Rétromobile Paris: Is This The Best Classic Car Show In The World?

Text: Hans Veenenbos         Images: Hans Veenenbos Archives & Gautam Sen

For many, the Rétromobile show in Paris (February 1–5, 2023) is an annual pilgrimage. To get into the mood, here is a fine period photograph from 1927 of the Café de la Paix (since 1862) on the Place de l’Opéra. The Café stands for everything that represents la vie Parisienne.

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The famous Cafe de la Paix near Paris Opera

Unfortunately, the performance of the Dolly Sisters (see the advertising on the kiosk) can no longer be enjoyed at the Casino de Paris. But, of course, Paris has so many other present-day attractions to offer.

This year will be the 47th Rétromobile show. Not all deRivaz & Ives magazine readers may know how it all began.

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Another picture from Nicolosi's Garage du Collectionneur

The founding father of Rétromobile was Marc Nicolosi, together with Jean-Pierre Jouët. Nicolosi had forged his reputation in the world of car collecting in the 1960s with his Garage du Collectionneur, established on the Route Nationale 6 near Avallon, where he restored historic cars.

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The halls of Porte de Versailles exposition centre from the air

In 1974 he was asked by Jean-Pierre Jouët, who was organizing a temporary exhibition for publishers Atlas to promote their new Encyclopedia of the Motor Car, to source historic cars for this exhibition.

Here, I could stop by saying ‘and the rest is history’….but not so fast.

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An on-the-ground view of the entrance to the exhibition halls of Porte de Versailles exposition centre

This exhibition, which took place during ten days in 1975 in the former train station of Vincennes on the Place de la Bastille in Paris, was a resounding success.

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Fast forward to 2014 and we even have an elephant at Retromobile

In 1976, Nicolosi repeated this success while adding a commercial dimension to the exhibition by inviting dealers in parts, new and old, as well as car manufacturers and clubs to represent their brand. Without him knowing yet, he has organized his first Rétromobile show.

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Plus a Cyget and a Swan car

François Melcion, who had a stand at this exhibition for his documentation shop Pégase in the rue de Saussure in Paris, joined Nicolosi (earlier in 1974, and then again in 1976) and the two remained at the helm of Rétromobile for the next 27 years until 2003.

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2014 was when 16 cars of maharaja provenance were put together for a magnificent show at Rétromobile

In 1994 Nicolosi decided to sell Promobile, the organizing company of Rétromobile, to Hervé Ogliastro, another car enthusiast, who would later sell Promobile to Comexposium.

Nicolosi also helped his wife Isabelle to open La Gallerie Vitesse in the rue de Berri in Paris in 1987 (still there today), which promoted artists, designers, sculptors and photographers who cultivated a certain taste for the automobile and locomotion in the broad sense. These days, they continue having their own Village des Artistes at Rétromobile.

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The Silver Phantom of Hyderabad amongst a bunch of Rolls-Royces

Year after year, Rétromobile kept growing, without ever losing its ability to captivate, surprise and inspire—with each edition bringing its share of surprises.

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Robert and his daughter with the Rolls-Royce 17EX, which he used to take care of

From 1981 onwards, Rétromobile was held at the Parc des Expositions at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre, formerly the Foire de Paris.

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A not-so-humble Humber Snipe in an extremely rare landaulette body style

In 2003, when Comexposium took over the organization of Rétromobile, Nicolosi stepped down to devote himself to the Club Bugatti France, of which he was president.

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Another maharaja Rolls-Royce with a very historic Isotta Fraschini

On 27th November 2019, he died in Paris at the age of 84. The historic vehicle community in France had lost one of their greatest protagonists.

Long live Rétromobile!

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Keeping an eye on all the action during innumerable editions of Rétromobile was fellow organiser François Melcion


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