Retromobile 2003 The Story
Copyright 2003 Birchwood Design
Valentine's Day 2003 was a day to remember. What better way to spend this day of love
than in Paris with my lovely wife of 25 years and visit Retromobile 2003, that most
vintage of continental vintage car shows? It was heaven.
I was up before dawn, never mind that we'd arrived from Michigan only the day before.
After being awake for a day and a half (it's impossible to sleep on an airplane in tourist
class) and crossing five time zones, we hit the bed at our usual time according to the local
clock. But I'm great at adjusting to new time zones, so I was up at 6 am and ready for a
pre-dawn run. Paris is known as the "city of lights" and on my route along the left bank of
the Seine, by the Tulieries, and around the Louvre it was obvious why.
A little after eight I stopped at a small flower shop near our hotel and found that they
wouldn't open until nine, so back to the room for a quick shower and some coffee. The
shop girl welcomed me at opening time. An older lady, whom I presume was the owner,
came from the back room and chatted with me for a minute. She introduced me to her
cat, Ernest, who, as she said, was tres gentile. Would be possible to purchase un vase for
the red roses? It was a very small shop and unfortunately they sold no vases, but a 1 liter
Evian bottle did the trick just fine. I trotted across the street to the hotel, and as I strode
through the breakfast room with the flowers in my improvised vase I was greeted with
appreciative looks and a murmur of approval. Those French. Paris has to be ground zero
for Valentine's Day.
After breakfast Cindi and I walked to the Louvre Metro station and headed for Retromobile 2003 at the Porte de Versailles. After a brief ride we arrived at Salle 2 just
before opening time. We, along with a large crowd of other vintage fans, inched our way into the hall. It was surprising to spot a few of the French-speaking show goers sporting NASCAR logos on their hats and jackets.
What a treat! Not only a show, Retromobile is also a huge flea market. What would you like? Models? How about row and rows of stalls with everything from Hot Wheels (U.S. merchandise was readily available) to custom displays that were truly works of art. The vintage parts stalls went on for what seemed like blocks. The French automobilia were both a joy and an education. We especially enjoyed the visual pun of the Deaux Chevaux hood ornament. And the boats! I wish I'd had more time to devote to the boats. The exquisite models, the full-size runabouts, including a Chris Craft runabout that must have been made back home in Western Michigan.
Lunch at a French car show isn't at all like standing in line for Gyros during the North
American International Auto Show in Detroit. Nossir, in France the auto show food rivals
that of a fine restaurant. We were greeted by the maitre d' who was quite friendly despite
the crowd of people, our waiter was attentive, there were white tablecloths, and there was
a choice of fine wines. The French know how to enjoy food, no matter what the venue! I
settled on the poulet a la bier and Cindi had the jambon de parme. And of course a
Bordeaux. As we left the restaurant, the hostess presented Cindi with a long-stemmed
Heartened by the enjoyable meal and the thoughtful gift of the rose, we resumed our adventure. As you can see from the accompanying photos, Retromobile is exceedingly eclectic. On one side of the aisle, a '46 Chrysler Town and Country convertible, and on the other a brass-era Delahaye roadster. We were surprised by the number of American marques represented at the show. Along with Chrysler, the Corvette and Mustang clubs of France were also well-represented. Perhaps the most awesome of all, at least for this child of the '60's, was the Bluebird-Proteus CN7 land speed record car. It's as primal and overwhelming now as when it made its LSR-breaking run.
We returned to our hotel to freshen up for dinner, finally sated after hours of Retromobile
2003. We arrived just a bit early for dinner, but our hosts at le Petit Machon graciously
seated us and took our drink orders. After hours of walking and possibly some jet lag, we
were ready to eat! Very soon many others joined us in the dining room of the small
restaurant. In France, Valentine's Day is everybody's holiday. There were a couple of
large groups of women, a mixed group of good friends, a mother and her son, and one
young couple. The food was excellent, and the service was not only superb but very
personable. We were truly made to feel welcome.
At last we bid our waitress and the owner good night. A very short stroll and we were
back at our hotel to relax and enjoy the remainder of the evening. Truly a day (and a
night) to remember.