Adieu to another Retromobile

The 35th annual Retromobile show ended in Paris, France, on January 31, and attendance appeared up from last year, with certainly more robust attendance by vendors. Retromobile is one of Europe’s largest collector car shows and if it seems odd to hold an event like this indoors in the dead of winter, don’t knock it until you’ve been.

The U.S. is sorely lacking an event like Retromobile, which is really like a convention for the European collector car hobby. It brings together clubs, restorers, auction houses, vendors and dealers in a setting that is very reminiscent of the classic European motor shows of the 1960s like the Geneva Salon and the Earl’s Court Motor Show. There’s no judging, just display after display of interesting cars.

While the French certainly have the home field advantage and marques like Citröen, Panhard, Alpine, Renault, Peugeot and Deutsche-Bonnet are all over, there were plenty of American cars with several French Corvette clubs in attendance and the French Mustang club, Mustang Passion France, out in force. The juxtaposition of a tiny Renault 4CV with a Boss 302 Mustang was rather amusing; the Mustang looked like a Bobcat getting ready to devour a rat.

Both Mazda and Peugeot are celebrating significant anniversaries in 2010. Peugeot turned 200 years old, although they’ve only been making automobiles since the late 19th century (their first ninety years or so were spent making pepper mills, coffee grinders and bicycles). Their stand included every significant Peugeot made in their history. Mazda’s 90th anniversary display included a showroom-new example of a first generation RX-7 and an original Cosmo coupe, the first rotary-powered sports car.

Aside from the funny-looking French cars, the food is a dead giveaway that you’re not in the U.S. While the French abolished capital punishment years ago, they may still reserve the guillotine for serving a lousy meal. Food at the show is quite decent with two sit-down restaurants offering French comfort food and several stands serving light meals that are a cut above the usual jumbo tenderloin sandwiches and fried Twinkies one often sees at home. Also, flutes of champagne seemed to outnumber cups of beer.

Since Retromobile falls during the off-season for Paris, it’s possible to make the trip relatively inexpensively, even with the unfavorable exchange rate. My tickets were about $550 roundtrip from Chicago, and there were some fantastic last-minute hotel deals on Web travel sites, many less than $100 per night. Reasonably priced restaurant meals are still available, but if you really want to eat well for little money in Paris, head to market streets like the Rue Cler, Rue du Buci and the Rue Mouffetard. There you’ll find nearly anything you want to take back to your hotel for around $14 per person, and there are plenty of $3-$4 bottles of red wine to be had.

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