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Paris Rétromobile, February 5-6: an F1 car for one third the price of a Citroën? It’s where silly and sumptuous collide

The frantic whistling reflects the local gendarmes’ attempts to exert control at a busy intersection. An elderly gent, possibly the worse for one pastis too many, ignores authority and swears loudly while sauntering uncertainly across six lanes of moving traffic.

This might just be Paris.

Attitudes are slightly less cavalier within the Porte de Versailles expo pavilion, but remain refreshingly relaxed. At many car shows, exhibits are kept beyond reach – a divide that confirms we, as a species, cannot be considered responsible. In Paris they don’t want you to touch, but many exhibitors permit close perusal and grant you the courtesy of trust.

Rétromobile is a sprawling show with many assets, a fusion of automotive bric- à-brac, book stalls, souvenirs, auction lures and enthusiastically maintained bygones, from the Citroën Méhari northwards.

The going rate for a nicely preserved Citroën SM was about €50,000… or roughly one tenth the price of a scarce, Chapron-bodied SM cabriolet (estimate €400,000-€600,000, below). To put that in perspective, a 1989 BMS Scuderia Italia Dallara F1 chassis was expected to fetch €150,000-€170,000.

My favourite exhibit was the Baird-Griffin F1 car (above), which Belfast Telegraph heir Bobby Baird commissioned for the 1952 season. With world championship Grands Prix the preserve of F2 machinery, Baird raced it only in non-scoring events and results included ninth place in the Richmond Trophy at Goodwood, eighth in the Daily Mail Trophy at Boreham and fifth in the Newcastle Journal Trophy at Charterhall.

Baird died at Snetterton in 1953 (the circuit’s first fatality), when he was supposed to be racing a brace of Ferraris – a 500 F2 car and a 340MM sports-racer. He flipped the 340MM at Riches during practice and initially appeared unharmed, but the story goes that he ignored marshals’ advice to await a medical check and collapsed fatally while walking back to the paddock, a fractured rib having punctured a lung.

The car bearing his name was subsequently used mostly in sprints and hillclimbs, but has lain unused in France for many a year – and its delightful patina reflected as much. The price? About the same as a Citroën SM cabriolet…

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