By Graham Gauld
Photos by Hugues Vanhoolandt
Graham Gauld has covered Retro for VeloceToday since 2012
Press day in Paris last Wednesday was quite chaotic as the heavens opened and dumped a load of snow turning this dramatic city into a winter wonderland. But the local taxi drivers seem to have forgotten what happens to a car if, you maintain your usual mad dash through the traffic. That evening taxis were bouncing off the tails of buses or hitting other taxis. So Retromobile had a lively start.
Retromobile this year was the usual mélange of cars we know and as always, hidden away, were one or two cars we had either never seen before or else had interesting histories.
For the past three years Jaguar’s new Classic department has taken a stand at Retromobile, originally to announce the fact they had developed a complete department to refurbish and rebuild classic Jaguars.
Then last year they announced that they were going to go back into history and take a second look at their legendary D type Jaguars of the 1950s that had multiple wins at Le Mans. Back in the fifties, the factory had planned to build 100 of them and then various things happened and they ended up with XKD575, 25 short of their 100. Now, the factory put into motion a plan to go back to the original drawings and build 25 continuation cars much the same way as Shelby built his continuation Cobra Coupes. The cars were given an eye watering price tag but I am told all 25 of them have actually been sold.
Now, at Retromobile, the engineering prototype of this series was presented, and it was stunning despite being finished in bland grey. Back in the fifties Jaguar did build some road versions of the D type which carried correct D type chassis numbers alongside the race cars and called them the XKSS and Steve McQueen was a notable owner of one of those. However this continuation model is obviously planned to be a road car. The build and the standard of finish on the prototype were superb. The shut lines around the doors were perfect and the stylized vertical tail fin of the early short nose D types was so elegant. Needless to say I asked about the chassis number of the new car expecting to be told that it was XKD576 but Tim Hannig, the director of Jaguar Classic confirmed that it had chassis “Car Zero” and the regular D type Jaguar chassis number sequence will start with the first of the actual customer models likely to be handed over later this year. A great project and one that still turns heads.
However if you wanted to compare this new D type with a beautifully restored and race-worthy D type of the old school you could walk a few yards to the Patrick Peter stand where he had one of the most successful D type Jaguars that raced in period in the USA: XKD545.
This car was sold to American George Constantine in December 1956 but in fact he is recorded as having raced it as early as September 1956. Constantine, who had the nickname, “the flying Greek”, took it to Nassau for the Governors Trophy. He continued to race 545 during 1958 and 1959 sharing it, at the later Nassau races with his wife Mary who ran in the ladies races.
It came to England late in 1969 and was run as a road car before leaving England for Australia and the Peter Briggs’ collection. Now, here it was on Patrick Peter’s stand promoting his historic events including the Tour Auto.
As regular readers will know I am always attracted to coachwork design and on a stand taken by the Classic Car Center, owned by Hödlmayr Logistics in Austria, I found such a car. Funnily enough it was not this car that originally caught my eye, but a beautifully prepared Fiat Ballila Coppa d’Oro, but then I spotted the BMW.
There in a dark corner was a BMW like nothing I had seen before. For a start it was a four-door cabriolet but the bodywork looked so different. As Oliver Bulant, the operations manager of the company explained, this car was not only a one-off built and delivered in 1960 but by a coachbuilder I had never heard of, Karosseriebaufirma Autenrieth of Darmstadt in Germany.
The company was founded by Georg Autenrieth’s family in 1881 to build coachwork for horse carriages but it was young Georg who founded the coachbuilding offshoot in 1924 and built a number of one-off cars for friends and special customers. He was also keen on micro-cars that were popular in the early 1950s and modified Lloyds and NSU’s to make them stand out from the crowd.
However in 1959 he was approached by a prosperous lawyer from Hamburg who said he wanted a special BMW built for him on a 3200 Super chassis. The BMW 3200 was a development of the famous BMW 507 powered by a V8 engine. At that time there were great upheavals at the BMW factory. Believe it or not in the late 1950s BMW virtually only made two models, the Microcar, the BMW Isetta and the expensive and top of the range V8 507 sports coupe. BMW were even threatened with bankruptcy and there were takeover hints from Mercedes-Benz which was unthinkable to the Bavarians who saw the north Germans in Stuttgart much in the same way as the Scots looked at the English. As we now know the Quandt family stepped in, cleared out the old guard and brought in young talent who, by 1960 had created the car on which the modern BMW story was built, the BMW 1500. This was followed by cars like the 2002, the 2002Ti and BMW was on their way. In 1960 the 507 was on its last legs and the 503 that followed used the V8 engine design.
Our Hamburg lawyer, however, stipulated that his car was not to be a two door coupe but a four door cabriolet and this was the car on the stand. When this BMW was eventually delivered in February 1960 it was actually one of the three most expensive new cars built that year vying in price with the biggest Mercedes.
It stood out because of the quality of the workmanship and the styling cues that were ahead of their time. Looked at today it might even stand a chance in a new car showroom. By pure chance I bumped into Peter Wiesner from Salzburg in Austria who is not only a specialist car dealer but owned this BMW for a number of years and remarked that it was one of the best cars he had owned.
A completely new stand at Retromobile caught my eye. It was promoting HSR, Historic Sports Car Racing Inc, and was there to try and haul in a raft of European historic racing drivers to take part in the Classic 24 Hour Race due to take place at Daytona from November 7-11 this year. Speaking personally, having visited Daytona on many occasions, starting in 1981, it is something completely different.
I had hoped to chat to Jim Pace, the Racing Advisor but he was back in his hotel room suffering from the flu and so the courtly Russell Gee explained the deal offered to possible European drivers who wished to race. For a fraction short of $13,000 dollars they were offing seven nights in a track-side hotel in Daytona Beach free shipping by Silver Tiger Logistics for one car with basic tools, spare parts, insurance and carnet to import the car. It also includes a full test day, garage and driver lounge passes.
So if you are a historic racer with an interesting car and feel like driving one of the most amazing circuits in the world you can get more information from firstname.lastname@example.org and tell them where you read this first.