Impressions of the 43rd Paris Motor Show

This year the preview news and grapevines indicated that the Paris Salon would not contain very many surprises or new innovations, so we wandered into the main hall with a completely open mind, having no particular objectives in view. Within a few yards we came across an enormous crowd peering down into a huge hole in the ground and, joining the throng, looked down upon a Simca Aronde with cutaway body containing two very bored-looking girls in evening dress, lounging aimlessly about on the “new” reclining seats that are now fitted to Simcas. Apparently these “live” models spend all day down this big hole watching the public peering at them. Next door we met Lance Macklin working on the Facel Vega stand, these Chrysler-engined French cars now blossoming out into a very long, wheelbase four-seater model, looking rather like a Cadillac Eldorado but a little less flamboyant. Over the wall of flowers on the edge of the Facel stand we came upon four coupe Lago-Talbots, with the nice rugged-looking four-cylinder Talbot engine, but nothing very new about the whole set-up; the Maserati engine version is not due until next year.

This lack of new things was apparent on all sides and even Pinin Farina was showing a lush and futuristic plexiglass coupe on a 1,900 Alfa chassis that was similar to that displayed at the Turin Show at the beginning of the year. The Singer Gazelle came as a bit of a shock as we were on our way across to see the new Austin-Healey. and we thought the six-cylinder Austin engine under the bonnet made a very exciting-looking scene, while the-space behind the seats in which you could put the dog or a heap of parcels was a welcome sight. It was said that, they were occasional seats but watching a happy Frenchman trying to be occassional did not convince us, and if the driver’s seat is moved back far enough from the steering wheel to allow control of the car then the rear seats really do become a parcels-shelf. In spite of these shortcomings we felt that Donald Healey had once more got a winner from the American sales point of view and with the lovely smooth six-cylinder engine it should be a nice fast touring car, though we felt that a Westminster grille fitted to the Austin-Healey should improve its frontal aspect, the car being mostly Austin anyway, this would not be a bad thing. Leaving the Austin stand we espied a very sleek green car and it proved to be the Carrozzeria Touring-bodied Aston Martin, but then we remembered having seen David Brown driving a prototype of this car about the place at the Rouen race meeting back in July. A pause on the AC stand gave as a chance to have a chat with Jacques Pollet and learn that Paul Frere had been lapping Montlhery fast and furiously in an AC-Bristol and was most impressed, as were the onlookers.

Passing on towards the Alfa-Romeo stand we were disappointed not to see a Sprint Veloce among the exhibits, and on the Lancia stand the old faithfuls the Gran Turismo Aurelia and Spyder were quite unchanged, while the Fiat version of Lancia called the Flaminia was just awful to look at by Lancia standards. The Mercedes-Benz stand contained a blank for there was no 300SL the only car with a pretence of sporting characteristic being the 190S1, and the Porsche stand caused us equal anguish they are no longer making the Spyder, though the normal coupe, the drop-head and the funny-shaped Speedster were all on show, and the only 1957 modification that was really obvious was the little gold plaque on the dashboard telling us how many times Porsche had won the German Sports Car Championship. At Ferraris we met de Portago, looking extremely neat and Motor Show like, and for fierceness of modern line the Farina-bodied 4.9-litre Ferrari with pillarless windscreen really was outstanding. The estimated speed of 300 kph (186 mph) made us wonder why the Scuderia did not enter the car for sports-car racing and win everything, but then we looked at a luxuriously bodied 3-litre Europa and remembered how awful Ferrari handling can be when not an actual competition model. Having got into a rorty, sporty frame of mind  we crossed over to the Abarth stand and drooled over the beautiful little Bertone-bodied coupe built by Abarth around Fiat 600 components. The engine had received the full Abarth treatment, including an increase to 750 cc, and had disappearing headlamps controlled by a wire-and-bobbin mechanism. This toy motor-car was barely 3ft 6in in overall height yet had enough room inside for an over six-foot driver, such as Count Lurani, who had been getting into it.. Needles to say the engine was at the back. It was interesting to see Derrington and Abarth getting together !

The BMW stand had the sleek white two-seater 507 out once more, but after a whole year it did not look so exciting, and the mudguard clearence under the wings really looked insufficient, suggesting that maybe the suspension had been specially clamped down to make it look low and sleek. In the same way, some manufacturers employ tall, thin salesmen to make their cars look small, and we found the Sunbeam Rapier rear suspension pressed down virtually solid, so that bouncing on the rear bumper did nothing at all. However, it made the car look low and sleek, and most Motor Show exhibits being phoney anyway it was well in keeping. Maserati had a neat and tidy stand with luxury touring versions of the Gran Turismo 2,000 A6G on either side of a new long-nosed 200S sports car, while right next door was Gordini displaying one of his eight-cylinder Grand Prix cars all smartened up for the Show. On a pedestal was a complete four-cylinder 11/2-litre Gordini engine for those interested in Formula II.

Awe and amazement accompanied our viewing of the General Motors Firebird II turbine car fitted with all mod-cons and made of titanium and plexiglass, though the old-fashioned windscreen wipers looked a bit out of place. We felt that it was time these futuristic “specials” were fitted with some sort of electronic water disperser in place of the inadequate rubber wiper. Being in an American frame of mind for a fleeting moment we flashed across the Cadillac, Ford and Chrysler stands, so that our flashing did not look out of place amongst the Yanks, and headed for Studebaker where we found the Golden Hawk V8 fitted with a McCulloch vane-type supercharger blowing into the carburetter. While not being terribly impressed by all the technical gimmicks under the bonnet, especially as some of them prevented access to the plugs, we did like the neat and tidy instrutnents that could be read easily and would have done justice to a racing car.

Seeing a vast open space we set off to find out why, but on the way came up all-standing in front of an enormous packing case. After a slight pause this great wooden box disappeared into the ground and revealed a Simca-Vedette Regency in all its glory. Up came the packing-case again, hiding the car from view, and when it sank down again the Vedette had the bonnet open and the engine was raised up in the air. This sort of thing went on and on, showing all the reasons why we should buy a Vedette and we felt that though we did not want one, it being identical to last year, when we did not want one either, at least the stage show presentation was good. Arriving at the vast open apace for which we had been heading, we found a Citroen DS19 in solitary confinement, everyone having seen it last year and a lot of people driving about France in them during the summer, so that Citroen enthusiasts were peering at ths Cinderella to the goddess, the ID19, which is a sort of poor man’s DS19, there being little way of telling the difference from the outside, so that the neighbours would never know. Renault were advertising the Dauphine on its successes in the Mille Miglia and the Tour de France, but carefully avoiding mention of the “hot-rod” mechanical aspect of the works cars, and Panhard were displaying the DB that won the Index of Performance at Le Mans, while a drophead Dyna-Panhard had a ghastly interior finish that looked rather like cold porridge.

Normally the Paris Salon is noticeable for the exotic, the bizarre and the plain stupid, which when they are all put together and considered as a Show are always highly entertaining. There is never any need to take a Motor Show seriously, for what you see you are seldom able to buy, so the thing to do is to enjoy tile sideshows. However, this year the Salon was very dull and flat and the wonderful Motor Show Specials were conspicuous by their absence. Which was a great pity, so that after having looked at all the exhibits of the serious-minded manufacturers of the world’s automobiles there was little left to do except go home. As we walked down the Champs Elysees, watching Grand Prix races between 2 cv Citroens, and big American saloons being carved up by 4 cv Renaults, we felt sad, for the Paris Salon had given us a feeling that the world’s Motor Industry is reaching saturation point not only from production angles but also from design angles, and everyone seems to he running out of ideas.–DSJ.