The traditional motor show is having to justify itself like never before. In 2016’s atomised media landscape does a car manufacturer really need to go to the expense and logistical trouble of displaying its many wares in a giant industrial hangar?
Ferrari thinks so, a testament to the unarguable power of seeing beautiful cars in the flesh. But the connection between Ferrari and Paris runs deeper than that, as Dominique Pascal’s Ferrari Au Salon De Paris book demonstrates. Indeed, the world’s very first motor show was held in the Tuileries Garden in the French capital in 1898. The event was co-founded by automobile pioneer and engineer Albert de Dion, and exhibitors were encouraged to show the seriousness of their intention by driving their vehicles from Versailles to Paris.
The French car industry was particularly progressive in the early part of the 20th century, with Citröen, Peugeot and Renault establishing themselves alongside the noble likes of Bugatti, Delahaye, Delage, Hotchkiss and Talbot-Lago. The renascent car industry became an unofficial symbol of hope post-war and, although there were shows in 1946 and 1947, it was at the 1948 Paris exhibition where things visibly got back on track. Renault’s 4CV, the Panhard Dyna and Citröen’s celebrated 2CV all debuted that year, in the evocative environs of the Grand Palais on the Champs-Élysées.
As did a small sports car manufacturer based in Maranello. Ferrari’s stand was barely 25sq m, but the 166 MM still caught visitors’ attention, while famed Ferrari figure Luigi Chinetti was there along with the Company’s first French importer, Jean-Arthur Plisson. The following year, another Touring-bodied 166 MM appeared, this time in the blue and yellow colours of the Argentinian flag as it was rumoured to be a gift for that country’s First Lady, Eva Peron. Pascal’s book goes on to document Ferrari’s rich heritage at the Paris motor show, the many archive images recording both the evolution of the brand and the famous names that dropped by.
It’s fascinating to see images of the one-off 375 MM there in 1954, ordered by film director Roberto Rossellini as a gift for his wife, actress and screen siren Ingrid Bergman, and now one of the most famous Ferraris of all. There is also a wonderful picture of Ferrari Formula One driver Alfonso de Portago looking every inch the sporting playboy he was beside another Ferrari curio, the Pininfarina-designed and US-influenced 410 Superamerica (or Superfast). The crowds at the show stand got bigger and more glamorous as the years went by, reflecting the Company’s growing status. In the years that followed, the 275 GTB (1964), 365 GTB4 ‘Daytona’(1968), 308 GTB (1975), Testarossa (1984), and 456 GT (1992) all debuted in Paris.
Nowadays, Ferrari’s show presence is in a different league and the cars are just part of the story. The media will clamour to talk to Ferrari’s top executives. The car industry is currently poised for a period of change that will pack more into the next five years than we’ve seen in the previous 30. That’s the other thing you notice when you visit a major motor show: there’s a palpable buzz in the air.
(The Mondial de l’Automobile 2016 takes place at the Paris expo Porte de Versailles, Paris, from 1-16 October. For more information, visit mondial-automobile.com)