13 June 2005

Classic Car Scene in Europe

Summer is finally making an appearance in Britain and Europe, and the salt has washed off the roads. After an interminable winter, vintage and classic cars are coming out to play and the season is firing up.

In Europe the historic car scene always opens at the Retromobile Show in Paris in miserable February. Many Americans fly over for this sophisticated gastronomic car show, which appeals to non-racers and enthusiasts of automobilia, vintage watches, and good food and wine. The shopping in Paris naturally appeals enormously, making this a very stylish trip across the pond.

 Apart from those crazy old Vintage Sports-Car Club blokes in their flying bedsteads thrashing around freezing Silverstone in the dead of winter at the peculiar Pomeroy Trophy Meeting, February is pretty quiet. We watch longingly as Bill Warner hosts his impressive Amelia Island Concours over there, basking in the Florida sunshine!

By mid-March the more adventurous are out enjoying the Coppa Milano-San Remo in Italy, and it is essential to nip over to Essen for the impressive Techno Classica Essen in April. Covering 11 huge halls, Essen is the showcase for the German classic car scene. It’s very interesting to see how the big manufacturers support our cause – the massive displays put on by Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi are always substantial. Over 800 cars sold at the show and some serious prices were achieved, including £1.7 million (around $3.9 million) for an 8 Litre Bentley and £762,000 (around $1,387,950) for a Ferrari 250 GT. Of course, this follows the astonishing sales results achieved at the vast Barrett-Jackson auctions in Arizona and Florida, selling an incredible $83 million worth of cars.

 Over here we find it very interesting that American automobiles are now such “hot ticket items,” if that’s the expression. It’s about time too. Our feeling is that many vintage American cars were far superior to British and European examples of the time. I’ve raced a Chrysler 75 at the Le Mans Classic, and the car is impressive: fast, a great handler and simply lovely to drive. Even overtook a few Bentleys down the Mulsanne Straight! Of course, there are all the pony cars and muscle cars that are now fetching fortunes. They are historic proponents of Americana and offer a huge “bang for your buck.”

 Some enthusiasts comment that the high prices we’re now seeing in the collector car market is a negative, as it pushes the top-end cars out of reach. But here at Octane magazine, we feel that it is a strong sign of a healthy market. In Britain and Europe, bank rates are desultory, the stock market is going nowhere and the housing market – you should know that we have a total fixation with house prices in Britain – is sluggish or in actual decline, depending who you believe. So investments in collectable cars are bullish once again.

 Octane’s American editor and an automotive photographer, Winston Goodfellow, observed this phenomenon close hand at the super-stylish Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este on the shores of Lake Como in Italy. Goodfellow was judging with Lord March of Goodwood Revival fame and he commented that syndicates are now being formed to buy some ultra-top-end cars. Hmmm.

Plenty of American classics were present and on parade at the Villa d’Este. A gorgeous 1951 Vignale-bodies Ferrari 212 Export Spider took the People’s Choice, while a wonderfully orange 1964 Alfa Romeo Canguro charmed the judges. I admired a beautiful Duesenberg on the lawns that was flown over for the event – not a bad piece of hand luggage.

 Those lucky competitors who took part in Italy’s legendary Mille Miglia road race from Brescia to Rome and back (held May 19-22) have returned home tired but elated. Sir Stirling Moss drove the Mercedes-Benz 300SLR off the starting ramp, and I’m eagerly awaiting his next report in the magazine. More on that next time. See you at Le Mans…

 – Robert Coucher, editor
Octane magazine


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