Report and photos by Csaba Kiss
The bigger, the better – that could be the most appropriate motto for the 2012 Retromobile Salon, which opened its doors for the 37th consecutive year February 1-5, in Paris. Although the main location, the Porte de Versailles Exhibition Center remained the same as in the past years, Europe’s biggest classic car exhibition and fair moved to larger halls, the nearly 410 stands with more than 400 vehicles on display occupying 33,000 square meters (355,000 square feet), 6,000 square meters more than in 2011.
But the grandeur of the event is not reflected only in terms of surface: the first proof of that were the two Ferrari GTOs exposed at the entrance, which can be considered as the beginning of the worldwide celebrations related to the 50th anniversary of the legendary Italian supercar.
Important jubilees were one of the main themes of the manufacturers’ special exhibitions as well. Besides the celebration of the 80th anniversary of the Rosalie, Citroen arranged a literally artistic display site in the center of which shined a GS painted by the French artist Jean-Pierre Lihou in 1976 and the Survolt concept car, revisited by Francoise Nielly in 2010. Drawings, sculptures and installations inspired by Citroen cars, or created by designers who worked for the French brand were also showcased.
Another local brand, Renault, celebrated the 50th anniversary of France’s most desirable sport coupe from the sixties, the Renault Alpine 110 with six different vehicles, and the 40th anniversary of the affordable and much appreciated Renault 5, with other six models, including a rare electric version. Racing heritage was presented by a Formula One race car and a Type K, the first model fitted with a Renault engine to win an automobile competition (the Paris-Vienna race, 110 years ago).
Mercedes-Benz also emphasized its own motorsport traditions, presenting three former Le Mans stars: the 300 SL, which driven by Hermann Lang and Fritz Riess, won the 24 hour race 60 years ago, the SSK, which came second in 1931, driven by Boris Ivanovski and Henri Stoffel, and the Sauber-Mercedes C9 which won the French endurance competition in 1989 with Jochen Mass, Manuel Reuter and Stanley Dickens behind the wheel.
The high-quality level of the 2012 Retromobile was underlined by spectacular “private” special exhibitions too, like the display of eight French home-built street-legal sports cars. If model names like Collet, Renadaut, Romer, Glasson or Poillet don’t ring a bell, it’s not a sign of the lack of automotive knowledge – but Retromobile visitors had the occasion to hear the stories of these unique cars by the solo carmakers themselves.
Another interesting exhibition consisted in the display of five different types of amphibious vehicles – for military and civil service equally. Not to mention that one well-known French classic car magazine tried to attract visitors with a small, but important exhibition about the history of electric cars, displaying the first street legal electric car built ever, the Elektro-Dreirad by W.E. Ayrton and John Perry, courtesy of the Museum Autovision.
Every year, vehicles of the golden age of French coach building are one of the main attractions of the Retromobile. The 2012 event proved to be special from this point of view too, mostly due to the highlight exhibition of the show: the ten most important masterpieces from the Mullin Automotive Museum, one of the largest collections in the world and the only one devoted entirely to French cars. Due to the enormous value of these rarities, the display was arranged in a “don’t touch just look” style, but the high security measures didn’t prevent the public to come and admire in a huge number the Bugatti T57 SC Atlantic, the Delahaye V12 Type 165 with a “fluid” Figoni and Falaschi bodywork or the Voisin C25 Aérodyne, the winner of the Best of Show award at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
A special category of Retromobile are those “one car stands”, where the displayed vehicles serve as decorations for the classic car-related objects, products or services. But you can find treasures on these sites, too, like that unique Alfa Romeo Aigle from 1956 whose bodywork was built by Ghia on the basis of the 1900 SS, upon order of an Italian industrial magnate. Another one and only vehicle was a coupe named Marquis, built in 1954 for the New York Auto Show which remained a singular prototype, after the failure of the assembly agreement with an American entrepreneur. One of the pioneers of the nowadays so popular four-door coupe category was the Monica 560, produced in 1974, in just 30 pieces by a French industrialist. Jean Tastevin named the car after his beloved wife, and the exemplar displayed at the stand of an automobilia trader, was his own vehicle.
Retromobile 2012 – Photo Gallery (click image for larger picture and description)
[Source: Csaba Kiss]