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An American in Paris: Retromobile, February 2014

Voisin on Display 
Retromobile surprises: All aluminum 1957 La Camionnete prototype urban truck designed by French visionary Garbriel Voisin carries French-built 1957 Derny Taon 125.

We all know the old adage, “In spring, a young man’s fancy turns to … ” However, there is another one: “In winter a gearhead’s fancy turns to things mechanical.” The Las Vegas motorcycle auctions and the large sales in Scottsdale, Arizona, are a wonderful tonic for cabin fever. The French version in Paris is known as Retromobile. Porte de Versailles Expo is a large hall that serves as ground zero for this four-day show. Though the focus is on automobiles, numerous motorcycles can be found on display and offer. Several motorcycle only vendors were there as well as motorcycle clubs, restorers, and insurers. Dig deeper and there were lots of motorcycles folded into displays. There is also a swap meet which they call “the antiquities.” The savvy shopper will find originals among the many reproduction motorcycle posters. Searching through the stalls revealed chronometric instruments, including a rare “tattle tale” tachometer, pre-war Bosch lenses for BMWs, and numerous badges. One vendor who obviously had access to a high end metal finisher had triplet Vincent-HRD motorcycles on offer as well as a couple of Brough-Superiors. He also had numerous alloy display pieces that were highly polished.

Retromobile 2014 show-room floor
French MGC was a recent barn find. Note extensive use of alloy.

Three major auction companies are now cashing in on the influx of enthusiasts who migrate from all over the world to Retromobile.  Bonhams took over the Grand Palais and had a large auction with a lot of motorcycles. Variety was the key word there. They had two French Majestics for sale (both no sales). Another French bike, an MGC, created lots of buzz and was sold for $25,220 after a round of international bidding. There was a collection of MVs up for bid, including one of probably 10 “Bi-Albero” (twin cam) 175 racers. It was sold for $44,000. Several other 175s were sold. The star at Bonhams was a 2013 Harley Davidson that had been gifted to Pope Francis. It was to be sold for charity and was hammered down for $331,000. A leather jacket signed by the Pope was sold for $78,815!

French Majestic on the Show-Room Floor of Retromobile 2014
French majestic was one of two for sale.

More motorcycles were offered up by Artcurial, a Paris-based auction house. Since their sale was on the premises, they probably had the largest crowd. They used motorcycles to warm up the bidders. They, too, had a lot of MV Agustas for sale. An Earles-forked Squalo was sold for a reasonable $11,000. An MV America with the Magni chain conversion was sold for $90,000. A Vespa with a sidecar was sold for $13,600.

Europeans are avid motorcyclists. It is a very common form of transportation in Paris. Special parking spots are allocated for motorcycles and at lights they have “head of the line privileges.” There are also numerous variants of bikes there that are not sold in the U.S. France, which may be perceived as not being in the motorcycle mainstream, may have been one of the original cradles of motorcycling. The first documented motorcycle was the Perreaux’s Velocipede (1869). Some of the earliest designs can be traced back to the De Dion-Bouton Motorette Company and Peugeot. Unfortunately that industry did not flourish in postwar France when most European economies were left in shambles. The love is still there for motos, both the nouveau  and the ancien! MC

The next Retromobile happens February 4-8, 2015. Go to the Retromobile website to learn more.

Grand Palais used as the Showroom for Retromobile 2014
Grand Palais was the headquarters for Bonhams.