Read about Italian Automobiles: Ferrari, Maserati, Abarth, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, OSCA, Zagato, Ghia, Pininfarina, F1 Racing and more...

   You found VeloceToday's OLD website.
Please visit VeloceToday's New Website for the latest articles, news and more...

NOTE: You are viewing the OLD VeloceToday website. We are in the process of moving some of the old articles from the OLD site to the NEW site.

Home Cars Racing News People Lifestyle Events


March 7th, 2007

Story and Photos by Lorenzo Marchesini

French classic cars have been a stepchild of VeloceToday’s, so this year we felt that we could do more, in particular by analyzing some prestigious marques other than the usual Ferraris, Maseratis, Alfa Romeos, Lancias and FIATs, whether it was in the context of multi million dollar cars or just simply lower priced collectibles. Strengthened by an increasing readership from France and Belgium we at VeloceToday had recognized that more had to be written about the French-Italian automobile connection.

The year 2007 clearly marks a turnaround in our action and our visit to the Retromobile in Paris should be seen as a first step in this context. After ample deliberation (I had not been to Paris for years) I therefore boarded a plane heading from Washington D.C. to the Charles the Gaulle Airport on the outskirts of Paris with the objective to visit Retromobile. Expectations were high as in Paris as for the first time in 40 years, I was to meet with a former school friend, car collector and now publisher of the “Voitures de Collection – Annuaire Illustré, ”Dr. Michael Laman Trip. More over, I would join in Paris with his long time friend and Maserati collector Antonio Alberoni, and with the buyer of the Ghibli Coupe that was recently advertised as for sale on our website. All in all it would be an intensive weekend in Paris!

Jet Blues
Travel to Paris proceeded without any events worth mentioning, except for the fact that take-off from Dulles International Airport was delayed by about an hour when the captain of the Frankfurt-bound Lufthansa Boeing 747 discovered -- just after having announced on the onboard intercom that the flight would arrive earlier than planned due to an extreme light load -- that none of the baggage was loaded and therefore had to return to the terminal seconds prior to the scheduled take-off to open its cargo doors once more and load the suitcases of those who were already on-board.

The next morning I arrived at Paris Charles de Gaulle as scheduled via Frankfurt, Germany. The airport that once was the most futuristic of its kind in the world appeared small compared to such major gateways to Europe like Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, or for that matter Frankfort International Airport. Operations were however extremely efficient and I boarded a bus service headed for downtown Paris, more precisely at the footsteps of the Arc de Triomphe, a monument that -- with the Tour Eiffel, the Dōme des Invalides, the Notre Dame and the Champs Elysées -- forms one of the undisputed landmarks of the capital of the Republique Française.

There was enough time for an initial stroll on the famous boulevard. As anyone who has visited Paris knows this boulevard is known for the exclusive shops that carry the most famous names in apparel and jewelry. Alas, it appeared that quite a number of these famous houses had left the prestigious address and that the boulevard had fallen prone to “Globalization,” and hence with a few marked exceptions (such as the shops of Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Hermès) it now resembles more an open-air mall in the United States than the “Grandeur” of France. The first impression while setting foot on Parisian grounds was therefore that the days of “Bon Chique Bon Genre” (BCBG) were a thing of the past - BCBG itself now having become a retail outlet chain for clothing (at least in the United States.)

Peugeot's way to deal with the EU's 130 gram per Kilometer proposal.

A pleasant surprise was to discover that the French automobile manufacturer Peugeot had a dealership on the Champs Elysées where it showcased the latest environmental friendly technologies by presenting some very interesting 100% environmentally correct prototypes of hydrogen power cars, one appropriately named the “Touareg’ (wonder what the folks at Volkswagen think of that name), another one that resembled a fire truck, and one that could be mistaken for a futuristic “Quad” vehicle. A big “Hurray” for this car manufacturer from all of us! This clearly, was an omen of the great things that would come our way while in Paris for the Retromobile. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that the Peugeot showroom comprises a wonderful gift shop where about any model that Peugeot ever produced can be bought in miniature scale at very convenient, madness-free, prices (starting at Euro 2.50 and thus about US$ 3.00).

Another idea from Peugeot looked more like a firetruck.

Strolling further on the Champs Elysées I was pleasantly surprised as I witnessed that the French -- unlike people in other countries of the world -- still in great numbers buy French cars. And why not? Citroen’s new flagship the C6 is a worthy successor to the legendary DS. ( The DS, pronounced “Déesse” for Goddess and ID, pronounced “Idée,” for “Idea” was designed by the Italian Monsieur Bertoni.) In Paris, the Japanese cars are definitely in the minority; Mercedes dominates BMW in the echelons of the expensive cars on the capital’s streets; a remarkable number of Aston Martins and Bentley Continental Coupes also circulate in the French capital --- but there were no Ferraris, Maseratis, or Lamborghinis in sight.

One the other side of the street was the “Atelier Renault,” complete with a demonstration of the great passion that the French have for automobile racing, from the touring cars championship to Formula One.

F1 Renault. Did we forget that they won the World Championship last year? Again?

Behind the “Atelier” its huge glass façade there was a display of a number of Renault F1s in their latest livery; the once dominant light blue color of Mild Seven cigarettes sponsor being replaced by the white and orange of the Dutch banking giant ING. Similar to the situation at Peugeot, inside this shop was a huge display of miniature models (again all at very reasonable prices) and gadgetry, as well as a glass cabinet in which the World Championship Constructors Formula 1 was displayed. Bravo Renault!

Bedding down in Paris
By noon time had come to meet Alberoni as agreed in front of Pizzeria Pino, apparently a landmark on the Champs Elysées, however merely one that is much “en vogue” with the Middle Eastern clientèle and that serves rather mediocre “Italian cuisine” at high prices. It was soon decided to search for a hotel at some distance from the Champs Elysées, as hotels on or near this boulevard all start in the US$ 300 plus per night range. It was mutually agreed to settle for a small hotel, Hotel de Paris (51, Avenue du Maine, tel: 01-43-22-1013, email in Montparnasse, conveniently located across the street from the train station and the green metro line 12, the one that leads directly to Porte de Versailles, the venue of the Retromobile.

Hotel de Paris, ideal when going to the Retro.

This modestly priced hotel (Euro 90 per night, including all taxes) so it appeared, would be an excellent choice for the days to come; hotel staff is very helpful and super friendly, and equally important, the hotel avails from internet facilities that can be accessed from all rooms, and from a telephone service with which overseas calls (to the USA and other countries) can be made at very modest rates.

Saturday morning we took the metro to Port de Versailles, Paris Expo, the place where the Retromobile is held. It’s about a 15 minutes ride by metro from the Hotel de Paris in Montparnasse. This hotel is very conveniently located indeed! We were soon joined by the Parisian gentleman interested in Alberoni’s Ghibli and Dr. Laman Trip, who had traveled the same day from Lille to Paris by TGV (“Train Grande Vitesse”, most appropriately translated as the “Bullet Train”).

The Retromobile
The central theme of the 32nd edition of the Retromobile (16-25 February, 2007) was “Cars of the Stars.” The guests of honor at this year’s “salon” were Nick Mason (ex-drummer of Pink Floyd) who proudly displayed twelve racing cars from his personal collection, and the late Paul–Emile Victor (the French explorer) who in 1947 was the man to first utilize caterpillar traction to travel over the arctic ice cap. To augment this, Citroen presented a complete collection of cars that were used by French Heads of State.

We will not comment on the controversey which surrounded the Auto Union.

Several car clubs sponsored by manufacturers celebrated their specific automobile history under various themes. Among these clubs we found Peugeot (“99 Years of Competition”), Mercedes Benz (“50 Years of the Mercedes 300 SL”), FIAT (“50 Years of the Nuova 500”), BMW (“90 Years of a Sporting Tradition”), and Alfa Romeo (“8 Cylinders or Bust!”). Christies organized for the fifth consecutive year an auction of vintage cars; here, the “Pièce de Résistance” was the controversial Auto Union Type D V12. Many smaller car clubs, well-respected independent classic car dealers (such as Thiessen, Marreyt Classics and Rudy Pas Classic Car Associates) and auction houses (Bonhams) and some highly specialized restoration shops (Auto Classique Tourraine, Carrosserie Tessier) and parts suppliers, as well as automobilia, model car and toyshops, completed the picture at the Retromobile.

Get there early
While visiting the Retromobile one is generally overwhelmed by the numbers of high quality vehicles that are exhibited and/or on sale. However the cars are mostly in the six or seven figure range (in Euro as well as in US$, note that Euro 1 = US$ 1.30). Not much like Hershey (Pennsylvania, USA) or Padua (Italy) where the “average man” can bring home a toy for his garage, at Retro, so we should note, there are very few to no cars for sale to the public of minor collectors. The exhibition of as it is now is not enough to give a complete picture of automobile history, nor does it serve the purpose other than showing “dream cars” to the average visitor. That being said, we visited near the end of the second (and thus final) week, after many cars had been taken of the showings as they were sold or, as in the case of Christie’s Auction, they were amassed/parked side by side in an enclosed compound that was non accessible too the public. Surprisingly for France, the food at the Retromobile was rather basic and we would have expected much more in view of the French culinary fame.

French Italian Connection
Nevertheless we had come to see what cars could be of interest from the French-Italian perspective. We were very pleasantly surprised that in that perspective we found the Gordini Simca 1500 20S (with Roots compressor) that participated in Le Mans in 1954 and at other venues driven by Argentineans Juan Manuel Fangio and Gonzales. This car would on our list rank as “Very Best of Show.” Other interesting French cars with some Italian DNA were the always majestic Bugattis, the Renault Gordinis (we were able too identify only the R8s) and the Ligiers and Citroens SM (both powered by the V6 cylinder Maserati engine, a unit that Maserati would use for its own Merak).

A Bugatti parked behind a 1948 Talbot Lago Grand Prix car, 4.5 liters, unblown (and 100% French), as seen on the stand of Rudy Pas Classic Car Associates.

Maserati by Citroen: the Citroen SM in Travel Around the World trim. Similar Citroen SMs won the 1969 Moroccan Rally and again in 1971.

The Simca Gordini 1500 20S coupe, to be nominated by Velocetoday as the Star of the Retromobile, a vehicle that looked magnificently original. Weighting 465 kgs, 135 hp at 5500 revs/min and a top speed of 210 km/hr.

Gordini’s skills gained fame in the 1960s when Renault produced R-8 Gordini versions that were capable of over 100 mph, based on the R-8 1100. Such cars were raced by the likes of future Formula 1 drivers Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Henri Pescarolo and François Cevert.

An owner of a construction company, Guy Ligier built a series of mid engined cars in the 1970s, this one with a Maserati engine.

A number of Ligier street cars were also built. The JS series was named in memory of Ligier' friend Joe Schlesser, the Formula One driver that was killed in a Honda F1 during the 1968 French GP at Rouen.

Next to the Talbot Lago was another French classic, a Delahaye with body by Figoni et Falaschi, hence shown in the French-Italian subcategory of automobiles.

For a look at the Italian purebreds at the show, Click here

Past Issues



Shell Historics at Moroso

CCCA Tour Part I

Classic Adelaide 2007

Mugello 2007 Part 2

Malta Vintage GP

Mugello 2007

This is Hershey

Coppa d'Oro 2007

Pebble Beach Tour

Carmel Concours

Oldtimer sideshows at the Ring

35th Oldtimer GP Nurburgring

Ferrari Concours in Maranello

Sestriere Rally 2007

Turin Concorso

Ferrari Days GB

Greenwich Concours

Mille Miglia 2007

Italian bikes at Half Moon Bay

Shell Historics at VIR

Italian Auto Moto Festival

Alfa Day GB

California Mille

Villa d'Este 2007 part II

Villa d'Este 2007 part I

Shell Historics at Infineon

Geneva take Two

Geneva take One

Paris Pot Pourri

Retro Italia 2007

Paris and Retro 2007

Cavallino 2007

Shell Historics, Moroso 2007

Detroit 2007


New Website Features

  • Search articles and archives

  • Submit your comments to a specific article

  • Email an article to a friend

  • Browse real time classifieds from Hemmings and Ebay

  • Shop at VeloceToday's Store for Books and more

To see these new features in action visit the new website at: