Museums at Rétromobile: the greatest, the fastest, the most dangerous and the worst
The behemoths of Rétromobile
One of the most mind-blowing parts of Rétrombile is the participation of gigantic historical vehicles. The first one is a real giant, the most massive ‘thing’ ever presented at Rétromobile.
As the home of the Berliet Foundation is 600km away, the T100 had to be transported to Paris for the occasion, which is an equally colossal undertaking.
Even by today’s standards, the T100 is an extremely impressive beast: 5 metres high and wide, 15 metres long with a weight of 50 tonnes.
The 35 metres long special convoy left the Berliet Foundation conservatory last Monday, and it took four days and three nights for the T100 to cover the 600 km between its base and the Paris Expo. Every bend in the road, every roundabout, every town and every village was a spectacle, as this colossal convoy occupied the entire width of the road, escorted by a series of cars and motorcyclists. The video on the arrival of the truck is mesmerizing:
As was the Truck itself in the Hall. The T100 towered over entire stages in the massive Hall 1, visitors gathered around and under the gigantic structure, wondering about its size, details and technical solutions.
A historical face-off between the Sherman M4 and the Panzer IV
The Saumur Tank Museum has one of the largest collections of First World War armoured vehicles in the world and returns to the Show every year. This year, they showcase two iconic German and American tank models: a Panzer IV and an M4 Sherman tank.
The Panzer IV was commissioned by the Third Reich, and is widely considered among the best-armored vehicles of the Second World War. With its low body and 75 mm gun, it constituted a fearful weapon in battle. While it was capable of destroying another armoured vehicle, piercing through shielding, it was also an extremely mobile tank, weighing less than 30 tonnes.
The Panzer IV actually survived the Third Reich, it was still being used by several armies even 20 years later and fought battles such as the Six-day War. The showcased Panzer IV tank was commissioned at the end of the Second World War, and never underwent the baptism of fire instead it was immediately recovered by the French army.
The M4 Sherman Tank was one of the most iconic tanks of the Second World War. Widely used by the Western allies, it remains a symbol of victory and liberation also eternised by many war movies.
The mass-produced Sherman tanks were functional and straightforward and remained in operation in numerous countries until the 1970s.
The Need For Speed –19th-century edition at Rétromobile
Rétrmobile was among the frontrunners in bringing renowned museums on board with memorable pieces from their vaults. The National Car Museum of Compiègne is a regular guest of the show, last year they showcased a few pre WW I Renaults joining Renault and other Museums at the 120 Anniversary Celebrations. This year the Museum was honoring the De Dion – Bouton brand, as Albert de Dion was noted among the most important donors of the Museum.
Marquis Albert de Dion was noted among the pioneers of the automotive industry. In 1882, he partnered with Georges Bouton and Charles Trépardoux to finance their workshop in Puteaux where they built steam-powered tricycles and quadricycles, followed by heavier vehicles like the one on display, designed in around 1890.
In 1888, the Marquis de Dion teamed up with Parisian engineer Delalande and started experimenting with combustion engines; then a few years later in 1894 he founded De Dion-Bouton & Cie. Thanks to the runaway success of his tricycles and single-cylinder vehicles, de Dion-Bouton became the world’s leading automobile manufacturer in 1900.
In 1905, de Dion-Bouton released the three-quarter drive coupé, that was also on display. In 1904 de Dion-Bouton developed a four-cylinder engine and started using metal chassis and disc clutches. The one on display was used by the company’s management.
The other featured masterpiece is the Lamborghini Flying Star II, concept car on the basis of the 400 GT with a bodywork designed by the Milan-based Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera coachbuilder company. The car also announced the upcoming “Concept car. Pure beauty” exhibition of the Museum, that revolves around unusual concept cars and will be launched on 29th November 2019 at Compiègne and will run until 23rd March 2020. The Lamborghini Flying Star II is such a unique concept car. It is one of the first shooting breaks with hatchback coupé design. It was also the last vehicle to come out of the prestigious Touring Superleggera before it folded in 1966.
The Museum also presented another historical masterpiece. The Jamais Contente was the first electric car to break the 100 km / h speed barrier already in 1899. In fact, I met the Jamais Contente twice last year (in Paris and in Mulhouse), which begs for the question how many replicas are around, but this was bearing the name of the Jenatzy foundation (Camille Jenatzy was the driver breaking the speed record).
The 1950 BRM TYPE 15 illustrates all that is good and bad in British engineering
The Beaulieu National Motor Museum is a regular guest at most continental classic car shows (including Essen Techno Classica and Retro Classics Stuttgart), with regularly attending experts and brilliant exhibits. This years stage features the 1950 BRM Type 15, a 16 cylinder monster. British Racing Motors was founded in the 1940s with the overarching aim to build a purely British Grand Prix racing car. The 1950 BRM type 15 was a single-seater race car powered by a 1500 cc supercharged V16 housed beneath its long bonnet, capable of delivering 600 hp at 12,000 rpm.
The team brought on board some of the greatest pilots such as Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss as well as British ace Reg Parnell. This particular model helped launch BRM’s long motorsports career, but did not achieve much in the 1950 season. In fact, the car never really accomplished anything over its three seasons, partly also due to changing regulations. The 1950 BRM type 15 that was showcased at Rétromobile belonged to the Beaulieu National Motor Museum since August 1983. It has been fully restored, 2380 engine parts had to be checked… and some of them even had to be rebuilt.
Bédélia challenges the Reliant Robin and the Morgan Three-Wheelers for the worst car in history.
Breaking news! Rétromobile 2019 showcased a world’s first exhibition about the Bédélia brand! Pardon? You never heard of Bédélia? Well, it’s a long-gone French brand whose originality brought a new breed of motorization. But if you are looking for the marks of Bugatti, I have to cool down the expectations. Bédélia is closer to the makes of Morgan three-wheeler and Reliant Robin, but without their sophistication.
The story dates back to 1907, when Robert Bourbeau and Henri Devaux, two youngsters built a four-wheeler out of a puzzle that was the wreck of their beloved motorbike they wrote-off lowing an accident. Completely broke and unable to have it repaired, Robert and Henri decided to build their own vehicle with whatever they had at hand.
The narrow fuselage could carry two passengers in tandem, with the passenger seated at the front, while the pilot sat in the rear. If you recall my post on the Grand Hall in Mulhouse, the late 1890s and early 1900s were full of strangelings, the car as we know it did not yet crystalize (see the vis-á-vis models), and all sort of seating configuration and drivetrain layout were considered (and available for sale).
Even among those dead-end street variations, Bédélias would count as an underdog. The vehicle was made up of numerous miscellaneous components that they had recovered from here and there, but oddly enough, it also attracted customers.
The simple layout and affordable construction became surprisingly popular, and laid the ground for an entire category of cyclecars (you might recall the dedicated exhibition of the Interclassics 2017). The exhibition honours this era by showcasing the world’s largest gathering of Bédelia vehicles, from the ambulance to racing models, and unique pieces, one even with a Bugatti badge.
Celebrating the 100th birthday of Gnome & Rhône and Safran Motorcycles
This year’s Rétromobile paid tribute to the 100th birthday of the first model built by the French Gnome & Rhône, celebrated by a motorcycle exhibition in Pavillon 2.3. Safran is nowadays a multinational aircraft engine and aerospace company, but back in 1915, Safran was a firm set up to rationalise the manufacture of engines for France’s fledgling aerospace sector. The company arose from the merger of two rival companies: Gnome, and Le Rhône. At the end of the war, Gnome & Rhône diversified into building motorcycles, absorbing the French arm of British company ABC.
To sum up, a bunch of rocket scientist started upgrading motorcycles that led to a production of around 3000 motorcycles between 1920 and 1923 for the Type ABC, while successive new models were developed and the company earned a considerable reputation.
In 1945 de Gaulle nationalized Gnome & Rhône, that was merged into the Snecma group, alongside Avions Voisin, Bugatti, and Messier. The motorcycle division started building popular small-cylinder two-stroke models, and earned reputations in racing. At the end of the 1950s, the motorcycle market collapsed, and Snecma discontinued production refocusing on jet engines.
The exhibition at Rétromobile featured over 20 motorcycles in a 400 m²area between halls 2 and 3. The set included some of the noteworthy models that the makers ever built, including a 1921 ABC and also a 750 X with Bernardet side-car Avion type, the most prestigious pre-war French motorcycles.
Aeronautics enthusiasts could also be in for a treat: Gnome & Rhône’s first ever aircraft engines were also exhibited, and Snecma contributed a three-stage rocket engine that was used in the Ariane spacecraft.
The Art section at Rétromobile
Every serious classic car show will feature an Art section, where the booths are filled with automotive thematic artifacts, from statues to paintings.
I do not plan to write much here, I just let the pictures speak for the experience.