétromobile staged this year. Celebrating the 35th anniversary of rallying's wildest years, the organisers gathered 15 of the common-sense-no-object monsters from the lethal, but much-missed era. They included everything from braces of Lancia 037s and Peugeot T16s to the insane Ferrari 308GTB Michelotto. All the greats were there including quattro, obviously, 6R4, S4 Stradale and RS200, but it was a pleasure to see them alongside some of the lesser-spotted variants such as the Nissan 240RS, BX 4TC, Visa Mille Pistes, Mazda RX-7 and Renault Maxi Turbo.
Military vehicles, and especially tanks, are polarising things. For many nothing will top the sheer dominance of the colossus Tiger 2, while for others a WW1 tank has to be rhomboid wrapped in its tracks. Rétromobile has a reputation for being fiercely patriotic, however, so the three-vehicle display nestling beside (and acting as counterpoint to) the huge, pristine Renault stand was all homegrown fare. Put on show by the Musée des Blindés in Saumur, on the left you can see a 1916 Saint-Chamond assault tank. It carries nine people, fires 75mm shells and weighs 23 tonnes. On the right is its predecessor, the Schneider CA1. Even though nearly half the weight of the Saint-Chamond, the Schneider proved ineffective on the battlefield.
Think for a moment: the Ferrari 5000GT is rarer than a Ferrari GTO. It is also possibly the most comparatively extreme plutocrat-express of all time. Recent Maybachs and current Royces are far closer to everyday fare than this was in the early 1960s. Having been suggested to Maserati's Giulio Alfieri by the Shah of Persia who was impressed by his 3500GT but wanted more power, just 33 of the Trident-badged beauties powered from a barely changed – and notoriously temperamental – four-cam 450S racing V8 were produced between 1959 and 1964. They used Superleggera construction and this example shown by Düsseldorf-dealer Movendi is one of the 22 bodied by Allemano to a Giovanni Michelotti design. Between them Frua, Bertone, Touring, Pinin Farina, Ghia and Monterosa clothed the rest.
Yes, this was a Lancia Flaminia. And whether you love it or loathe it depends very much on your opinion of hit-and-miss designer Raymond Loewy. While few question the deft hand behind the Studebaker Avanti, plenty have doubted the "skill" in some of his other projects – his E-type is particularly "special" – and the claims the Franco-American former commercial artist made to other, non-motoring designs. With its 2.5-litre V6 breathed on by Nardi (as was the wont), this industrial design study drew gasps when it was introduced at Paris in 1960. Brought to fruition by Correzzeria Motto, the faux-futuristic jet-age lines of the exterior jar somewhat with the traditional and uncontroversial interior, but the car is definitely striking if only for its huge overhanging 'mouth', aerodynamic roof addenda, moon-disc wheels and gold-effect paint.
In a straw poll of the C&SC team over a jambon-fromage baguette and Lipton's iced tea (Citron), this was actually the car of the show. It is a 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C that was brought to the Paris event by top-flight dealer Egon Zweimüller. As well as sensational looks, chassis 2211110 also has a tantalising dose of intrigue to its history, the delectable body being discovered in Normandy in the 1970s. When discovered the coachwork wore the plates of both Erdmann & Rossi and Brandone so there is still some debate as to who built it, though it is most usually attributed to the latter because there is a suggestion that the E&R plates may have been retrofitted solely on the mention by an enthusiast that it resembled the Berlin coachbuilder's work! The uncertainty is a shame because it is indubitably one of the most breathtaking of all the 8Cs.
Even by the loft standards of the Artcurial auction, two rather special Ferraris stood out a mile and were accorded their own individual displays. The older of the two is a 1948 Ferrari 166 Corsa Spyder with later Scaglietti body – "Evolved over time" and "laboratory car" as the auction house put it – but impressive competition pedigree with the likes of Sommer and Farina. Originally wearing an Ansaloni cycle-winged body on its short chassis, it was reshelled in the mid-'50s. The other star Ferrari was the never registered, long-term museum resident prototype 206 Dino, the first mid-engined Ferrari car. This 1965 right-hand-drive concept was the first of several that eventually led to the Dino and has spent much of its life in the Musée des 24 Heures du Mans in La Sarthe. Unsurpirsingly, the two Ferraris topped the sales results with the Dino making €4,390,400 and the 166 €2,960,400.