Rétromobile 2023: Back With A Bang!

Images: Gautam Sen & Michele Casiraghi

So, it is official! Rétromobile is back, and how.

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Rétromobile is just the place to come across cars one has never heard of such as this 1954 Bouvot-Caron barchetta designed by Paul Bouvot and raced at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the early 1950s

For the 47th running of salon, more than 125,000 hard-core enthusiasts flocked to the three halls of the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles exhibition grounds to check out over a thousand amazing classic cars, motorcycles, and special vehicles, even a couple of tanks!

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It is also the place for rejuvenated car marques such as Bizzarrini, which had a stand at show

Festivities such as the centenary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was celebrated, as well as a whole bunch of very rare and special vehicles were exhibited by some 600 exhibitors, including a dozen-odd carmakers, plus a couple of bike brands such as the recently rejuvenated Brough Superior and Midual.

Spread across 73,000 square metres, and spanning five days from 1st to the 5th of February last week, Rétromobile, a benchmark historic vehicle show for collector vehicle enthusiasts, seems to have set the tone for the 2023 season.

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An amazingly well preserved 1913 Delaunay Belleville with body by Carrosserie Rothschild. The car is powered by a 4387cc four-cylinder engine.

Artcurial Motorcars, which had as many as 227 vehicles for auction in Hall 2, generated a sales volume of €35.5 million (Rs 310 Crores), with a 1951 Ferrari 340 America Barchetta Touring Superleggera, from the Bart Rosman Collection, topping the records at €5.7 million (Rs 50 Crores).

Beyond the numbers, Rétromobile once again excelled at the quality of cars on display. The one and only Bucciali V12 ‘Flèche d'or’, from 1932, was present, as were more than 50 cars (the equivalent of a starting grid) that had participated at the 24 Hours of Le Mans over the years, plus eight legendary racing Ferraris on the Richard Mille stand, including one of the 36 Ferrari 250 GTOs produced between 1962 and 1964, as well as the Porsche 911 Dakar, which was unveiled by the German manufacturer for the first time in Europe.

The way things are going, Rétromobile may, in the years to come, have more official carmakers participating than some of the modern car shows, as this salon has evolved over the years from a simple gathering of old vehicle enthusiasts to one which bridges the gap between the past and the future, even linking the historic to electric mobility.

So, as Volkswagen celebrated the 70th anniversary of their microbus, they had, on their stand, a 1967 T1 combi and a 1972 T2, as well as the brand new ID.Buzz, which is the fully electric successor, but with a design that is fully nostalgic, harking back to the original from seven decades ago.

At Peugeot, it was the same recipe: the star of the stand was the brand-new plug-in hybrid saloon, the 408, but it was flanked by several historic models, such as a 401 saloon from the 1930s, as well as a rare Eclipse, the coupe-cabriolet version of the 401. Also present was a 402, as well as a Pininfarina-designed 403 convertible, and a 205 GTi, from 1991.

Renault too showcased the Sandeep Bhambra-designed concept R5 EV, but next to it were several R5s of yore, including a R5 Turbo. Renault also took the opportunity to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the hugely popular Twingo, with several versions on display (one from coachbuilder Lecoq, a Twingo Coupe, as well as a Twingo Benetton from ‘96, with multi-coloured pop interior).

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Other rarities included a Brazilian Puma

Citroën too was in a neo-retro mode, with a selection of important models from its history, all exclusively white for the occasion: a CX Prestige, a 2CV, a Méhari, a Traction Avant cabriolet and even the distinctive C10 prototype, from 1956.

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At Christophe Grohe's stand there was a sublime Maserati as well as this stunning Delage with Vanvooren body

In fact, it was a bit of a Stellantis show, what with now-sister carmakers Alfa Romeo, Abarth and Fiat showcasing some of the cars from their past. Along with a Alfa Zagato SZ, specifically the one unveiled at the 1989 Geneva Motor Show, the recently established Alfa Romeo Classiche department also showed a beautifully restored 1956 Alfa Romeo 1900 Super Sprint.

Sharing stand space with the 1900 SS, were a couple of very rare cars: an Abarth 850 TC from 1964 and a Lancia Rally 037 from 1982, the last world rally champion car with two-wheel-drive.

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Given the crazy crowds, it made sense for one of the Retromobile team members Thierry Farges to have his meeting on top of a VW camper

It was also a pleasure to see British specialist manufacturer Caterham back at Retromobile after some ten years, to celebrate the marque’s 50th year. Three models were on display, including the latest, the Caterham 340, which was launched a couple of months ago.

For Porsche it was the celebration of the 911's 60th anniversary which was in focus. Several versions of the 911 from the early years were on display. The one that caught the eye was the 911 Dakar, which revives the heritage of the 959, the car that had raced and won Paris-Dakar in 1986.

With its appropriate livery from the past, this modified 911 GTS, with suspensions raised by 50mm, a rack on the roof and Pirelli Scorpion All Terrain tires, the car looked ready to go anywhere.

The two special exhibitions on the cars of the 24 Hours of Le Mans—to celebrate the race’s centenary year—had the Chenard & Walcker, which took André Lagache and René Léonard to win this extraordinary race for the first time ever, in 1923.

Auction house Artcurial Motorcars had as many as 227 vehicles on display in a gigantic 4,700 square metre stand that took over most of Hall 2.2.

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A Chenard et Walcker of this type won the very first 24 Hours of Le Mans, a hundred years ago, in 1923

Amongst them were an almost barn-find 1975 Lamborghini Countach, a Mercedes SLR Stirling Moss as well as Schumacher's Benetton B195 F1 bolide, which got him his 1995 F1 world championship title, a car that saw nine victories and 11 podiums.

A whole bunch of Mercedes-Benz AMGs as well as a Ferrari 250 LM Berlinetta, which was the last Ferrari to have won at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (in 1965), were also on display.

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An extremely rare Renault Juvaquatre coupe; one of four runners amongst the 80-odd ever made

Matching Artcurial was Richard Mille's stand with his personal collection of extraordinary Ferraris, including the F1 cars of Alain Prost and Gilles Villeneuve, alongside the superb Ferrari 250 GTO NART that Mille owns.

For motorcycling fans, there was a special display of the rare French marque Dollar, which was founded a hundred years ago.

At the other extreme, the museum Musée des Blindés, from Saumur, in France, showcased the very first AMX 30 tank, commissioned in 1957, as well as the 13-ton EBR Panhard, featuring eight-wheel-drive!

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The tongue-in-cheek two-horsepower carriage of Asterix from the latest movie, crafted by Citroen

As the new director of Rétromobile Romain Grabowski said: “True to its motto that ‘the past always has a future’, this 47th edition proves more than ever that the passion for, and the sector of historic vehicles has a very bright future!”

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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