FEB 04th 2015

GRR meets the Baillon Ferrari 250 California at Retromobile ‑ and the man who unearthed it!

matthieu-lamoure-040215Matthieu Lamoure is a busy man. As the Managing Director of auctioneers Artcurial his time has been in great demand ever since September 30th 2014 …

‘I remember the exact date,’ he smiles as he recalls the day he received the kind of phone call car lovers dream of: ‘Relatives of Roger Baillon called me and said “we have some cars… and a Ferrari 250 California” which, at the time I simply didn’t believe.’

Two days later, however, Matthieu and a colleague visited the Baillon property and he still seems haunted by what he saw. ‘A garage door was rolled back and the first thing we saw was the California. There were no words. We both just stood there like it was a dream!’

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The first thing he did was to run his hand over the car, as if to prove it really existed. ‘After I’d touched it I got in and instinctively lifted up the carpet to see if the keys were there. They were! One opened up the glove box and inside it were a pair of very old driving gloves and some old road licences. In the back I found the original Ferrari manual, too.’

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Next to the Ferrari was a Maserati A6G Gran Sport Frua (whose discovery would, on its own, be big news), which represented an incredible and very worthwhile day’s work. Notice how we haven’t discussed any of the other cars yet?

‘So with the Ferrari and Maserati inspected we all went for lunch. It was only after this that our guests then told us about the rest of the collection. We returned to the property and were shown the pictures that are now famous. Delahayes, Delages, Panhard-Levassors, Talbot Lagos, Voisins, an Hispano Suiza… my brain was going crazy!’

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Having inspected the rest of the collection Matthieu made his way back to Paris with a vision of the cars presented at Retromobile clear in his mind. You can see them in situ in our gallery above.

Seeing the cars in the metal here at the event is astonishing. Having queued patiently to get in (doormen are allowing in only so many people at a time to avoid overcrowding), wistful piano ballads quietly emanate from the sound system as if to contribute to the mood. There’s no need, frankly, the presentation of the cars creating an atmosphere the like of which I’ve never experienced at what is in essence an auction preview.

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Judging by the wide-eyed gaze of most of the people here, I’m not the only one who feels they’re experiencing a waking dream. Seeing these cars as originally discovered is one thing; seeing them all modestly displayed here in low light conditions is quite another.   

Star of the show was the Talbot Lago T26 Grand Sport, or at least what’s left of it; having been shunted in the right-rear corner, presumably prior to storage, the majority of the driver’s side bodywork is now nothing more than an orange stain on the floor where it stood, exposed to the elements for over half a century. It’s a haunting sight. 

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‘All of these cars were going to be scrapped when Monsieur Baillon rescued them in the Fifties,’ Matthieu explains. ‘ Not literally all, though. As well as the well-documented older cars, there is a smattering of ‘newer’ machinery, including a Ferrari 400, an S-Type Jaguar and, surprisingly, a Lancia Thema 8.32!’

The likes of the Talbot Lago are surely odds-on to be entrusted to a master car restorer before eventually ending up at Pebble Beach or Villa d’Este adorned with rosettes, although Matthieu and I agree that this may not be the way to go. ‘Yes, part of me does wish that they could all stay as they are now. My degree is in art and there’s something beautiful about how they look.’

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Come Friday, the matter will be out of his hands when a number of the many interested parties will bid to make them their own.

Photography: Tom Shaxson

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