A sea of red MV Agustas at Bonhams’ Retromobile auction.
I had just arrived in Paris for the 40th year of Retromobile, one of the biggest vintage machinery shows in Europe, and was struck by the irony of an announcement by Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, that she would request a ban on all motorcycles manufactured prior to 2000. Automobiles prior to 1996 would face a similar ban. In the same manner that people flock to Las Vegas and Scottsdale, Arizona, for the winter motorcycle auctions, the French version of cabin fever sets in and they, too, show up by the thousands to see some nice vehicles. Quite often, American enthusiasts are incredulous when I mention the importance of French motorcycles. Yet prior to WWII, France was on the cutting edge of motorcycling, and some of the earliest designs originated there. Paris is covered all year round by riders, and the Retromobile parking lot was filled with motorcycles — and it was barely above freezing!
Nice 1952 Vincent Black Shadow was sold by Bonhams for 82,800 Euros, or approximately $93,547 U.S., including premium.
My initial impression is that this is in fact a car show/meet. Many high end dealers have their stalls punctuated with vintage motorcycles. There are numerous stalls that serve as a swap meet for bits, or “antiquities” as the French call them. Fine sifting will bring out many jewels; chronometric instruments, badges and literature cohabitate in display cases. I’ve found that sometimes you have an upper hand with motorcycle parts because some dealers don’t stay abreast of prices. One dealer had a small key for a pre-war BMW motorcycle. It had a VDO clock in it! Another dealer had an original paint Norton International gas tank nestled in with some Italian car bits.
Big events like this become the hub for other events. Three of the larger auction companies have moved in, and at least two always have some two-wheel offerings. Bonhams always has a motorcycle lot at their Grand Palais sale. This year, two Vincent Black Shadows were sold, and a large number of MV Agusta racers provided a sea of red; there’s always good variety at Bonhams. RM Auctions had a Ducati Desmosedici on offer. Like French food, Retromobile offers gear heads a different flavor, and it’s all good. Who knows, maybe next year all of those “banned” motorcycles will be on sale?!
Lovely mid-1950s Peugeot 175cc twin at the Peugeot display.
High end car dealers often have some nice motorcycles to “punctuate” their displays, like this MV Agusta 750S.
All photos by Somer Hooker