The classic Parisian exhibition was once the highlight of the year for me – also offering a welcome excuse for a visit to this grand city. After a self-imposed break lasting a couple of years, I was anxious to see if my old love had faded.
When I visit these annual fairs, it’s always with the strange expectation that everything will be perfectly intact as it used to be – but at the same time knowing that there must be change and new convictions. The same goes for Rétromobile. After three years of absence from my side, my usual habitualities were a bit off. It’s always been a place distinguished by high exclusivity and with the exquisite and at times quirky French automobile history at the forefront. Here was a place, where you could always be sure to find several of the spectacular pre-war cars exhibited, giving you opportunity to admire the sublime craftsmanship that characterizes many of these vintage luxury cars. Also, Rétromobile has always been the place to find plenty of small and fun-filled features from the French marques – both current, but also from those long since deceased and gone. The French automobile industry has been avant-garde – for good and bad. This is one of the reasons that Rétromobile is my absolute favorite fair.
Another reason is the food: There are no overcooked patatoes with prefabricated bearnaise sauce to be found here, nor hot Coke to go with your cold French hotdog – the name of such a mysterious constellation of sausage in bread makes one wonder even more while visiting Paris.
Paris is in these days covered by a blanket of snow and the temperatures are as low as those found in Copenhagen, so that in itself is a change compared to my earlier visits. There was usually the possibility of enjoying milder temperatures in Paris during February, but not this year. It’s cold, and everyone in the city has found their way to the warm insides of the many tempting cafés. The other – self-induced – change this year is that I’m accompanied by a woman. Sure, she is sufficiently interested in the entire circus of retro, old cars and pleasant atmosphere, but definitely not knowledgeable in the subject. For the first time ever, I’ll take to the “holy” halls within, with that kind of companion …
We arrive with press accreditations and are pleasantly greeted at the door. But Paris is wounded by the many terrorist attacks and the security check at the entrance is decidedly more thorough than we are used to. Everything is done in good spirits though, and instead of feeling annoyed, we get the feeling that we are being looked after.
Well past the check, we are immediately met with the massive exhibit of classic cars and automobilia – and people in hoards. My companion looks a bit disoriented, so I pass on the well-proven advice of just strolling around for a while until a more structured way to view the exhibits is found.
Rétromobile is not as large as many of the other fairs in Europe, which means you can actually take it nice and easy. It doesn’t have to be a marathon to get through the whole exhibition. With one large hall and two smaller ones, adding up to roughly 90,000 m2 all-in, it’s certainly big enough to keep you interested, but equally it falls short of being daunting.
Let me get back to the food: The shellfish bar had shrunk since my last visit, but at least it’s still there and still an important feature of the exhibition. We make no attempt to escape its load of snails, mussels and of course the mandatory oysters. The champagne cooler now had company from the Iberian Peninsula in the form of cava – Spain’s response to the French sparkling white wine.
Furthermore, the seafood stand this year was flanked by a Spanish taberna with fiery Spanish waiters, hanging pata negra-hams and cheeses from Manchego. Needless to say, if visiting Rétromobile, please take your time to enjoy these installations…
On the car side of things, everything was well and as I wanted it to be – almost. In fact – and sadly – I have to say that the Frenchness is a bit in regression, and on the flipside, the more common and well-known classics are taking over. As invasive species, there were a bunch of small cleverly refurbished Fiat 500 and sparkling glossy Jaguar E-types all over the place. Nice cars – but when in Paris, I want to see Citroën, Panhard, Simca and the like. And next I want to be absorbed by the extravagant lines of the vintage cars from Delage, Voisin and not least my favorite marque Bugatti. Luckily I got that too. There are still lots of cars from La Belle Epoque, so I’ll probably just have to accept that Porsche takes up too much space within these French halls – just like it does outside of Rétromobile. It’s probably just a trend towards a better commercial foundation for the exhibition, and a clear indication that supply and demand obviously speak their own consistent language. But for all of us who are visiting the fair – I still think many expect a degree of variation from the norm, and for the narrow and less obvious taste to be satisfied too.
One of the smaller halls featured a private exhibition of Abarth cars and was really most fascinating. A nice potpourri of the great variety and equally great creativity so typical of the small italian company.
In Paris, you can always stimulate your inner sign writer or the illustrator that you carry within your heart – most obviously on the stands selling old posters and enamel signs, but also among the exhibited cars. It’s expensive and you could easily spend a fortune on the many fantastic offers. Of course – for free – there are also the many cars upon which sign painters have been at work, and the exhibition’s finest example of this was probably the Renault 4 below:
Regarding prices of cars, unscientifically judged from the apparant trend in Paris, they still seem to be increasing. However, the Porsche 911’s and Ferrari’s from the 1970s seem to have suffered a downward trend. I personally welcome this, as hysteria has been a major ingredient for far too long. Unfortunately, the phenomenon is now affecting other models instead, and the above-mentioned Fiat 500’s had now reached previously unseen figures on their for sale signs. A refurbished concours level 500 lured the punters in with its beautiful shapes and colours. At the hefty price of 22,500 Euro the little car was at least also equipped with a large folding roof.
Another new measure to help Rétromobile appeal to guests was found at the far end of the hall: A sales area for cars priced up to 25,000 Euro. This was where the private sellers hung out, and the organizers had positioned the cars with plenty of space between them, making everything present well and it was accordingly a pleasure to stroll through this area, enjoying the cars on offer. The prices here were somewhat more realistic.
To sum it up: I’m still a fan of Rétromobile in Paris. Its peculiar atmosphere intrigues me, and I always leave the fair with new-found knowledge and re-fuelled with passion and interest for our classic cars. I simply want cars more after this show. This time I also left the exhibition halls with a small, amused smile on my face – the result of my companion’s comment while visiting the Bugatti stand. They exhibited the new and hugely expensive Chiron model – not failing of course to make the inflated price a bragging point. My companion felt it was a bit cheap of them, that even at the elevated price you still only got the car in two-toned paint…
Hopefully the gallery below can transmit some of the unique atmosphere at the Rétromobile – enjoy: