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Saturday, February 9, 2008 - The Stealth Rétromobile

A letter from Paris from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis – with four special photographs following the text.

The Arc de Triomphe - morning on Friday, after the big morning jam around the Etoile is over and traffic is fluid enough to be exciting -

The Arc de Triomphe - morning on Friday, after the big morning jam around the Etoile is over and traffic is fluid enough to be exciting –

The Stealth Rétromobile

Paris, Saturday, February 9 - Everybody knows France is in trouble. A trader, whose job is to trade, made a lot of money for a bank but as soon as they noticed they crapped in their pants and dumped all his positions and they lost a bomb. Now, after a week of talking to the prosecutors - for doing his job, trading - they have decided that he needs to be in custody.


What if he spills the beans? What if he says the bank hired him to do what he was doing? What if he says he made two billion in paper profits for them in December? Is it his fault the bank closed his positions at a bad time, in January? If you ask me, the wrong people are in jail. They don't want anybody to notice the sub-prime mess they're in.


But the real reason France is in trouble is the taxi drivers. Some guy was asked to run a commission that was supposed to come up with how to get France back on its feet. One of their ideas was to give away taxi licenses. They said there aren't enough taxis in Paris. Nobody can get one when everybody wants one.


Taxi licenses in Paris are trading for about 200,000 Euros. A guy, wants to make a little living the hard way, buys one and then works 12 hours a day driving around Paris - totally nuts! - and when he's 67 years old he wants to retire. How does he do it on a taxi driver's income? Why, he sells his taxi license of course.


So this government report says one of the 300 ways of putting France on its feet is to wipe out the patrimony of taxi drivers. You can guess what they did about it. Yeah, strikes. Have you ever seen a taxi strike in Paris? Taxi drivers know about traffic jams. There were some dillies before the government gave up.


According to foreign papers and other Anglo-Saxons president Sarkozy's popularity in polls is in freefall because he got married to an Italian pop star, and this has caused the local paparazzi to consider him fair game for the tabloids. Sarkozy forgot to mention this when he was running for president all those years. He didn't say he was going to be on all the covers of all the trash mags and newsmagazines every week.


A cheapo airline even used his photo is an ad for cheap flights to places to have weddings. He sued them. Now another magazine claimed he sent a SMS to his ex-wife saying he would ditch the wedding if she would come back to the palace. He's suing them too. While this was going on Italy fell apart again and the word is that Berlusconi is on his way back.


Meanwhile - and we haven't had this for a long time - municipal elections are coming up. Nobody knows much about regions, which in principle should be like states. Instead we have 35,000 municipalities and these are more important than regions. Because they've been around longer I guess.


All the king's men and all the king's women seem to be running for mayor somewhere, even though they are supposed to have pledged not to seek or have multiple offices. The opposition, not in power, can do whatever it wants. So of course there are government ministers high and low going out and beating the communal bushes on behalf of party stalwarts.


Some of these communal bushes are in Paris, which is a department and part of a region, as well as a city. Then with the government in Paris, the city gets treated somewhat like Washington, DC. It's hard to tell what's municipal and what's Republican some times. Except when taxi drivers get ticked off they demonstrate against the government, right in downtown Paris. No wonder the place doesn't work right.


To tell the truth most of the people who do most of the whining are from out of town. Parisians don't need taxis because we have the métro. We have free bicycles. We don't care if the RER D is never on time - who uses it? If the air traffic controllers go on strike - like next week - those folks living in Roissy will get a day free of jet landings and takeoffs over their rooftops.


Yes, but. I was watching the TV-news yesterday when they had a feature about the 2CV turning 60. I was thinking so what, until it occurred to me. Ohmygosh! It must be Rétromobile time. How can it be Rétromobile time and nobody told me? In fact, the TV-news didn't say explicitly it was on account of Rétromobile. I mean, if I had known, they would have known too. Rétromobile is my thing.


I set the alarm for the crack of dawn at 10:00 and when it went off it was far too early. There's only so much I'll do to try and get a jump on the bozos - besides, I figured - there's the rugby match and all the bozos will go there. (Update: France beat Wales. Was it Wales?)


When I finally got to the Porte de Versailles I approved of this year's choice of hall - the extra big Hall 4. Talk about elbow room! For the last ten years it's been push and shove, jostle and bump. Bozos so close together you can't avoid the drool. And light too! Sunshine outside coming in the windows, another first.


The only problem was I didn't see any Car of the Year. There is supposed to be at least one old car that is astonishing. So fine, so clean, so sparkly, so elegant, so tip-top. I could have missed it. That Hall 4 is a biggie. But I cruised from side to side and up and down, half the hall, and mostly it was the usual Bugattis, Panhards, Talbots, Maseratis and the common as dirt Mercedes, Porsches, Jaquars, Rollers, BMWs, Renaults, Citroens and Peugeots. Sixty years for the 2CV? They have them every year. They are like a mainstay.


I said half the hall. The other half was the car art, the toy cars, and the parts. Yes, if you need a part for your sad old Panhard, rare as gold nuggets at Les Halles, then Rétromobile is for you. I guess if you collect French wheels then this is where you come to grovel for those missing pieces.


And, of course, if you feel like giving yourself a 25 year old Lamborghini then Rétromobile is a good place to start. In sort of a way I was glad not to see the Car of the Year. The last time I did, a four-door dark blue Maserati once owned by King Carlos, I couldn't sleep for six months thinking about it. Imagine driving down the rue Daguerre in the king's former hotrod!


Rétromobile was good this year. The Hall 4 suits it. All it needs now is to book some neat cars I haven't seen before. Another thing about Rétromobile is that you'll never see the president near it. Unlike the Salon de l'Agriculture coming soon, when the top nobs have to troop down to the Porte de Versailles to kiss the beautiful cows. And their owners, the surly farmers.


~ Ric

The Photos:

Mercedes, on the block for the auction. Maybe warming up for the cows in two weeks.

Mercedes - Rétromobile 2008, Paris

Citroen coupe, with rumble seat. Sweet rumble seat.

Citroen coupe - Rétromobile 2008, Paris

2CV - 4-wheel-drive racing version. Was also in the NYT on Friday, when they wrote about Rétromobile without mentioning it more than the TV-news. Not the best racing 2CV I've ever seen.

2CV - 4-wheel-drive racing version - Rétromobile 2008, Paris

Panhard, also a coupe I think. What cars looked like in the dirty old black-and-white Depression.

Panhard - Rétromobile 2008, Paris

Renault Alpine - sports car for actual racing, usually on hilly roads -

Renault Alpine - sports car for actual racing, usually on hilly roads - Rétromobile 2008, Paris

Text and Photos Copyright © 2008 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

The New York Times item on the Rétromobile here, and the official website of Salon Rétromobile here. - AP

[Stealth Rétromobile]

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 - Alan M. Pavlik