For obvious reasons, the Northern Hemisphere isn’t exactly rich with post-NEC car events. Rétromobile in Paris in February is a welcome occurrence in an otherwise slow mid-Winter show calendar. If you’ve never been, here are five things to know:
- You can make a day trip out of it: If you live in greater London you can easily get to Paris, see the show and sleep in your own bed the same night. The key is using the Eurostar train service. You’ll be getting up quite early and it will be a long day, but the first train leaves St. Pancras at 5:40 and arrives at Paris’ Gare du Nord station at 9:17 (you lose an hour to the time change in the process). From Gare du Nord, you can be at the show at the Porte de Versailles exposition centre by 10:00 using Paris’ surprisingly efficient Metro. The show closes at 19:00 and the two evening trains leave Gare du Nord at 20:13 and 21:13, respectively, arriving back in London at 21:39 and 22:39. Be sure to book well in advance, and round trip fares hover around £130 (which is the minimum charge you would have to pay for an acceptable Paris Hotel).
- It’s becoming as much about auctions as it is about the displays: Rétromobile, like so many other events, is turning into an anchor for big classic car auctions. Far more so than, say, the NEC (nothing against Birmingham, but Paris is a bit more of a destination city). Artcurial and Bonhams have been auctioning cars for years during Rétromobile, and this year they were joined by RM Auctions, who put on a highly successful sale near Les Invalides on the Left Bank. Sale totals this year were €17million for Bonhams, €17 million for RM and €29 million for Artcurial, which put on a two-day sale, the second day of which was all Alfa Romeos.
- Rétromobile is highly unpredictable: And we mean this in the best way possible. Yes, you’ll see the usual selection of Citroën DS’s and Panhards along with MGs, Austin-Healeys and Triumphs, but in years past, they’ve trotted out fantastic things like the Nicolas Cugnot steam tractor from the nearby Museé des Arts et Métier. This year in commemoration of the centenary of WWI, there was an amazing display of Great War vintage trucks, tanks and even taxis recalling the “Miracle on the Marne” when Parisian taxi drivers saved the city by ferrying fresh troops to the front.
- It is a truly international event: While the NEC, for example, is comfortable, familiar and about as British as a steak and kidney pie (with few visitors from the Continent and even fewer from the U.S. and Canada), the profusion of languages and accents at Rétromobile is dizzying. Americans seem to have gotten the memo long ago, as well, and many top collectors from there would sooner miss their own Scottsdale, Ariz., auctions than Retro.
- It’s growing at a good clip: This year’s show (the 39th edition) took place in a hall that was a full 8,000 square metres larger than last year’s space, yet many visitors failed to notice this and the increased crowd made it feel less spacious than before. In fact, the show organisers reported a record turnout, with 90,000 attendees, 450 booths, and more than 500 cars and motorbikes on display. Even in the larger hall, this is still a relatively compact show compared to the behemoth of Birmingham that is the NEC. It’s around 2/3 smaller, adding to the ability to see it in one day. Admission is still a reasonable €14 or about £12. The dates for the 2015 edition of the show are 1-5 February.