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I was innocently browsing the web and looking at all sorts of carnography when the phone rang and, on answering it, a familiar Scots voice said "Hello young Grimmond, do you fancy a ride to Retromobile?"

"Of course I do, I wanted to go last year but it seemed to get too complicated and fell off the edge"

Tom went on to explain he'd taken a fancy to the Sandford three-wheeler which was to be auctioned by Artcurial during the show and who was I to dissuade him? The plan was for him to take his camper and a trailer just in case. Colin Ferguson was supplying the trailer and Dave Parrwas to be another member of the party.

If you haven't seen the hype surrounding the re-discovery of a collection of shapely ferrous oxide in an open-sided shed in France then I don't know how you've come to be reading this. Suffice it to say that it was probably the last major barn-find we'll live to see.

Until the next one that is.

Dates sorted, tickets bought, hotels found and booked, all that I needed to do was to be ready for collection on the 5th of February with washbag, plastic and passport in my sticky hands.

Tom and Colin arrived at 10.15 to find the kettle just boiled for coffee and an eager participant ready to join the expedition.

The Tunnoch's tea-cakes went down well and we were ready for the off. I locked up the workshop and collected my luggage while Tom turned the camper (with trailer attached) and we were away by 10.45.

The trailer. Hmmm. A solid four-wheeled number perfectly suited for the job but bringing a problem in that it slowed us down a bit, something to do with legal towing speed limits. Dashed inconvenient but unavoidable.

We headed for the A1 and Coventry, the pick-up point for the fourth Musketeer. With precise timing we arrived almost simultaneously, Nicky doing chauffeuse duty for Dave. A quick hello, goodbye, grab a sandwich and off to Dover where we rolled into the port an hour ahead of schedule and almost straight onto the ferry.

We agreed that this was all going very well and the omens and auguries seem to be set fair as the camper landed at the hotel in Arras where Dave and I were staying while Tom and Colin slept in a discreet slip-road in the hotel car park.

Tom had arranged to leave the trailer with Vincent Mouton near Soissons as the idea of lugging it around Paris was not too attractive. Vincent is in the process of building a Pembleton and we had met him on our trip to Reims. He has very interesting out-buildings with even more interesting contents. A nifty bit of trailer reversing through the narrow gateway into the yard and we waved Sandine, Vincent's wife, goodbye and headed for Paris.

The satnav took us past the Porte de Versailles exhibition site and straight to the hotel where Dave and I were to stay, Tom and Colin were again in the camper.

The hotel car park had a height restriction which was just too low so I asked at reception if there was a nearby parking place as I checked in. I came out with everything sorted to find that there was no camper in site. As it was absolutely freezing and my coat was in the camper I was a little upset and decidedly stuck.

After some to-ing and fro-ing we were all sorted and heading towards Retromobile. Tom was keen to have a look at the auction lots and we headed straight to the view to discover that he needed his "paddle" to get us past the hoi-polloi who were queueing to get in. This was done and we were in.

A very carefully staged presentation was behind the blackout curtain at the entrance. The lighting was so low that it was difficult to see but Tom had had the presence of mind to bring a torch. Rust? Lots of it, some still stuck together and more hanging in carefully preserved cobwebs.

Cloudy glass, ripped leather, peeling varnish, crackled paint, collapsed axles, spokeless wheels, cracked tyres, wheel-less spokes, slumped headlining, crumpled panels; all the delights a restorer looks for!

Undaunted, we gathered round the Sandford and agreed that it had potential and that the bodywork was a lot better than might be expected, the sort of thing that could almost be "oily ragged".

The chassis and engine were a different proposition, full strip and re-fettle but all in all, a do-able project.

A wander round showed what was available and a look at the catalogue will tell you what we saw. I attach a link at the end which has single pictures to give an idea.

We returned to the main hall to drool over shiny stuff from perfect restorations, period original parts, new repro parts, to "as found" oily rag rebuilds and memorabilia, right down to the "Super Glue and Silicon Wiper blade" demonstrators.

It had been a long day so a beer was called for. We found a handy bar where we were the first customers of the evening. The bar was run by one man who was cleaning as we arrived, and he poured beer, brought menus, cutlery, cooked good basic food and seemed to do the whole shebang on his own. We were suitably impressed by his industry while beer and food were consumed, and when we left the place was almost full.

There was a need for a better parking place and fortunately we passed it on the way back to the underground parking. A couple of camper vans were already there so Tom and Colin would be in good company, one Euro per hour, 4 hours maximum,all day at a push, couldn't be bettered.

It was still early so we scoured the streets for another bar and beer. The only one we could find was perfect, being open and fairly busy. They also had a gourmet menu.

We went our separate ways, Tom and Colin to the camper, Dave and I to our well appointed "apartment hotel" . I say well appointed as it had a small but functional kitchen included where we could have cooked a meal if necessary. The only drawback was the narrowness of the beds. Until now, I've never found a bed that I couldn't turn over in but here they were. Definitely not for the fuller figure!

The following morning we met at the camper and walked down to the exhibition again.

There is always more to see than you can take in comfortably but we wandered and drooled, drooled and wandered. Tom seems to have contacts all over the world and in every field and we bumped into one from Scotland and he went looking for others he'd made during his researches. Vincent was expected and towards lunchtime we swapped calls to find he was only 75 yards away. He and Bertrand were there for the day so we all grabbed baguettes, ate and then they went off to see if they could get a ticket for the auction.

We headed for the saleroom at around 1.00 to get a good seat and were uncomfortably squeezed into closely placed narrow chairs. The hall was starting to fill, about 100 folk had taken seats and were preparing for the start of the sale at 2.00.

At about 1.20 stewards appeared and asked us to vacate the hall and come back later. This did not go down well and was immediately resisted. The stewards became more insistent, the sitters more intractable and a right royal stand-off loomed. It was not helped by a request over the PA and the French bidder sitting next to Tom became a little vociferous, as did the German bidder next to me. The head steward then made a fatal mistake by announcing that the sale would not proceed if we did not clear the hall for a "security check". The laughter and general noise of dissent, while not overwhelming, was loud enough to let him know that school was a good many years behind the majority of the audience. Unfortunately the steward continued making a fool of himself until he was pulled out by a superior.

This side-show fairly made the minutes fly by and soon it was time to begin the main event.

The Auctioneer mounted the podium and proceeded to give us a short homily on the wonders of our varied patrimony and the heritage of inventions and technology ending with an enjoinder claiming he was the alchemist who would help us turn base metal

into gold…

Then the first lot came up on the screen and before our eyes, he had waved his baton-magique and verily, rust was turned into gold before our very eyes.

People were buying ridiculously expensive rust and he was picking up 15% buyers premium in gold. A truly successful alchemist. He probably does a line in Snake Oil too.

The sale proceeded to lot 27 and the four of us held our collective breaths, 12, 14, 16, Tom raised his paddle and before we knew it the figure had climbed to 28, 30 etc. eventually arriving in very short order at 50,000 euros (plus premium).

Crestfallen, Tom put his paddle away but the smile returned to his face as Dave presented him with a fine quality scale model of …

A Sandfiord three-wheeler.

A few lots later I made my escape to return to the main hall and take time tobuy a Solex front tyre, a rear-view mirror and some vintage tail-lights for the Benjaustin.I also had to look around for a present to bring home for Pam. I eventually found the "Cioccolata di Domodossola" stall I'd seen yesterday . They make surprisingly realistic chocolate tools, nuts and bolts etc. in either rusty or shiny metallic finish. Fortunately there was a Ladies' option as well. Dave collected his cherished Panhard components and we met for a beer in the exhibition hall.

What more can I say? We'd seen what we came for, met friends bought what we fancied, all that remained was to find dinner.

We re-traced our steps of the previous evening to the restaurant with the gourmet menu, found a table for six and with Vincent and Bertrand we enjoyed a very pleasant evening of good food, good wine, good company and good cheer.

The ride home involved picking up the trailer, slogging back to Calais and the Wine shop, rolling onto and off the ferry and driving north. We dropped Dave off, arrived at Markington and Tom and Colin set off towards the border.

On reaching the A1 the road was closed with no diversion offered and after much meandering via Northallerton and Richmond the freezing fog stopped them near Carlisle where they were obliged to spend the night in the camper. I received a call near midday on the Sunday from Tom telling me that they had only just landed in Edinburgh. An epic journey indeed.

A bonus for me was the news that Colin had found a Benjamin offered for sale in Car & Classic…..but that's a tale for another day.


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