It’s easy to feel alienated by fancy car auctions. With all the headlines of vintage Ferraris trading for exorbitant prices, the whole scene just feels a bit Savile Row and caviar, the sort of environment where you’d meet the real-life Monopoly man. Hardly the place for those of us who’ve accidentally eaten a ham and 5w30 sandwich at least once. However, if you dig deep enough into just about every auction’s catalog, it’s easy to find amazing cars that the rest of us can probably afford. I’ve been poring over the lot list for Salon Retromobile in Paris and you won’t believe what I’ve found that should go for sensible money.
1987 Renault Espace I Turbo D
Estimated price: €6,000 to €10,000
Who wouldn’t want an Espace? Not only is Matra’s packaging wonder an important part of automotive history, it’s also incredibly practical and unbelievably French. Not only was it built by everyone’s favorite missile and three-seat sports coupe company, it features a somewhat haphazard center stack with the radio at the absolute bottom.
Strangely, the Espace shares a bit of a genealogical link to the original Chrysler minivan. See, Fergus Pollock imagined a people carrier back in the 1970s for Simca, then a subsidiary of Chrysler Europe. Matra was in charge of developing the program as a replacement for the Matra Rancho, but the whole thing got canned after Chrysler Europe went belly-up. Matra then brought the idea to Renault, and the rest is history.
With 119,189 kilometers on the clock, this Espace looks as fresh as a daisy and features a 2.1-liter turbodiesel engine mated to a five-speed manual gearbox for an interesting mix of economy and pleasure. Oh, and perhaps best of all, this is Renault’s own Espace, currently part of its heritage collection. Considering an expected hammer price of 10,000 euros on the high end, this seems like an absolute bargain for one lucky Retromobile auction attendee.
1964 M274 Truck
Estimated price: €8,000 to €14,000
Want to make a Ford Maverick look like an F-250? You might want to check out the M274, one very unusual military vehicle that shares virtually no traits with the trucks we see on the road today.
Built by Willys, think of the M274 as a stripped-back cousin of the Jeep CJ. Four-wheel-drive and a half-ton payload in a 118-inch package that weighs just 795 pounds is an impressive feat, and it comes at the cost of any semblance of creature comforts. This is a truck superleggera, with no windshield, doors, or roof.
With 11,240 made over a 14-year production span, the M274 is rare, and its seriously quirky design should be a hit at any cars and coffee you roll up to. Mind you, progress to said cars and coffee will be incredibly slow. Due to having just 16 horsepower on tap, top speed clocks in at an eyeball-scrambling 25 mph.
1972 Fiat 500 110F
Estimated price: €8,000 to €14,000
If you’re a sucker for the classics, this Fiat 500 110F will make you want to grab an espresso and see if you can rock a dapper scarf. It stands with the Vespa as an icon of post-war Italy, an artifact from a time and place so stylish that many people still romanticize it.
The 500 110F is a bit special as it’s the last 500 model to feature the original painted steel dashboard, but it got a whole bunch of upgrades over the early models. Output clocked in at a whopping 17 horsepower, the doors were front-hinged at last, and cruising at 55 mph wasn’t out of the question. In terms of old-world charm, the gearbox remained unsynchronized, so you’ll want to practice your double-declutching if you want to drive one of these things smoothly.
This particular example feels just about perfect with its mix of baby blue paint over red and white upholstery. Simple yet cheerful, I suspect that this 500 110L will bring someone a lot of joy if they can snag it below the maximum estimated price of €14,000.
1999 Fiat 126 Bis Cabriolet
Estimated price: €8,000 to €15,000
Alright, so this one isn’t eligible for American importation quite yet, but that’s just an excuse to spend a year or so on a Mediterranean beach working remotely while waiting for this thing to be legal. With a car like this, who wouldn’t want to feel the sand beneath their toes?
While the 126 doesn’t conjure up images of La Dolce Vita quite like its Fiat 500 predecessor, it’s still an important car of the people. Despite being launched in 1972, production under Fiat Auto Poland ran until 2000, a seriously impressive feat. More than 4.6 million of these things were made between plants in Italy, Poland, Yugoslavia, and Austria, a rousing success by any measure.
With just 10,071 kilometers on the clock, this thing is basically brand new. While the 704 cc two-cylinder engine making 26 horsepower ensures that journeys are leisurely, consider slow acceleration as something that gives you more time to take in the scenery. Speaking of taking in the scenery, this 126 has been decapitated by a company called Pop. It’s now a proper four-seat cabriolet just like a Bentley Continental GTC. With an expected top-end price of €15,000 and no reserve, this 126 is most certainly one to watch at Retromobile.
1983 Citroën GSA Pallas
Estimated price: €15,000 to €20,000
While it’s fun to see the occasional Lamborghini Countach or Mercedes-Benz 300SL, nothing gets car nerds going like an immaculate example of a fairly normal car. While a Citroën GSA is practically a spaceship by North American standards, it was a lot more normal in France.
Yes, despite featuring an air-cooled flat-four engine and being launched as a product of impending bankruptcy, the GS and later GSA was Citroën’s best-selling products of the time. After all, what’s not to love? With four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, and hydropneumatic suspension, these cars packed a lot of DS-like goodness into a smaller, more affordable package.
This particular GSA has covered just 3,434 kilometers from new, and that’s not a typo. The first owner kept it until his death in 2015, and the car has been part of two collections since. I’d absolutely love it if this car could talk, for the stories it could tell are likely ones of love. While a maximum estimated price of €20,000 sounds like a lot for a normal old family car, finding a GSA in this condition is simply astounding.
So there we are. The five cheapest functional cars that should cross the auction block at Retromobile. All of them are absolutely exquisite, yet most of them should cost less than a base-model Honda HR-V. Of course, “should” is doing some heavy lifting here as the collector car market has been incredibly inflated over the past few years, but things seem to be slowing down a touch so there’s still reason to have hope. If you want to see everything being auctioned off on Feb. 3 and 4, hop on this link and check out the astounding array of amazing cars up for grabs.
(Photo credits: Artcurial)
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My heart beats fast for that Escape! And the GS. Even the Renault 25!
Love the Alfa Giulietta SS, it looks awkward in some pictures but when you see one in the metal it is charming, esp. in a bolder colour like red or French racing blue.
Noticed the lowered Mustang is there from “Le Marginal” with JeanPaul Belmondo. Pretty good chase scene.
I almost forgot:
Fuck retromobile and fuck aguttes and artcurial.
Douchiest place ever
The espace is 3/4k€ all day long.
The fiat 126 you can’t register in europe because it’s a shed conversion.
The GSA needs 15k€ minimum to get back to roadworthy so you’ll be crazy to spend more than 10k€. Also the owner is a flipper, he bought it less than 2 months ago.
Oh my god, that Espace has the same interior as my beloved 89 phase 2 Quadra that I had as my first car. That picture makes me feel all sorts of emotions (including bewilderment, as I didn’t realise up until now that the digital clock is the exact same Jaeger part as in the Renault 4 – and probably lots of other models in between, since we’re talking about the absolute extremes of the Renault lineup for 8 years).
Should I be concerned about the camber on the 126’s back wheels?
That Citroën looks pretty nice. I had a Chevy Citation, and the Citroën manages to take some of the same basics (4 door fastback for the mass market) and look so much better.
I won’t be buying it, but I kind of want it.
The M274 reminds me of the VW Plattenwagen. Wonder if that’s were Willys sourced the idea?
I’d grab that GSA if I had the spare Euros
As grey market importable cars quite a list here. I don’t have time to go over them all. The French Minivan is the one that caught my eye. French quirky brilliance in a manual people mover, what could possibly go wrong?
That FIAT 500 looks to be a Rinnovata…as far as I know, they were not made with 110F’s. The “F” and Lusso were the last FIAT 500 that were manufactured with the 110F?
It should have a 126A5, my opinion, a much better 594cc engine. I’m not sure if all Rinnovata’s had synchros, but the one I drove had synchronized 4-speed gearbox.
I want to go to the auction in person just to pinch the cheeks on that 126. But alas, I fear I would come home with that GSA.
I’m guessing the M274 was for moving cargo around the military base.
As for that GSA, with only 3500 km on the clock, it’s tales were of loneliness and loss.
I’m told by people who say they know these things the M274 was designed as a battlefield ammunition carrier, and for that task it excelled.
The M274 was called the Mule. It had an aircooled opposed 2-cylinder or 4-cylinder, depending on version. They were used to haul ammo, food/supplies, injured troops, etc., in combat, replacing mules, horses, Jeeps, etc.
The steering column & throttle/brake controls could be pivoted forward so that operator could drive the Mule backwards while laying low on ground behind it.
Fun Fact: To save weight, the original builds had Magnesium decks – until it was discovered that hot lead can cause deck fires.
And – I’ve driven one.
It’s not often remembered that even right through WW2, horses and donkeys were the primary way of moving anything heavier than a man could move, for many armies.
They can refuel themselves just by being left in a field, they’re good off-road, and worst-case, you can eat them.
Typical French movie then: Sadness, philosophy and loneliness and death. But the GSA lives on. I would buy it today but my wife always says I have to sell one to buy one.
These are some great choices. I encourage anyone with interest in European classics to review the full listings yourself.
There are many excellent choices to browse, including several other notable Citroëns.
Lot 5, a 1977 Mercedes-Benz 508D Camping-Car par Notin is certainly not something you will see often. This is basically a 100% hand-built custom camper, built on a Mercedes-Benz truck chassis. The bid spread is really reasonable for something like this, too at about $10,000-$21,000.
Someone call Ms. Streeter. This is so much nicer than the garbage typically built in North America and the retired busses she finds.
I got very excited when I found this auction and was spamming the Slack with my choices for everyone.
It’s not for me (I’m more of a hotels with cocktail bars kinda guy) but it is amazing. Check out the period Blaupunkt!
Pinged this to Mercedes in the Slack as soon as I saw it.
In looking through the catalog I see that if anyone’s been waiting for the 1933 Röhr Tatzelwurm to hit the market, now’s your chance.
The Tatzelwurm’s face doesn’t look particularly catlike to me, but what do I know? (It does have a cute li’l ‘stache, though.)
That thing has Torch written all over it.
That’s a fine crop of cool cars! I’m all over that Espace, although the grill reminds me ever so slightly of the one on the 2nd gen Insight. I never knew the M274 existed, but it looks like an interesting way to build an overlanding rig from the ground up, or just for tooling around in the back 40. And that GSA, I never even knew it existed, but now that I do, I need it in my life. Just beautiful. It even rivals a classic SAAB in the design department.
That’s the diesel grille. Gas engined ones came with a non-protruding grille that I think looks much better. I still love this turbo diesel one, and it should be said that these are much mure reliable than gasoline ones.
Almost 1 year ago I bought 2 Renault Espace 1. A phase 1 2.0 gasoline and a phase 2 TurboD.
I restored the Turbo D and the mechanic managed to swap the front ends, including the gasoline grille. He had to cut a bit and it sticks out a little more than it should, but it looks infinitely better than those with the diesel grille.
I went to France for Christmas and made 5.000km. It broke down when I got back home.
A true Christmas miracle.
These cars are an absolute joy to make a road trip in.
I know 🙂 My very first car was a 1989 Espace Quadra (MK1 phase 2, not as iconic as a phase 1 but it was a Quadra). Mine was in rough shape when I bought it and while I fixed everything I could over 6 years while also daily driving it, it kept breaking down in spectacular ways (lost count of how many tow truck rides it went on). But road tripping it was the best. Two years in a row I went to this festival and parked the Espace right in the backstage, put a tarp on top of it and used it as my camper. Two years in a row it broke down on the way back from the festival, also.
You forgot to mention the coolest feature of the M274 – the steering column can be flipped forward, and the whole thing operated by hand controls, to turn it into a walk-behind motorized cart.