French fancies

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The star cars from Retromobile in Paris

An unpredictable Retromobile weekend in a snowy Paris in February saw some unexpected no-sales, a couple of model records and the unprecedented event at such a prime marketplace for historic vehicles of a current model topping all the classics.

It was RM Sotheby’s who overturned the established order by auctioning at €3.3m (£2.9m) a Bugatti Chiron, a car you can order new with a list price of £2.5m, while the next-highest historic machine, another Bugatti but a 1938 Type 57 Atalante coupé, sold at Artcurial for €400,000 shy of that. One hopeful buyer nearly restored normality by bidding €3.45m for the de Graffenried Mille Miglia Ferrari 166MM RM Sotheby’s also listed but it missed the reserve. The Bugatti double came in the same week that a Type 57SC Atlantic from the Mullin collection was judged ‘Best of the Best’ against the winners of the eight most prestigious concours through 2017.

Artcurial’s expected leader, the 1964 Le Mans-winning Ferrari 275P, was withdrawn before the sale due to “ongoing proceedings” over Ferrari collector Pierre Bardinon’s estate. In compensation the French house set a new record for the track-only Ferrari FXX at €2.6m, while an ex-Tour de France Porsche 904 made €1.87m and a Mille Miglia-entered 1954 Maserati A6GCS spider sold for a model-high €2.44m. A true rarity here was one of the few Monicas made, the 1970s V8 four-door GT selling for €107,000, although the unique Pinin Farina Alfa 2500 show car, a giant stylistic leap for 1946, went back to its owner.

Even if you were there for the cars you couldn’t avoid being gripped by the amazing Majestic motorbike, a hub-centre-steered Thirties spaceship – it tickled someone’s fancy to the tune of €81,000.

In RM Sotheby’s marquee in Place Vauban, although the 166 didn’t find a buyer, the firm was delighted with the Chiron, which knocked the Maserati MC12 into second (€2m). Meanwhile the BMW 507 continues to escalate; this one took €1.7m. Those looking for a competitive entry in historic events could have snapped up a cute Alpine-Renault A110S, which contested the Targa Florio and went to a new owner at €138,000 – a good way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the marque’s Le Mans victory – or what’s thought to be the only surviving works 1958 Monte entry Triumph TR3A in its original apple green, bought for €184,000. A new TR record, and a contrast with the TR3A Artcurial sold for €35,000. Also boasting period race history, a Porsche 914/6 made €241,000.

Despite the recent demise of French rock hero Johnny Hallyday, no-one carried off his Iso Grifo A3/C. The auction firm tempted collectors to its Monaco sale by displaying an ex-Rene Dreyfus Type 51 GP Bugatti and an unrestored 911 RS Lightweight brought new by Interserie Porsche racer Leo Kinnunen.

Under the soaring glass and iron vaults of the Grand Palais, Bonhams’ most unusual offering was an Iveco Ferrari team bus, now a luxury motor home but once the track hangout of M Schumacher and R Barichello. You can bet that at £103,500 the new owner won’t take it to Caravan Club meetings.

You might not think Europe was the place to sell an Alta, the sometimes overlooked British racing marque, yet the 2-litre car Bonhams offered beat estimate to sell at €345,000. It came with correspondence from our DSJ, who worked on it at Alta. In contrast, neither the Hispano-Suiza hydroplane Rafale V not a Lancia Delta S4 hit their reserves and the Earl Howe TT Bugatti 57 sold short of expectations at €713,000. Yet another Ferrari sold for €11,250 – but that doesn’t mean the bubble has burst. It was a 1/8th-scale Michele Conti model of de Portago’s ill-fated MM 335S.

At home, there’s some interesting historical material coming up at Historics at Brooklands’s March 3 Ascot sale – papers, notes and drawings from the development of the twin-cam racing Austin 750, ERA and BRM V16, including the personal notes of engineers Murray Jamieson and Harry Munday. You might also grab an affordable fun car – a Renault Clio Sport V6, estimate: £13-18,000 or a 1979 Vauxhall Chevette HS (£19-23,000)

Further ahead, Bonhams has announced that its Festival of Speed sale in July features an Aston that’s probably more famous than even the 1959 Le Mans winner – 2VEV, the Ogier racing Zagato that Jim Clark drove. In the same hands for 47 years, this is going to see further serious competition – this time financial.