6 incredible French classics to buy at Bonhams' Paris auction
Who knew? Gallic crooner par excellence, Charles Aznavour, who died in 2018, drove an Austin 1100. Not just any old 1100 but a top-of-the-range Vanden Plas Princess. More “chateau find” than “barn find”, the 1966 wood ’n leather Brit was discovered in the singer’s sister’s castle 15 years ago and has been unused since.
Resplendent in 1960s brown and beige, the Austin is one of a big range of collector cars from the quirky to the sublime coming up for sale at the Bonhams Les Grandes Marques du Monde auction at the Grand Palais in Paris on 7th February. Bonhams has put a guide price of £13-22,000 on it.
This being a French sale, with lots of French connections to many of the cars, we thought it would be fun to pick out six Gallic classics, from £15k to half a million, that make us go ooh la la…
1978 Simca 1000 Rallye 3, £13-22,000
For the same price as Charles Aznavour’s Austin you could pick up this rare baby saloon from Simca. The beefed-up, push-me-pull-you-looks are allied to a sporty drive thanks to a crossflow-headed four-pot 1,294cc motor putting out a healthy 123bhp. Rear-engined and rear-wheel-drive, of course, so plenty of room in the cabin, and plenty of scope to hang the tail out… This one is said to have been professionally restored in Switzerland in 2005 and has since been part of a private collection.
1972 Citroën SM, £35-53,000
As automotive claims to fame go, “ex-Belgrade Motor Show car” is not perhaps the greatest but, heck, it’s an SM and that price does look tempting. It’s a ’72 car (which is when it was in the Belgrade spotlight) and was originally white, now a rather fetching pale metallic green after a respray in 2017. The SM has had more than just a respray, however, as in 2004 the futuristic, highly advanced Maserati V6-engined machine had what Bonhams says was an extensive mechanical overhaul by Dutch SM specialists. It has covered only 10,000km since and the odometer now reads 40,500km. It’s a five-speed manual gearbox with left-hand-drive, but registered in the UK. Bonhams says it is exceptional inside and out, from its shiny chrome to its black leather cabin and hi-tech swiveling headlights.
1962 Citroën 2CV Sahara, £70-97,000
Zut alors, a deux chevaux for twice the price of an SM? What sort of topsy world is this? Well this is no ordinary 2CV but one of the famous twin-engined, four-wheel-drive Sahara versions, of which just 400 were built. Complete with twin fuel tanks and uprated chassis and suspension, the Sahara was originally developed to cope with driving across North African deserts. This example has had adventures of a different kind with its one and only owner: a Swiss vet who used the car to visit farms up in the mountains. Condition? It’s said to be concours.
1963 Citroën DS 19 convertible, £130-180,000
It must have taken guts to wield the tin snips on the goddess, but French coachbuilder Henri Chapron wasn’t fazed. History has proven him right, for the iconic DS is almost as alluring as a convertible as it is a saloon. Even the Citroën works thought so in period and started building them itself to the Chapron design. This white 1963 dècapotable is one of around 1,700 factory cars made between 1960 and 1975. It’s had two owners since 1981 and has had most of its hydraulic parts replaced by a French specialist.
1962 Facel Vega Facel II, £260-350,000
The epitome of ‘60s French chic and a favourite with the rich and famous, Facels were also powerful (thanks to Chrysler V8 grunt) and fast enough to be popular with racing figures of the day, including Sir Stirling Moss and Rob Walker. Succeeding the HK500, the short-lived Facel II was the last of the V8s and acknowledged as the best car the company made. The car in the sale is not thought to have a famous past (though its first owner is unknown), but it was fully restored between 2015-17.
1937 Delage D8 120, £570-660,000
The Delage D8 represented an engineering gold standard in the 1930s with its straight-eight engine and servo brakes. It was the ideal thoroughbred chassis for some of the world’s greatest coachbuilders of the day to show off their creative efforts, the spectacular cars that resulted appealing to kings, emperors and film stars. This car is known as a three-position drophead coupe and is the work of Henri Chapron. As the last pre-war Delage, coming a couple of years after Delahaye took over the firm, it was massively expensive at the time, and as the guide price shows not much has changed since. The car has been in single-family ownership for more than 50 years and a restoration to concours standard was completed in 2017.
Photography courtesy of Bonhams