Gallery: The weirdest cars at Retromobile

12th February 2018
Gary Axon

For decades, the annual Retromobile classic car extravaganza in Paris has managed to successfully mix the weird with the wonderful, displaying a number of unusual and little-known vehicles alongside the more familiar and desirable marques, such as Bugatti, Ferrari, Rolls-Royce and Delage.

Thankfully this year’s Paris exhibition is no exception, with a selection of weirdly wonderful and eccentric (mostly French) vehicles to disturb or delight, depending on individual tastes.

Chief amongst these is the one-off Maratuech, a 300cc three-wheeler, built in 1923 by the French amateur inventor Fernand Maratuech in the style of a contemporary aircraft, right down to its rear tail fin!  Maratuech also invented a steam-powered sowing machine, plus a motorcycle that ran on gas, both of which were predictably as unsuccessful commercially as his three-wheeler.

Another unique French car at Retromobile is the Oiseau Bleu (blue bird), a distinctive Simca-based cabriolet built in the early 1950s by Roger Baillon, who for reasons unknown, chose to not to equip this one-off drophead with any lighting at all, either fore and aft.

An unlikely record breaker can be seen as part the Les Grandes Heures Automobiles’ display of vehicles that have broken speed and endurance records at the banked Montlhery circuit. It is the single-seater Velam Isetta record car, based on the French-built version of the famous ISO (later BMW) Isetta bubble car, which took the Class K sub-250cc record with an average speed of 66 mph over 24 hours in 1957!

An intriguing Retromobile display of early Renault tanks and military vehicles includes the 1936 36 R ‘tracteur de ravitaillment’, a tracked tug, fully armoured, except for the open doors, meaning its occupants could have very easily been fired at by the enemy.

Rounding off the outstanding selection of unusual machines, a trio of pioneering mid-engined JPW sports cars, created by the accomplished French Grand Prix driver Jean-Pierre Wimille, are presented in a special Retromobile feature. Three of the surviving eight post-war Wimille ‘JPW’ sports cars built, the Citroen Traction Avant-powered 1947 01 prototype, plus two subsequent Ford V8-powered JPWs (02 and 03), are presented, alongside examples of the Bugatti, Alfa Romeo and Gordini Grand Prix racers Wimille drove. The late-1940s JPWs predicted the mid-engined, three-seater layout of the early 1990s McLaren F1; the Wimilles even featuring a central steering position.

Photography by Tom Shaxson.

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  • Retromobile 2018