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We first introduced you to Josephine Baker back in 2003, but since our minds are in Paris this week as Retromobile attracts huge numbers of enthusiasts to wander the halls of Parc des expositions de la Porte de Versailles and indulge their passion, let's re-make her acquaintance.
Paris is just as famous for its night life and in 1925 Josephine Baker had her first job to appear in La Revue Negre. Her next significant job was at the Folies Bergere where she was a member of their all-black revue and it was there she first performed her famous Banana Dance which helped her quickly become the topless, banana-skirted toast of Paris, doing what she could to increase her notoriety hovering somewhere between scandal and sensation. (See a vignette of her in the wonderful animated film ‘Belleville Rendezvous ‘ HERE.) In 1961, Josephine was awarded the Legion of Honour, France's highest award.
The picture shows her at the summer concours, her clinging white dress contrasting perfectly with her dark skin and the black and white Delage D-6 convertible. Pablo Picasso said of her: "Tall, coffee skin, ebony eyes, legs of paradise, a smile to end all smiles.".
Georges Simenon the Belgian author and inventor of Inspector "Maigret" had a short relationship with Josephine in 1925. He couldn't stand it, however, that she was more in the spotlight then him, and called himself "Mr. Josephine".
When Retromobile closes its doors for the night and our friends all start to explore Paris by night, if you think you see a vision of beauty trotting down The Avenue des Champs-Élysées in a cart being pulled by an Ostrich then you can say you have seen Josephine Baker.
(Text and pictures Robin Batchelor)
Our good friends from the Model T Ford World Tour are also present at Retromobile. And such a special story doesn't go unnoticed by the French media.
One can drown in the sheer perfection of the automobiles offered by Lukas H'uni...
Few words needed for the display of the Baillon collection at Retromobile Paris. In fact the visual impact is way beyond the trivial financial outcome of the auction. In our view the exposition should stick together like the travelling exposition of the terracotta army from China.
This week Paris will be the place to be for those who hold a passion for old and exceptional cars. A particularly rare example is being offered for sale on Friday 5th in Bonham’s auction of ‘Les Grandes Marques du Monde au Grand Palais’. Lot 373 is a 1930 Isotta Fraschini 8A SS Cabriolet in absolutely perfect condition after a comprehensive restoration by its current owner and during the careful research (to ensure all details were correct) it was discovered, almost certainly, to be the very car that graced the Isotta stand at the 1930 Milan Salone dell'Auto.
Isotta Fraschini’s chief engineer Giustino Cattaneo focused on a one model policy in the 1920's, and launched the world’s first production straight-eight motor car, the Tipo 8, in 1920. The revised Tipo 8A was introduced in 1924 at the London Motor Show and featured a 7.3 litre engine producing about 115bhp, and the SS (Super Spinto) 135bhp at 2,600 rpm.
An open 4 seater example came 6th in the first Mille Miglia driven by Count Aymo Maggi with co-driver Bindo Maserati, chief test driver at Isotta Fraschini. It wasn’t so much a desire to win as to enter socially, the head of Isotta having created the Mille Miglia.
The engine gained a good reputation for smooth and reliable running and the enormous torque prompted the company to state in the owner’s handbook that first gear was only for uphill starting and the car could normally be started in second with a change to third as soon as 30mph was reached. The crankshaft was machined from a single billet of steel , turning in 10 bearings within the aluminium crankcase – the block and head being of cast iron.
The body is from Castagna who were renowned for their stylised quality interiors and this exceptionally fine example has being carefully refurbished. Retaining the existing silver hardware and inlays, referencing other Isottas, its leather has been carefully renewed in the correct patterns, with the tasteful embellishment of ostrich hide panels to the doors, and arm rest panels. Luxurious and decorative Carpathian elm veneers are incorporated into its wood finishes.
To fully appreciate this magnificent car, you have to see it in the flesh, to explore every glorious, majestic expensive inch of it, and begin to appreciate why they were chosen by owners such as Rudolph Valentino, Jack Dempsey and this car believed to have belonged to the son of William Randolph Hearst. Isotta Fraschini themselves published a list of owners of their cars: a Queen (Rumania) , a King ( Faisal), an Empress ( Abyssinia), seventeen princes, four princesses, four Maharajahs, the Aga Khan, Benito Mussolini, assorted dukes and duchesses, barons, counts and viscounts, and heading the list, His Holiness The Pope.
To see one of these hallowed Isotta Fraschinis freshly restored gives some idea of the sheer presence and statement that they must have made when they graced the roads in the Twenties and Thirties, quite literally people must have been awestruck. And yet they balance this with refined blend of engineering and style, a clean uncomplicated engine bay, stylised dashboard, and uncluttered interior epitomising the Art Deco era. As a late example quite a long way down the production, and probable Salon car, this may be considered to be one of the definitive examples of its marque, and as a result it is all the more rare and covetable.
(Text Robin Batchelor, pictures courtesy Bonhams)
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