The 9 weirdest cars at Retromobile 2024

05th February 2024
Ethan Jupp

The thing about Retromobile is as much as it is packed to the walls with wonderful cars, there’s as much weird too. Wander round and cars of all vintages, shapes and purposes will reveal themselves and make you abundantly aware, you didn’t know as much as you thought you knew. So we thought we’d get together a list of the strangest cars at Retromobile.


1. Dakar Mercedes ML

What does ‘first-generation Mercedes ML’ mean to you? To me it means rust, unreliability and the epitome of a car from one of Merc’s darkest eras. But even black sheep have their moments, as was made evident at Retromobile with this Mercedes ML Dakar build. Turns out these old snotters were properly popular for the cross-desert dash a few years back.


2. Voisin Aero Sport

On the list of defunct brands front-of-mind for the modern car enthusiast, Voisin is not up there. But Voisin is very cool. This C28 Aerosport prototype cost a third more to buy than a Bugatti Type 57. Voisin design is of course typical for a company so inexorably linked with aviation. You just don’t see this kind of pioneering acquiescence to airflow. Oh, clues as to why Voisin didn’t last? Try the fact that the C28 production car it birthed cost around a third more than the rival Bugatti Type 57 at the time.


3. MG EX135

MG’s record-breaker used lessons from German streamliners and the masterful design of an aerodynamic genius to create an absolute demon of pre-war speed. In the peace time’s twilight hours in 1938 and 1939, the MG EX135 with new Reid Railton-designed bodywork cracked 187mph on the German Autobahn (just to prove a point) before being re-fielded with a newly supercharged engine to crack 203mph… from a 1.1-litre engine. To be clear, that was give or take one horsepower for every mile per hour it went. Can you imagine a stock Mk5 Golf GTI going 200mph?

It subsequently set records in post-war years for engine sizes ranging from 350CC to 1,500CC and was only retired in 1952 to make way for MG’s experimental but ultimately soft-landing sequel, the EX179. Weird but bloody cool and a poster child for a once triumphant marque.


4. Jules Dakar 84 Six-wheeler

No prizes for guessing why this is weird. It’s like an F117 made babies with a Mercedes 6x6. This is called a Jules six wheeler and it really is an incredible thing designed for the Peking to Paris rally that ended up battling the Dakar in 1984 once that was cancelled. Sadly more wheels didn’t mean more reliability and it retired with broken suspension.

A veritable patchwork quilt of parts, it borrows its gearbox from a Porsche 930. Bits of the engine come from a Fiat, the radiator is from a company called Chausson and the windscreen comes from a Citroen CX.


5. Maserati fire engine

You want a fire engine to be reliable, so a Maserati wouldn’t have been our first choice for conversion. Alas, F1 in Italy has to be glamorous, even down to the emergency vehicles and marshals. So yes, this is a Quattroporte that was turned into a fire-fighting pickup specially for the Italian Grand Prix and is one of five such vehicles produced in period. They all served diligently throughout the 1970s before being saved by an enthusiast from the scrapheap.


6. Chevallier 1,100 Bol d’Or

Initially we included this strange little critter on the list for just looking odd. Look at its face! It’s positively bug-like, with its circular vents radiating outwards. It’s sort of like a multiverse Morgan. Then we studied it, we did some reading and came to learn… it’s front-wheel-drive. For an interwar period car, that’s pretty odd. Built as an endurance racer for racing around Montlhery for the Bol d’Or – taking part from 1931 to 1935 in fact – it’s highly innovative for a home-build of its type, also featuring independent suspension all round. Power comes courtesy of a 1.1-litre four-cylinder with 35PS, or 45PS when supercharged.


7. Bugatti Tank

A bit more well known and with similar history at Montlhery, is the Bugatti Type 32 ‘Tank’. This weird little machine’s design is in deference to aerodynamics and believe it or not, ease of assembly and disassembly. Just five were made, including a prototype, in 1923, for use in the 1923 French Grand Prix. Unfortunately, slippery as it was, the speeds it could generate with that straight eight engine and weighing just 650kg, it tended to er, lift at speed. Handling therefore wasn’t great. What a weird little thing.


8. Isetta Velam

Isetta is a name you’ll probably only recognise from the tiny weird BMW of the 1950s, which became an icon of efficiency. Well, as is often the way with these things, there’s a bigger story going on in the periphery. See, those underpinnings – created by Iso and licenced to BMW, it should be noted – were also sold as a Velam. That company also created a streamlined roadster variant for world speed record competition at Montlhery. This is it and yes, it’s really rather tiny, competing in the sub-250cc class in period.


9. Nervasport des Records

Is it a pick-up? Is it a Grand Prix car? Is it some sort of demonic Whacky Races creation? No no, it’s just a Renault land speed record car, called the Nervasport des Records. Developed from the Nervasport road car and its 108PS straight eight, the land speed record car had bodywork shaped by aircraft design ace Marcel Riffard. The result was a car that could run for 48  hours, 3 minutes and 14 seconds around the Montlhery circuit at an average speed o 167kmh, with top speeds of 190kmh. So that average includes stops. What a thing (even though this is a faithful recreation by Renault, not the original).

Photography by Joe Harding

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