Paris in the winter

Forget all those galleries and gardens; it’s the Rétromobile show that draws our crowd

The French capital is the only place to be in February, both for the unmatched Rétromobile gathering (February 7–11) and the auctions that cluster around it, beginning with RM Sotheby’s on February 7.

Once upon a time a Grand Prix Bugatti, any Grand Prix Bugatti, was the pinnacle of desire, but here we have a Type 35 estimate at about one million euros… and being outstripped by a BMW 507 that’s expected to make half a million more – a shift from race history to usability, boosted of course by the German car’s beautiful lines and fine V8 power.

Even rarer is seeing a Maserati MC12 for sale. Only 50 were built so it’s scarcer than a McLaren F1. Fully road-legal, this example of the Ferrari Enzo-based device has racked up only 12,000 kilometres in everyday traffic. Estimate: €2-2.4m.

The following day, under the soaring iron ribs of the Grand Palais, Bonhams too has a Bugatti, this time seething with race history. It’s the Type 57 (below) that Earl Howe drove to third place in the 1935 TT, equipped with duralumin body and a reported 148bhp. It’s also the car Motor Sport tested that year; we called it “eminently suited for fast touring” and it might make up to €1.3m.

Less suited to touring (even though there was a Stradale version) is a Lancia Delta S4 (est: €580-780,000). Though technological marvels, these rally rockets helped to extinguish Group B. Simpler and less controversial, Fiat’s dinky X1/9 sprouted a Gp4 rally version and Sotheby’s offers one with an estimate of €30-40,000, as well as a Fiat 124 Gp4 Abarth (est: €200-250,000). Alongside is a large array of Belgian marques – FN, Imperia, Minerva and even a very rare 1912 10/12hp tourer (€15-18,000) by Nagant, a firm better known for making pistols. And, to step aside from cars, Bonhams also brings Rafale V, the 1934 27ft hydroplane powered by an 800bhp V12 Hispano-Suiza engine. As well as breaking records in the Med, this also competed on the Seine outside the same Grand Palais where it is to be auctioned. Estimate: £600-800,000.

One of the most important racing cars of all comes up at Artcurial’s Rétromobile sale – the Ferrari 275P which in 1964 won Le Mans in the hands of Jean Guichet and Nino Vaccarella (main picture). From the fabled Bardinon collection, this is the last works-entered Ferrari to have won the 24 Hours and likely to surpass the previous Artcurial/Bardinon record of £24m for a 1957 335S. There could be no finer centrepiece to any car collection.

More race history attaches to a Porsche 904GTS (above), which contested the Nürburgring 1000Kms and Tour de France Auto (€1.4-1.8m). Less storied is a very niche assembly of Vanvooren-bodied cars from an 1898 Gig through Voisin, Alvis and Bentley to a type 57 Bugatti used in WW2 by the Germans (€7-900,000) and the last car bodied by the French firm, a 1950 Delahaye 135M – estimate $300-410,000. You’ll pay at least another million to capture the unique and curvaceous Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 that Pinin Farina parked ostentatiously outside the 1946 Paris motor show – because those from Axis countries were banned from exhibiting inside.

Meanwhile, looking back a bit further than Yesterday, Paul McCartney’s Aston Martin DB5 hit a staggering £1.4m at Bonhams’ December Bond Street sale, only about £400,000 short of a Ferrari 288 GTO at £1.88m. There was also celebrity attached to a Bentley S-type Continental, with the names Elton John and Alan Sugar in the logbook (£367,000), while a 1966 Mini Cooper S that once carted Brian Epstein and Ringo Starr sold for an amazing £102,000 to ex-Spice Girl Geri Horner, wife of Red Bull team principal Christian. Even more remarkably, a short-chassis Alvis 4.3 made £505,000 – well into Bentley territory.

In California in November, the Grand Prix and Indianapolis Peugeot L45 achieved an impressive £5.4m at Bonhams’ Bothwell sale, a hard one to predict for such a unique machine when it’s also such a valuable historical artefact. At the same event, the thundering ex-Barney Oldfield 1908 Prince Henry Benz reached £1.4m.

RM Sotheby’s December Icons event in New York drew a mix of art, wine and car – and produced a fierce battle over a Ferrari 250GT California with Le Mans track record, ending with a headline price of almost $18m, while the ex-Phil Hill Jaguar C-type achieved $5.3m.

Looking further ahead, the glittering Amelia island concours in Florida (March 8-11) is the next focus, with RM Sotheby’s celebrating 20 years as the event’s official auction, and Goodings also assembling a major lot list.


MD, Silverstone Auctions and Classic Car Auctions

We have two areas of operation. Silverstone Auctions concentrates on cars from £50,000 and up, and here we’re seeing a shift. Buyers are more selective: the right cars with good history continue to sell well but there is less interest in the average. However, the lesser end is flying. As Silverstone Auctions expanded I realised we were leaving the lower-priced cars behind, so three years ago I started Classic Car Auctions for vehicles from zero to £50,000 and it was an immediate success – we’re selling 85 per cent of cars. We are also the official auction at Race Retro, which brings a specialised clientele; that’s why we can have a very successful racing car sale, because we only pick 20 or 30 of the best machines.