Slicks-and-wings era cars from Renault and Abarth star at Rétromobile, Paris
Victorious Le Mans Renault-alpine A443s headline Paris season-opener
Rétromobile 2018 marked a return to dazzling form for the Parisian show. Huge anniversary displays from French manufacturers, themed arrangements on dealer stands, and a vast and unexpected 20-car Abarth prototype collection restored its sense of specialness, moving it away from the dealer-dominated sales-show model that’s prevailed recently. Renault-alpine A443s ‘It’s been 20 years since these cars were last brought together, and that was a one-off for Le Mans,’ explained Renault Classic’s Hughes Portron. He was referring to the Alpine A443’s victory in the 1978 Le Mans 24 Hours, the marque’s sole win there. ‘Renault owns all these cars apart from number three, which usually resides in the Schlumpf Collection in Mulhouse, so it’s a challenge to get them together.
‘They succeeded against all the odds,’ said Portron. ‘Cars two, three and four had been racing for two years before they were entered at Le Mans, as 2.0-litre A440s without turbochargers in the European Sports 2000 Championship before being given turbos to turn them into A443s for Le Mans in 1978. Car number one is different. It was built as an A443 with a bigger 3.0-litre engine, longer bodywork and a more aerodynamic windscreen. It was created especially to win Le Mans – and yet it was the only one of the team that failed to finish.
It led for 18 hours with Jean-pierre Jabouille and Patrick Depailler driving, during which it set a new average-speed lap record in excess of 144mph before it broke down, allowing car two of Didier Pironi and Jean-pierre Jaussaud to take victory. Car two, like car one, had the bubble cockpit, with scoops to equalise air pressure either side of the screen. It cut fuel consumption and allowed higher speeds on the Hunaudières Straight.
Cars three and four were known as ‘the F1 car’ and ‘the rally car’, because they were crewed by Derek Bell & Jean-pierre Jarier and Guy Frequelin & Jean Ragnotti respectively. The ‘rally car’ crew was joined by reserve driver José Dolheim and Jabouille after his car broke down, and finished in fourth place four laps behind the leader.
‘Car three is actually the spare car from 1978, which was turned into a replica of the Bell/ Jarier car immediately after the race and used at motor shows. Although none of these cars raced again, they are subjected to a regime of constant restoration by Renault, to keep them ready to drive at all times.’ Iso Grifo Can-am This rare Iso, which sought to take on Ferrari by bringing Can-am thunder to the road, is back in public after a long restoration and an awkward legal situation which required government
intervention to get it back on the road. ‘This is number six of just 20 Grifo 7.4-litre Can-ams built, and among the last Isos,’ explained Oliver Bulant of the most imposing car on the Hödlmayr stand. ‘It was finished in 1972 for the Swiss market but not actually licensed there – instead it went to the US and a collector called Carroll Mann, before finally being exported to Switzerland where it was owned by a retail magnate, who stored it until the 2000s before the restoration began.
‘The Can-am came about because Iso wanted to compete seriously with the Ferrari Daytona, and figured increasing displacement was the best way to do it short of building its own engines. The 1973 oil crisis killed the project and Iso itself – it was totally unforeseen at the time – but it was a promising car, with 500bhp.
‘The previous owner had lost its Swiss papers – we had to go to the Swiss government to get copies in order to get it out of the country.’ Voisin C11 Bellevallette This well-used and completely unique Voisin stood out among the shiny restorations on Lukas Hüni’s stand, and was making its first public appearance since 1999. It was built for Joseph Christe, founder of Tecalemit – originally a damper manufacturer, later best known for pioneering mechanical fuel injection, in 1927. Christe was a friend of Gabriel Voisin, and they devised the car together, including front and rear V-screens, an aluminium bonnet and a middle row of folding occasional seats.
Christe used the car from 1927-34, covering 26,000 miles, before putting it into storage where it remained until after World War Two. It was relocated to the Tecalemit workshops in Paris in the Fifties and Sixties, where Christe took it for regular drives to keep it running before transferring it to his country house in 1970. Before 1999, it had remained in the same ownership for 72 years. Lancia Appia GTZ This unusual Lancia, with period competition history, was up for sale on the stand of Italian dealer Ruote da Sogno having lain dormant in Italy for a decade.
‘This is the rarest of the Zagato-bodied Appias,’ said Ruote da Sogno’s Fabrizio Filippo Ghidelli. ‘It was built by Zagato for racing in 1957 but only registered in 1958. Its first owner was a Tuscan Count, who won the Cortona-arezzo race with it, and another in Reggio-emillia in 1959.
‘It’s one of just 26 or 27 built, depending on who you ask. It’s the second series of Zagato-bodied Appias, which are the only ones with a doublebubble roof and similarly sculpted bootlid. The first series had American-style tailfins, while the third series had a more rounded tail.
‘It had a light cosmetic restoration in the mideighties, and its former owner used it in historic events in Firenza and Siena, but it was last used around ten years ago.’ Matra MS5 This Matra, brought out to celebrate the Pau Grand Prix, is one of the earliest racing cars made by the firm, but its distinctive grey colour – rather than the manufacturer’s signature French Racing Blue – tells a different story. ‘It was sold to John Coombs, best known for his grey racing Jaguars, and driven by Graham Hill,’ says Pau’s Christophe Gomez.
‘Hill had won the Formula One World Championship for BRM, but in 1965 the Pau race was in the process of changing from Formula One to Formula Two. It was still a non-championship F1 event, but the new 1.0-litre F2s formed a support race. Hill won it, while the F1 race was won by Jim Clark. Hill contested the F2 feature race in 1966, but retired with mechanical problems, although he wasn’t driving this car.
‘It’s an unusual car, made using Matra’s aerospace technology. It uses aluminium for the bodywork, rather than the usual glassfibre.’
Four decades on, the stars of Renault’s hard-fought Le Mans win were shown together at Rétromobile
Unusual little Zagato Lancia was a road-race hero in the Fifties – fancy being its next owner?
Bellevallette-bodied open four-door Voisin is unique and original
7.4 litres, 500bhp – Iso’s doomed Can-am