Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Celebrating the odd; a selection of 'rhomboid' cars, with wheels in perpendicular axes, was a highlight of the 2016 Rétromobile show.  The 'Automodule' of 1968...
The august Parisian vintage motor show had a period of shrinkage when it changed hands a few years ago, when motorcycles virtually disappeared and it dropped to a weekend event.  The good news is Rétromobile has returned to a full 5-day exhibition of the world's most intriguing cars, and motorcycles are back, to a limited degree.  I stopped attending after my utter disappointment in the 2013 show, but returned this year as an adjunct to a research trip for my next book (hint; it's all about Zeniths). I was pleasantly surprised at the vigor, increased length, and much increased size of the show - it's grown into two enormous halls, with a unique mix of club displays, dealer booths, parts suppliers, autojumblists, factory spreads, specialist clothing booths, and art dealers.  Whether you're looking for a perfect 1890s Belle Epoque poster of a Léon Bollée trike, a pair of headlamps for the same, or the actual machine in the metal, you're likely to find it all at Rétro.
An Indian Powerplus graced my favorite poster stand, with an original 1890s Art Nouveau 'Motocycles Comiot' poster featuring a lady rider.  I wrote about this one several years ago...
The photos tell the story, almost. It's a bit overwhelming, and my 2 visits weren't quite enough to absorb everything on display, and chat with the folks I'd hoped too...there's simply too much to take in on a short visit, which isn't a bad thing. My favorites were always the unexpected oddities; an 8' long ship model for sale, a ridiculous lineup of '50s/60s F1 Ferraris, several unrestored 1920s supercars, and a repro of the Target Design MV Agusta tucked into a display, which nobody seemed interested in discussing with an American journalist!
A replica of the Target Design MV Agusta prototype, which inspired Suzuki to hire the firm.  The result was the Katana, a revolutionary styling exercise, and surprisingly, an improvement over this prototype.  I've read a series of 5 replicas will be built, using Albert Bold MV motors...
Rétro isn't quite the gearhead Disneyland of the Avignon Motor Festival, as there are no airplanes, and few heavy trucks / farm equipment / military gear, but Rétro remains a terrific show in the most romantic city in the world. Yes, the weather sucks in February, but that didn't stop a few parking lot demonstrations of the 1911 Fiat 'Beast of Turin' LSR machine - epic!
Of course, there's the rest of Paris to explore, and I caught the epic Anselm Kiefer retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, as well as the Bonhams auction preview at the Grand Palais.  That's an unbeatable venue, the grandest Art Nouveau interior space on the planet, and even the grandest cars are dwarfed within in that hallowed glass-and-iron greenhouse.   Most intriguing to see were a pair of rotten Brough Superiors from the Frank Vague collection, stood on display at the center of the motorcycle lineup for the auction, for all to examine.  And all did!
The MX100 Brough Superior at the Bonhams preview, which turned over and had a free clutch!  Remarkable...
...but the hunger of rust will not be denied, it eats what is not protected.  Not chromium though...
It's not often you see the devastating effects of rust on a fine old motorcycle...they're shockingly hammered...but crazily, the engine was free to kick over on the SS100, and the clutch was free too!  Mr Vague flooded oil on the mechanical bits, but couldn't seem to protect the bodywork, which has rotted in the most picturesque way.  While I'm a fan of 'oily rag' machinery, in this case, I look forward to a full revival of all 8 bikes in the hands of skilled restorers.   A ballsy move on Bonhams' part was featuring a brand-new custom motorcycle as their feature bike. The Praëm SP3 Honda, built by brothers Sylvain and Florent Berneron (who displayed their Ducati Scrambler at Wheels+Waves), is a fantastic piece of work, but as I've noted in the past, auctions are a terrible place to sell custom bikes.  It didn't help that the reserve reflected the actual build price!  How impractical to be so practical...but the rest of the bikes sold well.
The technical expertise of the Berneron brothers was insufficient to attract an $80k euro bid for their hotrod Honda, but it might have been a publicity exercise?
Also on the auction front, you may have heard that a world record price was set by Artcurial auctions at Rétromobile, with a 1957 Ferrari 335 S Scaglietti sports racer selling for $35.7M.  Wow, I coulda bought a Rembrandt!  Then again, the Ferrari is its own sort of masterpiece.   Enjoy the photos of the event - very few Americans make it across the pond for this one, but more should.
Original paint Mercedes-Benz 300SL that dull sheen
An open cockpit gives me goosebumps.  This 1932 Aston Martin 1.5L Le Mans was left in its original appearance where possible, but the mechanicals were completely renovated, as were the seats.  Vive le Oily Rag! 
A shaft-driven DOHC Ballot motor sat beside the car it powered, a fantastic engine from the 1920s.
Ballot built motorcycles too; here's their in-bloc 175cc two-stroke
No gearhead visit to Paris is complete without a visit to the Arts et Metiers museum, housed in a former church.  It was forcibly de-consecrated by the Jacobins during the Revolution, and converted to a Church of Technology in 1794, which it remains today.  This Blériot biplane faces off with Foucault's Pendulum in the apse of the Gothic church.  
No worries about Zika virus with this mosquito nose! A big blower Bentley... 
Probably the best international selection of motoring books in one location at Retromobile, with a dozen dealers on hand to tempt the collector.  It's amazing how many titles are never translated into bookshelves have a lot of Italian, French, and German texts on rare makes.
A faux garage inside the hall...and pretty much my ideal of a motorcar.  But then I'm a Velocette guy - into eccentric/brilliant engineering. 
Yes, motorcycles at Rétro; this stand was 100% Harley-Davidson, with some interesting machines, like the aborted VR1000 road racer
Big n little toys.
Art is where you find it. This F1 Ferrari has an amazing exhaust system...I well recall it from my youth, being a Matchbox model...
A phalanx of competition Ferraris at one display, next to a whole bunch more beside, and then the'd think they were rare!  But they aren't rare inside these halls.
The monstrous 'Beast of Turin' Fiat LSR 300hp car from 1911
A hot Matchless G50 at the Coy's auction stand
Lovely original paint H-D with all ancillaries intact
A pair of kiddie-ride JLO bikes, among many such vehicles for sale
Let's not forget Lady Liberty was a gift from the French people - the original model lives in the Arts et Metiers museum
This book looks familiar...
Lovely postwar Velocette Mk8 KTT
I'm fascinated by early machinery like this 1905 Darracq V-8 racer - the very essence of motoring, and the point of connection between cars and motorcycles.
More rhomboidal cars...this one a cracked egg. 
The 8' long ship model I mentioned for sale, with its purpose-built case.  Where else does one find such a thing?
Original paint 1955 Porsche Speedster 1500S from Washington state.
The Target MV and a Magni version, amongst a sea of Porsches
Motorcycles tend to be tucked into corners of auto displays, in this case a '56 Triumph T110 keeping an Aston Martin DB2 company... 
The automobilia on offer is everything you might not be looking for...
The 1892 Millet at the Arts et Metiers museum, the first motorized vehicle to use pneumatic tires, with its fantastic rotary/radial air-cooled engine.
A c.1920 Leyat Hélica at the Arts et of my favorite vehicles of any era. Utterly impractical and totally dangerous, yet to this day road legal in France!  (Except Paris, which is about to enact a ban on pre-2000 motorcycles and cars...)
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Rhynchocephalian said...

I'm always stunned and amazed by the selection of pictures you present! Great subject matter as well!

Anonymous said...

Ta' muchly.
Although not too sure about cranking over the 'Beast of Turin': was this cranked over and there is enough time due to the long stroke to nip around to the cockpit to tweak retard/fuel in order to make it catch?

M_Sharp said...

Excellent article & photos, thanks!