It said that people love Paris in the Springtime, well from my perspective the Port de Versailles was pretty good in the Winter. It is the venue for the classy show, Retromobile, a thoroughly French celebration of classic cars and things good automobile-wise.
It is a show that has something for everyone that has petrol in their soul or heart. A chance to shake off the coils of winter, say an opportunity to buy THAT book that has been eagerly anticipated. Me? The 1982 Le Mans Year Book was on my shopping list and for just €60 it sits on the shelf along with the rest of the family, only ’83 to go now.
Of course for all the gold that can prospected there is a little pyrite here and there but for the most part it is a worthwhile affair.
The exhibits looked back a long way, the Cugnot Fardier à Vapeur much further than the rest, some 240 years. Encouraged by Louis XV, Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot built the first self-propelled vehicle with the intention of moving very heavy items such as cannon. Amazingly one example survives in the Paris museum, Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers.
Another first, part of celebration of Mercedes Benz 125th anniversary, is this Benz Patent-Motorwagen. This is widely recognised as the first motor car. There is a tale to be told of course, in that the designer, Karl Benz was on the point of giving up his work when his wife, Bertha, took the vehicle on a long drive accompanied by her two sons. The trip, over 60 miles was the first journey of its kind ever undertaken and generated much press attention. It was the starting point.
One of the charms of the Retromobile is recognition of the more mundane vehicles such as this Renault 4. Somehow I cannot see DI Regan shouting “Vous êtes entaillé” while leaping from this cop car.
All three major French manufacturers are well represented at Retromobile. They proudly show off their heritage both on and off the track. Here, “Petite Rosalie” a 30’s Citroën 8CV with special bodywork broke many long distance world records at the Montlhéry Autodrome, covering over 300.000 kilometres at an average speed of 93 kph over a period of 134 days.
This Citroën Autochenille Type P17 is something of a contrast. Scarabée D’Or III as it was known, formed part of an expedition organised by Citroën, La Croisière Jaune. On 4th April 1931, the group left Beirut and 315 days later reached the gates of Beijing, a distance of 12,115 kilometres.
Also equipped for the rough stuff but a tad faster, was the Peugeot 205 T16. Peugeot like its sister company, Citroën and rival, Renault had a major presence at the Retromobile.
Peugeot too brought out the heritage. The Peugeot 404 Diesel broke 40 records during 1965 at Monthléry including a 72 hour stretch averaging 161.49 kph.
Marques that no longer exist were also represented. Lorraine-Dietrich for example.
Completely authentic, is the Lorraine-Dietrich B3-6 that André Rossignol and Robert Bloch drove to victory in the 1926 Le Mans 24 Hours, amazing. They covered 2552 kilometres and considering the technology of the time that was a pretty incredible performance. To give some idea of scale, the 2010 winning Audi set a new distance record of 5,410 kilometres.
The world’s greatest race was well represented with the Lola GT showing the direction the the 60’s would take when Ford took over the idea to create the GT40 and its successors.
OK more tomorrow from Paris.
John Brooks, February 2011