While the Retromobile car show in France largely flies under the radar of North American enthusiasts, it’s said to be one of the craziest car shows on the planet. Imagine Monterey Car Week but a billion times weirder, and you’re on the right track. Unsurprisingly, it also has an auction, and even among properly exotic machinery, some vehicles up for grabs stand out for incredibly obvious reasons.
The 2024 auction is coming up, starting Feb. 2, and the lot list is full of vehicles you genuinely won’t find anywhere else, from a Maserati fire engine to a homebuilt single-seater with a twin-supercharged radial two-stroke engine. We’re talking oddities of the highest caliber, many of which have price tags to match.
Thankfully, you won’t have to wade through the full catalog, because I’ve picked out some of the more unique vehicles up for grabs. However, it’s still worth perusing the entire lot list, because it’s full of some genuinely brilliant cars, tractors, and motorcycles.
Estimated price: €150,000 to €250,000
Fire engines and speed typically don’t go together. However, that didn’t stop a few dedicated Italians from making what might just be the best fire truck of all time. This is a 1967 Maserati Quattroporte, manual gearbox and all, that Carrozzeria Grazia turned into a fully functional fire response vehicle. Best of all, this isn’t just some publicity stunt, it’s an actual emergency vehicle used on Italian motor circuits, reportedly for Grands Prix. According to the auction listing, it was on duty through the end of the 1970s, and that’s undeniably rad.
According to the Retromobile auction listing, if it weren’t for one enthusiast, this car might no longer exist. In 1987, it was reportedly saved from the scrapheap, then changed hands a few times before an extensive and expensive-sounding six-year full restoration was carried out after 2011. Sure, an estimated hammer price of between €150,000 and €200,000 euros isn’t cheap, but where are you finding another one of these?
Estimated price: €40,000 to €60,000
Just when you thought the LM002 was the most badass, Rambo-esque Lamborghini ever made, out of the woodwork comes a tracked machine from 1958. While not strictly a car as such, this three-wheeled, two-tracked, steering wheel-less Lamborghini tractor makes a Urus look like a Toyota RAV4 for a fraction of the current Lambo SUV’s price. Rodeo Drive ain’t ready for something like this.
Believe it or not, this is reportedly a prototype, one of ten made. According to the auction listing, the front tire is removable, and the rear axles are said to turn the tracks. Presumably, this steers like any tracked vehicle, but that doesn’t make it any less insane. If you want front-of-house parking, get this Lamborghini, because it’s practically guaranteed to befuddle valets.
Estimated price: €330,000 to €400,000
For the 2018 Geneva Motor Show, coachbuilding company Touring decided to do something wild and re-body a Maserati GranTurismo with inspiration from the Shah of Iran’s Maserati 5000 GTs. The result was this blue 454-horsepower coupe that looks like nothing anyone’s ever seen before. I’m not going to say it’s good design, but it is incredibly striking, a rolling monument to questionable taste. Whoever buys this is one interesting person, as this sort of money buys many cars, but few that will make some people salivate and others do the technicolor yawn.
Estimated price: €15,000 to €25,000
Finally, something reasonably priced. Hot hatches are great when they’re small, and it’s hard to get much smaller than this. The Fiat 126 is a beloved Italian people’s car, and this particular version takes things up a notch. Like Abarth, Giannini tuned Fiats, and this one was heavily massaged, with improvements including a power bump from 23 to 30 horsepower, wider arches, turbine-style wheels, and a particularly dashing set of stripes. The resulting Giannini GP 650 looks fantastic, and promises to be a little ball of fun wherever it goes. Alright, maybe not so much fun on American freeways, but you get the idea. Over the course of its life, it’s actually been upgraded further, and is now claimed to produce 35 horsepower. That’s a 52 percent increase over stock!
Estimated price: €80,000 to €100,000
While the Alpine A110 is a widely-known and beloved French sports car thanks to media like Gran Turismo 4, the René Bonnet Djet flies under the radar, an unusual featherweight that extracted a lot from a little. Sure, this Djet III only made 80 horsepower, but it weighed very little thanks to a tubular spaceframe encased in plastic, resulting in a claimed top speed of 108 mph.
This particular Djet III reportedly has an interesting past. The Retromobile auction description claims that in 1982, it was bought by someone who sold Djets when they were new. The goal? Motorsports. Sadly, the car had an off in 1986 and sat dormant for decades, before a restoration birthed it from the ashes. You know that old car near you that’s seemingly left for dead despite the owner claiming they’ll fix it up someday? There’s a slim, but non-zero chance they aren’t bluffing.
Estimated price: €260,000 to €360,000
Normally, cars meant for racing aren’t massively weird. For most of modern history, they’ve been built to rulebooks, often with more restrictions on performance-enhancing features than standard road cars. However, go back to a time when the world had bigger problems, say 1939, and things get strange. I’ll let the Retromobile auction listing for this thing make the introduction.
To power this machine, Francois Guidobaldi built an 8-cylinder star-shaped 1,357 cc two-stroke engine, with dual ignition, powered by a carburettor designed by him associated with two Roots-type compressors which he claimed it could produce 180 hp at 6,500 rpm.
I’m sorry, what? That is an absolutely bonkers powertrain that just ticks all the weird car boxes. Dual-supercharged? Radial eight-cylinder mounted horizontally? Two-stroke? Tiny displacement? How long did this thing take to make? As it turns out, work started in 1939, with builder Guidobaldi even building his own engine foundry, but it took decades to develop, to the point that Guidobaldi reportedly didn’t live to finish his magnificent machine. The Guidomobile is glorious lunacy and craftsmanship to the highest order. Yes, it’s going to be expensive, but it makes anything else you can buy for the money seem incredibly dull.
Of course, the Retromobile auction includes more typical high-end fare like Bugattis and Ferraris, but it won’t ever let you forget that it’s one of the weirdest and best classic car auctions on the planet. Oh, and even if you aren’t looking to buy, I hear the Retromobile show is a spectacle on its own. Someday, we’ll get to Paris and check it out in person. Someday.
[Ed Note: Just to reiterate how absurdly enormous this auction is, here are some screenshots of a few more vehicles hitting the block:
Check out the full humongous list here. -DT]
(Photo credits: Artcurial)
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