The old car scene in Paris is heating up.

Last year there were just two auctions in Paris during Rétromobile week: Bonhams and Artcurial. This year there were four, with RM joining the fray, and Artcurial adding an additional auction featuring a collection of Alfa Romeos. Furthermore, the annual SCM reception has grown into a fixture on the calendar, attracting well over 100 SCMers from around the world to Café Le Jambon à la Broche every year.

When we weren’t crawling over and under cars at auctions, we were glorying in the continued celebration of old cars that is Rétromobile — arguably the best vintage car show and swapmeet in the world.

Which means that going to Rétromobile is no longer just an excuse for a vacation in Paris.

One Auction in the Desert

When we first started going to Rétromobile more than a decade ago, there was just one auction, Artcurial (then called Poulain). It reminded me of Scottsdale 25 years ago, when it was just Barrett-Jackson. Kruse had an auction nearby, but B-J was what it was all about.

As this publication had not yet evolved from the Alfa Romeo Market Letter into Sports Car Market, there really wasn’t much for me to do in Scottsdale besides hang out with my buddies. There would be three or four Alfas at most in the Barrett lineup. I would spend a couple of hours looking them over and give a cursory glance to any vintage etceterinis; Maseratis, Abarths and whatever other curiosities might show up.

My memories are of spending a lot of time with Mark Hyman, Rick Carey, now of Sports Car Digest, dealer Randy Simon and of course Raymond Milo. The dinners were long and memorable.

But these days Arizona auction week includes B-J, Gooding, RM, Russo, Bonhams and Silver. And adding to the excitement, the week kicks off with the Arizona Concours the preceding Sunday, and there’s Automobilia Scottsdale on Thursday and Friday. All we need now are some vintage races, and we’ll have another Monterey on our hands. Going to Scottsdale used to be an excuse to escape the Portland winter doldrums, with a little car stuff involved. Now it’s a week of business — all cars, all the time.

No Time in Paris

Which brings me to the developments in Paris. When there was just one auction to cover, Rétromobile was an excuse to go to Paris, sit with Uncle Raymond at Les Deux Magots and listen while he regaled us with stories of barn-find Oscas, loaded pistols in his carry-on luggage and bags full of cash.

Now, with four auctions, the SCM reception and Rétromobile itself, the week is full of car stuff. Each auction generally requires two visits: one to preview the cars and the other for the actual sale. While the Paris Metro is extremely efficient, there’s still a lot of time spent just getting around.

Alex and I got a chance to visit the catacombs under Notre Dame and spend a coupe of hours at Les Invalides (convenient, as it was also the site of the RM auction). But that was it for our sightseeing, and then off to the plane to return to PDX. Frankly, by the end of the Artcurial auction on Saturday, I was ready to come home and spend some time away from cars.

If you’ve never been to Rétromobile, you should go. But realize if you’re an old car fanatic, that you won’t be able to avoid going to the auctions. And once you’re inside the auction tent, you could be at a classic car sale anywhere in the world.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your time will be spent lollygagging around, admiring flying buttresses and teaching yourself how to order escargot using just the right pronunciation.

I suggest making two trips to Paris — one for the cars, and one just to enjoy the city. You can no longer do both during the same week.

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