THE LIGHT FANTASTIC
Porsches and chandeliers – seems like it’s a match made in heaven
What do chandeliers and Porsches have in common? At first glance not all that much but Régis Mathieuʼs life revolves around both and his absolutely stunning exhibition celebrating the combination of light and automotive art is both utterly unique and very spectacular. We visit the Cité de lʼautomobile in the French city of Mulhouse to meet the man behind the display
It ʼ s one thing to write about an unimaginably wealthy person who can go to a Sotheby ʼ s auction and buy pretty much whatever takes his fancy, but it ʼ s another entirely to talk to a man who started with next to nothing and has spent half of his life working his way up. At first barely able to keep his road cars running, but over the years as his business grew adding slowly to his collection, Régis is one of the latter.
Today in his mid-40s he is a world-renowned chandelier designer and restorer, his works hanging in the Opera Paris, the Louvre and in the Monaco Opera, and with clients that include Cartier and Chanel – but it was a long road to get where he is today. While still a teenager he decided to resurrect his late fatherʼs business of designing, making and restoring chandeliers. He had to start absolutely from scratch, though, and it has taken over twenty five years to build up his amazing personal collection of Porsches.
ʻChandeliers and Porsches are actually similar,ʼ he explains. ʻWith regards to functionality and practicality, to get you from A to B an old Lada is really all you need. A Porsche craftsman, though, gives you a lot more than what you really need in a car, from the lines of the body to the nice interior, the trim and the powerful engine until it becomes something very special. A chandelier is much the same because essentially itʼs just a light, but one that is crafted into a form of art. This is why in my opinion putting them together works so well.ʼ
Walking through the main hall of a collection of 600 cars, one of the biggest and most important car collections in the world, they became merely background as he opened a door to a side room. With thousand points of suffuse light catching the familiar lines of various Porsches, it was immediately obvious that itʼs an absolutely inspired idea.
His passion for Porsche started at a young age, being enamoured with the timeless lines of the VW Beetle which, in a slightly non-linear way, he thinks has its ultimate expression manifest in the 911. This was a car that in his youth he could never hope to afford, though, until one day in the 1980s he discovered that there was a compromise halfway between the Beetle and the 911; the 356. At the tender age of 19 he acquired an SC from Germany which he was very happy with... until while in California, trying to get his business established in America, he came across the bright red Speedster displayed here. It was love at first sight.
ʻI had to sell the SC to pay for it but it was a good decision because so many years later I still have this car and
when you have a Speedster you have a dream, because itʼs so light and easy to drive. I have done the Tour de France six times in it and for many years have been on holidays with my wife. In fact, a holiday without the Speedster isnʼt a holiday at all. I live in the south of France so it is very easy to drive to Corsica, Sardinia, Spain and Italy.ʼ
The next acquisition he made way back in the early days of his collection was a very cheap 2.2 911E, but he didnʼt keep it long… and as crazy as it sounds today, swapped it for a 2.7 RS! ʻIt sounds an incredible story to say it now but in 1992 no one wanted a 2.7 RS. Back then the 964 RS had just come out so the 2.7 was considered just an old and underpowered car, and either people ripped them apart to make them go faster or they got rid of them in exchange for something quicker. This one was really original, which today is amazing, but back in 1992 meant that it was just slow. It was my dream car as a boy which is why I wanted it. I had no idea what it would come to be worth.ʼ
It was bought with a big chunk of capital, though, so with the business still slow and unpredictable his life goal was just to preserve these two cars, and the business was basically to make sure that they were perfectly looked after. ʻI didnʼt need an apartment, didnʼt need to go out to restaurants or on holiday, so it was OK,ʼ he smiles. ʻActually, for two years I couldnʼt even afford the insurance for them as the business wasnʼt so good back then.ʼ
With a combination of perseverance, self-belief and business acumen Régis managed to build Mathieu Lustrerie into a renowned name in the exclusive world of chandeliers, and with its success allowed himself the luxury of buying some older cars, although nothing too spectacular. Yet. ʻThe 1967 soft-window Targa 912 is a fantastic car for driving in my home region of Provence. Itʼs a convertible but with the Targa roof on you are not out under the hot sun which is
really great. While the small four-cylinder engine is not so fast it is made up for by the fact that this car is so easy to drive. And when you want to enjoy it a little more, on some nice roads for example, the 50/50 weight balance is perfect.ʼ
Beyond the Alfa Romeored 914 there is an ordinary looking 911, but the fact that it has pride of place in the display indicates that there may be something more about it than at first meets the eye. Régis found it by accident around the back of a garage heʼd stopped at to look at a 914. It was dirty, had bad wheels and even worse seats, but the VIN number started with a ʻ3ʼ not a ʻ9ʼ so his interest was piqued because it meant it was a pre-production model.
Looking at the Carfax he saw that it had been kept by Porsche for four years and, intrigued, he contacted a friend at Porsche to find out a little more… and got a very surprising answer. ʻHe said, “where did you find that? Itʼs a famous press car, weʼve been looking for it for years!”ʼ
They were keen to buy it but Régis declined because owning a car that had been Porscheʼs press car and was featured in many brochures and magazine test drives, as well as being used in promotion photos with Ferry Porsche himself sitting on the front, is a great feeling. ʻItʼs of course very nice to drive light and fast, just like any 911, but the car has far more value to me because of its history. It really is a privilege to own a car like this.ʼ Porsche have asked to use it for a few exhibitions and Régis is more than happy to let them display it.
A few years ago when then the business started doing very well Régis decided to make a real investment, but instead of buying stakes in a company or property, or something equally as boring, he decided to put his money into something much nicer: two serious race cars. The 904 Carrera GTS had only covered 1800km when he bought it, which was the lowest mileage of any of the hundred 904s in the world. It was so original it still wore the original tyres. His love of owning such a car is equalled by his love of driving it, so he has more than doubled the mileage (it currently stands at 3800km), but it is still possibly the lowest of any 904.
“THE 904 GTS HAD ONLY COVERED 1800KM WHEN HE BOUGHT IT…”
As a lover of the Speedster he was also on the lookout for a 550, but came across this glorious 718 RSK in the UK instead and was smitten. At some point in its life it had had an engine change so is not a matching numbers car, but the sale came with 13 folders full of history including photos of it being driven by Ricardo Rodriguez, younger brother of the more well known Pedro, and so this became another star of the collection.
ʻWith these two cars itʼs like how I was with my first ones all those years ago, I run my business so I can look after them! But in the last few years the prices of some Porsche models have gone up like crazy so now I couldnʼt afford to buy my collection again,ʼ says Régis.
These are the Porsches on display but the chandeliers that suround them are also amazing, even if theyʼre not something we know too much about. The most impressive of all is a sand-cast three-feet tall bronze piece that is a painstakingly accurate replica of one commissioned for Madame Poisson, who had the rather dubious sounding title of the ʻofficial chief mistressʼ of Louis XV.
The display will run until the middle of October and is well worth a visit as no other Porsches have been seen displayed quite this way before. The Cité de lʼautomobile is open all year and includes 600 cars from the dawn of motoring up to a Bugatti Veyron, and is surely one of the most spectacular automotive sights anywhere in the world. CP
Left: It’s an inspired idea, combining the owner’s love of Porsches with a display of his finest chandeliers, all set in one of the world’s largest car museums…
Above and below: The RSK is a more recent purchase and, while not a matching numbers car, it has interesting history, having been raced by Ricardo Rodriguez
Above: Almost unbelievably, the 1973 Carrera RS was acquired in a swap for a 2.2litre 911E, back in the days when RSS were of little value
Below: Régis couldn’t imagine life without a Speedster – it was his second Porsche, selling an SC coupé to buy it. His stable now includes the 914 and, of course, a Beetle…
Below: Soft-window 912 Targa is a personal favourite, one which Régis loves to drive on the roads of his native Provence
Above: Subdued lighting and clever use of mirrors gives the exhibition an ethereal atmosphere, quite unlike any other we’ve seen