30 April 2009
Andrew Ralston reports on a prestigious event for model car and classic vehicle enthusiasts. ...
Where can you find some of the world’s finest classic cars – and their miniature counterparts – for sale in one vast exhibition hall? The answer is at Retromobile in Paris, the annual event which takes place in February at the giant Parc des Expositions in the French capital.
One of Europe’s biggest and most prestigious classic car events, Retromobile attracts more than 100,000 visitors each year and runs for nine days, taking in two weekends. Such is the importance of the event that not only owners’ clubs but motor manufacturers like Citroen and Mercedes put on displays of historic vehicles from their collections, while top auction houses hold their sales to coincide with the show.
This year the Bonhams’ sale attracted more interest than ever, thanks to the 1937 Bugatti T57S Atalante discovered in a barn in Tyneside where it had been hidden since the 1960s – a story which was widely covered in the British media. As expected, the car, of which only about 17 examples were built, sold for over 3 million Euros.
As is customary each year, special displays marked various motoring anniversaries. Citroen was celebrating 90 years since the birth of the Type A in 1919, while Mercedes Benz marked 75 years of its famous ‘silver arrow’ racing cars by exhibiting a 1939 W165 single seater. Apparently the explanation for the distinctive finish of these cars lies in the fact that a change in the rules in 1934 entailed a weight limit of 750kg and, in order to comply, Mercedes Racing Manager, Alfred Neubauer, had the paint stripped from his cars which were a kilo too heavy!
If Retromobile offers the chance to see some of the best historic vehicles in one place, it also provides an opportunity to observe the latest trends in the toy collecting hobby. In recent years, France has led the way in at least two respects. Firstly, there are the ‘collections de presse’, or ‘part-works’ and some – but by no means all – of these have found their way onto the British toy fair circuit. The earliest part-works were based on general themes – like ‘Nos Chères Voitures d’Antan’ (our beloved cars of the past) or ‘100 Ans de Sport Automobile’ (100 years of motor sport) issued by publisher Altaya. Then came more specific series – Renaults, Citroens, Simcas – followed by part-works devoted to models of just one car, like the Citroen 2CV or Renault 4CV. With so many vehicles having been modelled already, more and more unusual prototypes are being unearthed, such as little-known coach-built coupés based on the Renault 4CV chassis, like the Autobleu or the even more obscure Coupé Vernet Pairard.
A second trend is the growing number of reissues, or rather copies, of classic models. Norev has brought out copies of its 1950s plastic cars, packed in identical ‘wood crate’ boxes, and has secured the rights to remanufacture the CIJ diecast range in China. The latest development is a part-work from Atlas Publishing consisting of French Dinky Toy copies. So far, the Citroen DS 19, 2CV, Buick Roadmaster, Simca Versailles and Renault Dauphine have appeared, together with some accessories and a key ring.
Some collectors will have mixed views on all of this. Will the values of originals be affected? Retromobile was the ideal place to judge, as many of the major French specialist obsolete toy dealers close their shops and shift their entire stocks for the duration of the show. The result is that there can be few other events which offer as wide a selection of rare items.
Three of the most interesting specialists in quality diecast in France at the moment are: La Galerie du Jouet Ancien, of 8 rue des Grands Augustins, Paris; L’Auto Jaune, of 41 rue Cavendish, Paris; and La Rochelle-based La Boite à Jouets, a specialist in spare parts and reproduction boxes for French Dinky Toys. All three were present throughout Retromobile, while visitors on the final weekend found the added bonus of a separate Autojumble held on another floor of the exhibition hall, offering a further choice of goods, including numerous models.
There was certainly no sign of a decline in the prices of obsolete items – in fact, even allowing for the poor exchange rate against the pound, prices appeared to have moved in an upward direction since last year. A few examples of asking prices will suffice: Dinky 168 Singer Gazelle in near mint/unboxed condition –170 Euros; Dinky 918 Guy Van ‘Ever Ready’ (mint/boxed) – 500 Euros; Corgi 1138 Ford Carrimore Car Transporter with Ford Tilt Cab – 210 Euros; and a Danish Tekno Mercedes 180 (in a rare yellow colour) – 550 Euros.
Plenty to choose from then, but not many bargains. British collectors reeling from the credit crunch are likely to have given the more expensive toys a miss, but the range of old and new models, books, car sales brochures and other automobilia on offer was so vast that few visitors will have been able to resist making a purchase of some kind.
For anyone who loves historic vehicles and model cars, a visit to Retromobile is an unforgettable experience… even if a 3 million Euro Bugatti is out of your price range!