WORDS: DAVID LILLYWHITE | PHOTOGRAPHY: RÉTROMOBILE
Well, that was quite a show! For years – decades actually – the Rétromobile indoor show at the sprawling Paris Expo has attracted praise from around the world. In the 1990s and 2000s, that praise was mostly for the quantity and quality of the quirky automobilia on sale, as well as for the displays of French machinery that you just wouldn’t see anywhere else, from a line-up of Bugatti Royales, to tanks and armoured cars.
Now, it’s mostly about cars of all nationalities, although automobilia and French vehicles are still prominent. There had been a subtle decline in the quality and atmosphere of the show in recent years, but it picked up again post-Covid, and last year’s event was noticeably improved. This year – the 48th edition – felt like the best so far; a fact that many have attributed to the show’s new management, under event director Romain Grabowski, who took over in October 2022.
From the Tuesday’s preview evening to the close of the show on Sunday, the event was packed, with the organisers claiming a record 130,000 attendance. Among those could be found many of the biggest names in car collecting, including many from the US – and a huge UK contingent.
Hall 1 is always the headline grabber, dominated by dealer and watch manufacturer stands. Once again, Fiskens, Girardo & Co., Kidston SA, Lukas Hüni AG, Ascott Collection, Gallery Aaldering and others competed for the most impressive presence – and, for the first time, they were joined by Joe Macari, which put on an impressive display opposite the eye-popping Richard Mille watch stand.
Girardo and Kidston had Ferrari 250GTOs on their neighbouring stands, as did Tom Hartley Jr a bit further away in the hall, while Fiskens included a newly restored, matching Ecurie Ecosse D-type atop the team’s famed race transporter. Meanwhile, the Lukas Hüni stand’s gems included the infamous third-built (of four) Bugatti 57S Atlantic.
This year there were two major centenary celebrations, of the UTAC Linas-Montlhéry autodrome and the first MG car, with great displays of both – the latter with many important MGs from the British Motor Museum, including the record-breaking EX181.
The manufacturers had upped their respective games, too, particularly VW, which had a huge stand, competing with Citroën and Renault, which usually have it all their own way at Rétromobile. Porsche was also exhibiting, Mercedes-Benz took the opportunity to display cars from its recently formed Heritage division, and Ruf and Motul collaborated on an imaginative diorama.
On the bridge between Halls 1 and 2 was the much-anticipated Dakar display, featuring cars and motorcycles from the legendarily tough rallying event. Over the bridge, the displays were dominated by imaginative club displays and the Artcurial auction. Further on through the halls, keen visitors could find the cars for sale area, proving that Rétromobile isn’t just about the million-euro vehicles. The sales area featured no fewer than 150 vehicles at less than €25,000. There were more motorcycles this year, too, with six manufacturers and a popular Ace Cafe area.
There were even celebrities – and proper ones at that, including Jacky Ickx, Sébastien Loeb, Stéphane Peterhansel, Charles Leclerc, Magnus Walker and Philippe Monneret.
We can’t claim to have seen it all in the three days we were there, but what we can say is that the atmosphere and the quality surpassed any Rétromobile that we can remember. The four auctions attached to the event – Artcurial within the halls, the rest elsewhere around Paris – didn’t feel quite so good (results here), but still put on strong showings that were mostly well attended.