Friday, February 04, 2011


 When the Retromobile management changed last year, Bonhams auction house got the boot in favor of Artcurial, a French auction house.  Undaunted, they chose the ultimate exhibition hall as the venue for their 2011 sale of fine cars and motorcycles in Paris; the Grand Palais.  Built in 1900, this building is the ultimate flowering of a 19th Century craze for extravagant glass-and-steel palaces, and outshines even the memory of England's Crystal Palace - whereas the English were fairly straightforward in their riveted steel greenhouses, the French literally bent steel into Art Nouveau whiplash curves, floral grillwork, and curlicue steel flourishes.
The building is nothing short of astonishing, even today, for the generosity of artistic spirit.  To say 'they don't build them like they used to' is beyond an understatement, for while the exteriors of modern convention centers may have swooping curves and clean abstract shapes, once inside they are eminently forgettable and is, sadly, the case with the Paris Expo at the Porte de Versailles, where Retromobile is housed.  Thus, in the case of Bonhams turnout from their former turf, they turned lemons into champagne.
Part of the 'deal' with the City of Paris was to exhibit cars relevant to the space and the history of the Grand Palais as the former home of many an industrial and automotive exhibit from 1900 onwards.  While the 'for sale' cars and bikes stretch the huge length of the main hall, the 'apse' of the building held a collection of 30 or so Pioneer and Veteran cars, most of them French, which would have been exhibit at the very spot when introduced at the great Paris Automobile shows, held from 1901-60.
Some of the earliest vehicles, like the DeDion Bouton or  Léon Bollée (above) trikes, were close cousins of motorcycles from the days when three-wheelers were lumped in with two in the mind of the public.  A lone 1902 Griffon (below) stood on the sweeping marble staircase to the mezzanine, unrestored...and wouldn't it be great to exhibit a few more bikes on the mezzanine proper, next year?
The selection of machines is as you would expect from Bonhams - a fantastic array of Bugattis, Ferraris, Alfas, Rolls' - who have increased the number of motorcycles included with their 'car' sales in a conscious attempt to 'cross-breed' the two camps of collectors.  As noted in TheVintagent's Las Vegas 2011 posts, the 'car people' have entered the 'bike world', and at Vegas, skimmed the créme from the top of both auctions, buying virtually every motorcycle going under the hammer at over $100,000.
As these buyers are already well known to the auction houses from prior 'automotive' relations, it makes sense to the auction houses to entice them further with a tasty selection of machines at the Grand Palais.  Make no mistake; these new faces are doing their homework, speaking with knowledgeable bike experts, and choosing their purchases very carefully.
They'll have a selection of interesting unrestored bikes, such as this 1923 616cc Wanderer v-twin, a terrific '23 Motosacoche 500cc 'Sport' twin,  and 'barn find' 1928 BMW 746cc R62 with sidecar.  A host of Vincents from Comets to a Black Knight, a terrific 1950 Moto Guzzi 500cc 'Dondolino' replica, and ultimately, a 1922 Megola 'Touring' model.
While the Megola is surely the most technically interesting machine on the floor, the restoration is only so-so, with some chrome (instead of nickel) and a few other easily rectified minor faults.  Some parts on the chassis are new as well, so the price is likely to be 'low' for this amazing 5-cylinder curiosity, although with 145,000 euros the likely reserve, no Megola will ever be inexpensive.  And, this one runs!  If you'd like to hear what that sounds like, check this video from last year in Bavaria.  Surely, any running Megola is a worthwhile addition to a collection; surely no one is immune to their bizarre attraction.
The Megola 5-cylinder engine-within-a-wheel.

1955 Vincent Black Knight 998cc.
Wonderful patinated 'barn find' 1928 BMW R62.
How much Bugatti would you like?  Will 5 litres be sufficient?  1930 Type 46 with Alligator interior!
Porsche Carrera bodywork; just add chassis.
The setting left nothing to be desired.
The 'I-want-it' Moto Guzzi Dondolino replica.
Replicated because it is beautiful, desirable, fast.
The Guzzi suspension damper, plus exhaust 'town' cut-out mechanism.
The ultimate bulb horn, on a Peugeot with 'boattail' bodywork in mahogany.
Art Nouveau in steel.
MAG engine on the Swiss Motosacoche 500 twin
A Royal Enfield chassis, with unusual 3-speed 'coffee grinder' all-chain ratio change.  No gearbox!
Motosacoche starting gear, with hand-crank starter handle.
1933 Rolls Royce 40/50hp Phantom II Continental Sports Saloon.
Early Serpulet racing car.
Ultima motorcycle gearbox.
1923 Wander 616cc engine.
The Wander 'au jus'; just add gas and oil.
Lineup of British V-Twins for sale.
1936 Brough Superior SS80 Special, with 'MX' sidevalve 990cc engine.
As Ezekiel said; 'Wheels within wheels'...


occhiolungo said...

Hi Paul. Great architecture! and some great old machines too. The Art Nouveau in steel looks so great on its own, and even better with an old bike in the foreground. My thoughts on 'bikes-as-investments' are already well known, so I won't bother commenting on that. But your photos look grand. Finishing with that pic of the wagon was nice; radial spokes on solid rubber tires & skip tooth chains, all over glass panes and iron trusses. mmmm. thanks for sharing.

paul said...

Fantastic! I needed a little "pick me up today". Much appreciated my friend.

broughsuperior said...

Love your pictures especially the vignette effect. Makes the bikes and cars look so vintage. Wish I was there.

Anonymous said...

What a gorgeous building!

David B.

Anonymous said...

‎?? was the hall built about the same time as Tower Eiffel ? Some of the architectural / engineering elements are similar.

Bion H.

Anonymous said...

Wow Paul. What a stunning setting and beautiful machines.


Anonymous said...

A breathtaking structure. What an exquisite place to display all those awesome machines.
Larry N.

Anonymous said...

Well, where else??? Brilliant!

The Vintagent said...

@Bion; the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889, 11 years prior to the Grand Palais. The Tower is fairly straightforward in construction, with none of the decorative flourishes seen here. This is the end of the era of glass-and-steel decorative structures, as steel-reinforced concrete became cheaper and faster to build, as it is today. There's really no place like it.

Greg said...

just exquisite, paul. thank you for sharing.

one thing allude to a vid of a running megola, but forgot the link...gave me videous interruptus...can you share?

Don O'Reilly said...

Great post with some really beautiful shots Paul, I can imagine the light and echo of the Grand Palais.

That 1930 Bugatti - is it a 16 cylinder, or just 2 plugs per?

I know it's never been or gonna be a perfect world, but whenever I see machines like these.... is it just me, or does anybody else wish they were born 100 years ago (and wealthy too!)

Many thanks for all your excellent jounalism!!



Phill Hunt said...

Great write up and pictures thanks Paul

Anonymous said...

Appears like a museum exhibit. Beautiful all around. Bonhams hit a home run with this auction and setting in the City of Light. -JZ

daveinnola said...

its nice to see a riva speed boat again wehad the use of one in naples two and a halftons of teak an marhogany varnish like thickglas two chevron bigblock v8s 50knots a speed boat only theitalianscoul build pefect down to the last detail

Carol said...

I was scouring the internet for pix of Le Grand Palais when I came across yours and went into 8th heaven, as I have several obsessions when it comes to images and you hit 4 Major ones: Crystal Palaces, Art Nouveau, Vintage Cars & Vintage Motorcycles. Your pictures are deeeevine and your comments were very educational. THANK YOU sooooo much! I don't usually post comments, but just had to acknowledge your extraordinary endeavor! C'est absolument exquis, merveilleux .. Merci Beaucoup!

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