Quietly awestruck at Festival Automobile de Mulhouse

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (15)Anyone from overseas who has experienced the European classic car scene will be familiar with the feeling of discovering the rarest and most interesting vehicles in the world and marveling as they are almost ignored by jaded locals who seemingly take them for granted. Just another classic car show in France? Worth a look, I guess.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (4)Last year I was traveling through France, and on my way to Switzerland I made a detour through the industrial city of Mulhouse to visit the famous Schlumpf collection. I was only intending to stop for a day or two, however it soon became apparent that I had chanced my visit to coincide with ‘Festival Automobile de Mulhouse’, a weekend classic car festival beginning the next day. It seemed to be one of those government tourism commission type events which usually aren’t very good, but I didn’t have any firm plans and I needed to catch up on some writing, so I decided to hang about and take it in.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (47)Festivities kicked off on Friday evening with a small display of cars in Place de la Réunion, the historic town square. It was an odd mix of largely B-list modern supercars that was punctuated by a Bugatti Grand Sport Vitesse Roadster. I’m not sure what to make of the Veyron. I don’t really like it, but I also can’t help but appreciate the engineering that goes into a fully street legal factory road car with 1,200hp that does 0-100 in 2.6sec and will crack well over 400km/h. And the build quality is superb to match.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (48)It was rather pleasant sitting back in the town square that evening with a few beers as I developed my opinion of the Veyron and the other vehicles present. Time is the only true luxury, and with nowhere else I needed to be it was liberating to sit back and ponder.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (44)The neo-Gothic Temple Saint-Étienne, built in 1859, served as an imposing backdrop for the contemplation of such earthly transportation devices.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (43)There was a large stage set up, and as darkness fell a popular French rock band arrived and belted out hit after hit. I had no idea what the songs were about or even who the band was, but I reveled in the sheer randomness of dancing to French rock right next to a car display in front of a historic old church.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (42)At about 11pm the car show was disbanded…

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (41)… and the display cars sped through the city with a full Police escort.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (40)Later that night a DJ took to the stage and delivered a set to the now packed square until the wee hours of the morning. By about 1am I was ready for bed, and I left musing that Mulhouse Festival Auto was proving to be unlike any car weekend I’ve seen before.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (39)The next morning I returned back to the square and it had transformed into a more typical classic car scene – chaps in collared shirts drinking coffee, discussing fine cars. The event was structured of about six mini shows dotted around the CBD area and there was a walking map provided to link them together.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (35)Each mini show consisted of anywhere from ten to thirty or so classic cars, following no real set theme.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (37)Driving down a pedestrian mall is usually frowned upon, but I think you can get away with it if you’re driving an Aston Martin DBR-1.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (18)The crown of these mini shows was a concours in a beautifully manicured park about five minutes walk from the main shopping district. There was no pomp or ceremoney, no entry tickets or advertising. Just cars of Ferrari 250 LM/ Porsche 908 quality sitting in the morning sun.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (31)There was some genuinely interesting stuff there including not one, but two Monteverdi’s. I’ve read about the little-known Swiss brand a few times, but had never actually seen one in the flesh. The product of car dealer-turned-manufacturer Peter Monteverdi, the bespoke cars were usually developments of something else but were always very fast, high quality and expensive.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (30)The 1967 High-Speed (is that the coolest name for a car, ever?) was the first Monteverdi built, and to my eyes is one of the most finely styled coupes to have been penned. The attractive Frua designed bodywork was built by Fissore of Italy, however underneath is a rather basic steel frame chassis and a 7.2 litre Chrysler Magnum V8. Just 11 were produced.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (28)Next to it was a Monteverdi Tiara, one of just three W126 Mercedes S-Class cars converted with bespoke front and rear ends. Those taillights might seem familiar, as they are from a Peugeot 505.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (27)Of the three Tiara’s built this is the only example not in a museum, and the owner told me he regularly uses it all over Europe, even having driven over from Switzerland for the show. It was in factory fresh original condition and looked very well cared for.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (34)There was a Delahaye…

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (32)… with the funkiest art deco dash you’ve ever seen.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (23)There was an old Alfa Romeo…

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (26)…complete with an equally stylish owner who was just too cool to give a damn about the cars around him.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (25)But hey, I guess you’d feel pretty cool too if you had a picture of Mussolini riding in your Alfa Romeo.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (21)Speaking of art deco and Alfa Romeo, sitting quietly in a corner of the park was the 1931 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport Aprile Roadster.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (19)The chassis was first built in 1931 as a supercharged Gran Sport grand prix car, but after heavy damage was sustained it was purchased in 1938 by coachbuilder Giuseppe Aprile who wanted to showcase the skills of his Carrosserie. He commissioned Count Revelli de Beaumont to design the body, and the result is nothing short of stunning.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (20)Today the Aprile Roadster is part of a collection of Alfa Romeo’s owned by a noted Milanese architect, and the car made its Pebble Beach debut in 2012. But here it was, in Mulhouse, with none of the crowds or pretension.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (33)Everyone was taking plenty of photos of it, even this guy. A vintage digital camera for a vintage car show!

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (13)Mulhouse isn’t far from Bugatti’s home of Molsheim, and with the Schlumpf collection just down the road there was an enviable collection of French racing blue. From Bugatti and Lago…

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (17)… to something a little more modern in the form of the famous Alpine Renault A110.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (12)The 908/01 might not have been one of Porsche’s most successful Le Mans designs, but it is surely one of the best looking and it made a fitting welcome to the display of cars that have tackled the famous 24 hour race.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (10)This supercharged MG was one of the oldest.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (7)Next to it was this flowing 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS Corsa, showing how far racing car design was rapidly progressing in such a short space of time.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (6)Alongside was a simpler take on the same theme, also from 1939 – a rare example of the famous BMW 328.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (3)The modern era of Le Mans was represented by a pair of Peugeot 905’s and a Porsche 962, providing a completely unexpected surprise in the park that day.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (2)Sitting back now writing this post, it seems vaguely ridiculous that Mulhouse Festival Auto was just another classic car show in France. If any one of these cars were to make it down under it would be the star attraction, but in Europe that’s just where the scene is at.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (8)But that’s a good thing. Because if you’re the one starry-eyed enthusiast at these types of shows quietly giggling inside at the cars you’re witnessing, you have almost unimpeded access to them without thousands of other people doing the same.

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (14)Because if you can’t be behind the wheel, cars like the 250LM are best enjoyed on a warm summers morning, lazing under a shade tree on the soft green grass. That’s the way a classic car show should be, right?

Mulhouse_Festival_Auto (11)Words and photos by Andrew Coles

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