AS HE’S GIVING TECHNO CLASSICA ESSEN A MISS THIS YEAR, MALLETT DECIDES TO HEAD FOR RETROMOBILE IN PARIS, VOWING IT TO BE HIS LAST EVER CLASSIC SHOW…
Mallett visits Retromobile in Paris
Well, thatʼs it then. Done. Finished, all over. End of the show. Fin. In the French sense rather than the fishy. Iʼve been to my last-ever classic car show. It happened to be French but that was something in its favour rather than against it. Iʼve always had a soft spot for Retromobile as you can always bank on something quirky that you donʼt have the chance to see in a British show.
This year there was an homage to Jean-pierre Wimille, Grand Prix racing driver, Resistance fighter and for several post-war years designer/manufacturer of a series of advanced aerodynamic sports coupés. First shown in 1946 the Wimille featured a mid-mounted engine in a centre-steered, threeabreast, panoramic-screened aerodynamic body that made the yet to be announced Porsche 356 positively conservative in comparison. Tragically Wimille crashed to his death in practice for the 1949 Buenos Aires Grand Prix and his Wimille car project died soon after.
Another highlight was a stunning display of Abarths, the ʻother ʼ rearengined sports car of the 1950s and ʼ60s, on loan from the private Englebert Möll collection in Switzerland.
A selection of French streamlined Montlhéry record breakers was also fascinating, particularly a cute Citroen ʻYaccoʼ 2CV ʻspeedster ʼ. With all of its superstructure hacked down to a single aeroscreen, it really did look like a corrugated version of a 356 – Iʼm sure it wouldnʼt take much more than a weekend to make one, with a potential saving over a Porsche of around a quarter of a million pounds! Sounds like a bargain to me.
It is now almost mandatory to have at least one ʻbarn findʼ at a classic show and several in the recent past have looked suspiciously ʻtheatricalʼ in their presentation: dirt and dust and the odd bit of guano appearing to have been applied by a special effects team. The 911 at Retromobile, however, did look as if it had been dragged from a barn, a collapsed one at that, displaying plenty of rust and a semi-crushed roof. I still find it odd that the vendor had resorted to creating a diorama by distributing a few straw bales around and stuffing some loose stuff into the bodywork – itʼs so yesterday.
Elsewhere,100,000 Euros would have secured a bare metal 356 rolling shell displaying Frankenstein monster-like welds.
Just when I thought that it was impossible to find another angle on the Steve Mcqueen theme, along comes a collection of photos that add a little extra colour to the legend – albeit in black and white. The French vintage photo specialists Speedbird have purchased a set of negatives that show the ʻKing of Coolʼ racing his black Speedster. Strikingly presented as large contact sheet-style blowups incorporating the sprocket holes and frame
“IT IS NOW MANDATORY TO HAVE AT LEAST ONE ‘BARN FIND’…”
numbers, they have an appealing graphic impact that enhances the images, which, if they had not been Mcqueen, would be interesting but unremarkable.
Just one quibble, though. The shot of three Speedsters racing in line astern is inscribed, ʻSteve Mcqueen and Ronnie Bucknum racing 356 Speedster Porsches Santa Barbara Raceway 1962ʼ. Itʼs a nice image. But to the best of my knowledge Mcqueen had stopped racing his Speedster by 1962 and the ʻ160ʼ number on his car suggests that it was one of the star ʼs first races in 1959.
It may be a nit-picking detail but if Iʼd just paid several hundred pounds for the shot to adorn my wall it would be annoying to discover it incorrectly – and indelibly – captioned. Bucknum invariably raced with number ʻ31ʼ on his Speedster, so that might not be him in either of the other two cars! Iʼm now standing by waiting for a torrent of corrections…
Concurrently with Retromobile, Bonhams held its Paris auction in the centre of Paris at the Grand Palais. The Palais is certainly Grand, so grand in fact that the cars felt slightly lost amongst the cast iron tracery, and it was so cold that most people kept their coats on for the viewing. Although rather low on Porsches, the star attraction was a truly outstanding 1973 Carrera RS ʻTouringʼ, delivered new, sans side script, to His Royal Highness, Prince Sadruddin Aga Kahn who, as was his custom, kept it for only a year before taking delivery of his next Porsche.
Impeccably restored and quite possibly one of the best RSS in the world, it was estimated at between £570,000 and £750,000 but surprisingly bidding faded out at £500,000, and it failed to sell. A pretty Meissen Blue 1957 Speedster made £257,884, while a ʼ56 went for £40,000 more – could be a ʻMcqueenʼ factor at work here as it was black! For softies that prefer a more substantial roof and wind-up windows, a 1964 SC Cabrio fetched £116,300.
Back at Retromobile, Artcurial had two Porsches in their auction that virtually spanned 356 production, one sold the other didnʼt. The ʻseller ʼ was a late 1951 ʻsplit-windowʼ coupe in original Fischsilbergrau and fetched a remarkable and quite inexplicable 894,000 Euros – more than 350,000 Euros over its top estimate. Clearly there were two enthusiasts in the hall who simply were not prepared to let go of this one!
The one that failed to sell was an immaculate 140bhp 1963 Carrera 2 GT, one of the rarest and most desirable of all 356s. Its estimate was perhaps pitched too high, 900,000 to 1.3 million Euros. Why the ʼ51 hit such a high price is beyond me. Itʼs the least satisfying of all 356s to drive (Iʼve got one, I know!) while the 140bhp Carrera 2 is the best. Perhaps therein lies the answer – the new owner of the ʼ51 doesnʼt intend to drive it.
I was astonished to discover that this was the 43rd running of Retromobile. Iʼve not attended all 43, far from it, but I have been a regular since the first event in the 1970s, and enough is enough. Iʼd already warned Editor Seume that Techno Classica Essen, which is in its 30th year, is a definite no-go (this, of course, after issuing the same threat for at least a decade) and thus far Iʼve stuck to my word.
Iʼve reached the point where I feel as if Iʼve now seen at least one example of every make of car on the planet and each classic show feels as if the ʻtoysʼ have simply being arranged in slightly different order – with an ever-larger price tag attached. Satiated, Iʼm leaving the shows for you youngsters to enjoy. CP
Far left bottom: Mallett couldn’t help falling in love with this rather amusing Citroën 2CV ‘speedster’ record-breaker
Left: Le Grand Palais made for an impressive setting for the busy Bonhams auction!
Far left top: 1946 Wimille is mid-engined and has threeabreast seating with a central driving position. Its advanced design almost makes the 356 seem conservative…
Many would describe Delwyn Mallett as a serial car collector – one with eclectic tastes at that. His Porsche treasures include a pair of 356 Speedsters, a Le Mansinspired Pre-a coupé and a 1973 Carrera RS. Some of them even work…
Far left: Yours for a cool 100,000 Euros, this baremetalled 356 displayed some older repairs that promised plenty more work to come
Far left: Unsold at £500,000 (estimate £570,000–750,000) the ex-aga Kahn Carrera RS looked faultless. Is the RS market starting to plateau?
Far left: Some exhibitors insisted on pushing the limits of the ‘barn find Porsche’ scenario. Isn’t that all rather yesterday, though?
Left: Photographic dealer displayed several previously unseen Steve Mcqueen prints, including many of the star racing his Speedster
Left: Also unsold was this Carrera 2 GT, arguably the ultimate incarnation of the 356. Was it pitched too high at 1.3 million Euros?
Left: The ‘Mcqueen effect’ probably helped the UKregistered black Speedster achieve a far higher price than a very pretty Meissen Blue example at Bonhams