This year, Rétromobile, the famous classic car exhibition which takes place in Paris every year gave us a big surprise, brought by Artcurial : the biggest barn find of the decade, maybe of the century. 59 cars, owned by the french entrepreneur Roger Baillon. He collected most of the cars during his life to save them from the scrapyard, which might explain the condition of the cars : mostly wrecks, but a lot a famous brands and some real masterpieces… We’ll talk about them in details just after. Baillon wanted to open a museum, but due to financial problems and the bankruptcy of his company, he didn’t succeed and the cars ended up hidden in his personal yard for decades. Luckily for us, the french auction house Artcurial had recovered most of them and organized its sale. Text : Romain D., Mickael B., Images : Romain D.

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The Collection Baillon was displayed as a show in the show, the cars being displayed in a separated hall, with a very special staging as would have liked Baillon : dark atmosphere, cars left in their original state, as there were found, dimming lights in the cockpits, and melancholic music… The cars were shadows of themselves, as ghosts… It was stirring. The pictures can’t really recreate the whole atmosphere, but some very interesting details or colors appeared depending on the light or the angle you would look at them. (R)

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It is strange to believe that these cars, who have spent decades together, outside, exposed to the elements are now scattered and it really reinforced the exceptional aspect of this exhibition… But we have to keep in mind that before being an exhibition it’s a sale. And on this point, I must admit the perfect management by Artcurial to outshine its competitors of the week, RM Auctions and Bonhams, both in terms of atmosphere and for the cars offered. (R) What was truely even more amazing was that Artcurial had not only managed to put together a sale of the Collection Baillon but was proposing two other auctions aside on the same date. The first one consisted of automobilia, motorabilia and other collector’s items lots, while the one succeeding the Baillon collection put up a variety of cars that step alone would have still be interesting, but we’ll talk about these cars in a separate report. (M)

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The communication around this sale had been perfectly mastered, with topics into the main news broadcast and international newspapers. The whole world had been witnessing this incredible automotive discovery weeks before the sale date. Likewise as some of their low estimations, which might have been relatively low in order to attract a widened audience to the auction. (R) And when I arrived almost an hour before the beginning of the collection’s sale and saw the auction room already packed with people who were only obviously waiting for Baillon’s car, I could already feel that it was going to be a very important sale. There were people from all over the world, from all ages, coming to buy or simply witness this part of automotive history. But what surprised me the most was probably the number of small french car collectors, who were expecting to do some very good deals that day. Looking at the estimations and the general state of the cars, I could perfectly understand their expectations, but I feared that the new barn-find fever I witnessed so many times these past few years would hit Paris. (M)

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The set was very eclectic, with prestigious brands : Ferrari, Bugatti, Maserati, Talbot-Lago, Delahaye, Facel-Vega, Delage, Lagonda and many others. This diversity was also reflected with the models, ranging from the ancient Delahaye flatbed-lorry to the sublime Ferrari 250 GT California, through an exotic Lancia Thema 8.32 or a prestigious Facel-Vega Excellence with suicide doors and cobwebs included. There were cars from all eras, all styles and it would have been hard for any petrolhead not to find his happiness in at least one of the cars. (R)

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I wasn’t able to gather the auction because of professional constraints, so I had to watch the live streaming during a business meeting, which highlighted a packed audience, and Artcurial announced indeed 3500 people present that day ! I was captivated by this sale and the crazy prices : no lots were sold under the highest price of their valuation and some were multiplied by over 20… All were sold of course because there were no reserve price on all cars. What was truely impressive was that the buyers weren’t only purchasing a car, or rather what remained of these automobiles. The bidders were also buying a part of history. And history is priceless. (R)

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That was the main point I could feel during the sale indeed. And people who had been expecting to do some good deals were all being disappointed one lot after the other. I recall talking to a few of these small car collectors, and the only relevant facts I could remind were their pronounced reactions. A Lagonda owner, who couldn’t afford the Lagonda of the sale, but who thought that the achieved price would increase his car’s value. I had to retain myself from telling him that his car value would probably never come close to the Baillon’s Lagonda value, because his would probably never have such an amazing history. An old french couple, wishing to buy the Baillon’s Citroen Trefle for a few hundred euros which seemed fairly reasonable considering the estimations of 800 to 1200 euros, while it achieved a final bid of 24’000 euros, which would be the price of a fully restored model. They seemed pretty shocked… (M)

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I will not describe the cars in this report, as Artcurial’s website does it better than I can, but it is necessary for me to talk about the last lot, which was the highlight of the sale : the 1961 Ferrari 250GT SWB California, exhibited at the Paris motorshow in 1961, a matching numbers car, and that belonged originally to the great actor Gérard Blain. It was then sold to another actor but his immense modesty led him to not want to be associated to the sale… So I won’t name him. It was then sold to Paul Bouvot, design director of Peugeot, who notably designed the popular Peugeot 204. The California was later sold to a Canadian living in Paris and then to a doctor, before joining the Baillon family, during which it wasn’t driven a lot. (R)

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The 250 GT California Short Wheel Base was sold for €16.3 Million, which has to be compared with the 7 Million euros of the black SWB California sold by Sotheby’s during the « Ferrari leggenda e passione » sale back in 2008. We can also relate it with the silver LWB California (ex Roger Vadim), auctioned by Artcurial during the Retromobile sale in 2012 for €4,5 million. It’s a new world record, and we can’t imagine how far prices will climb in the near future for these cars. (R)

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Although the 250 California and the Maserati A6 GCS offered by Artcurial during this sale were the two main awaited lots, I have to admit that my favorite car of the sale was the Talbot Lago T26 Grand Sport Coupe by Saoutchik, and probably the one which caused the most debate of all the sale. Commissioned from Talbot by Saoutchik to be its show car, one of the rare short wheel base T26 chassis, it was exhibited in 1950 in Geneva and one year later in London. Why, might you ask, would it be the source of debates ? Well, it wasn’t because of inconsistencies in its history, but related to its future and what should happen to this beautiful automobile. Of course, these debates appeared for most of the cars of the collection but really reached its peak when talking about the T26 Grand Sport Coupe. (R)

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What should happen to these cars ? That was the question of everyone’s lips, which will probably remain without an answer for a few years. Should the cars be restored, preserved, or kept in their actual state ? Although I don’t have the answer to this question, I do have an opinion, that I would like to share with you today. A great friend of mine, and car collector once told me “Cars only have a history once”, and however this can be true, and its implications to preserve their history might suggest that they should be kept in a state as close as original as possible, I think that another priority should incur first. A car has a purpose. A purpose it must fulfill. Taking their driver from point A to point B, with emotions and passion. Looking at the cars of the Baillon collection it appeared clearly that most of them had lost this purpose since long. So upon my opinion, the cars should be kept as original as possible as long as they can fulfill their ultimate purpose. Otherwise, the minimum parts should be restored. I never really appreciated the “as-new” restorations and I truely hope that as few cars as possible of the Baillon collection receive that sort of treatment. (M)

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Now let’s talk about numbers : all the lots were sold (and all above their estimated prices !), the sale gathered a total €25.15 Million and 5 cars exceeded the €500.000 mark. Next, only future will tell us what these cars will become, with the probability of seeing some in the upcoming Concours d’Elegance, which will very certainly reward these abandoned yard years in the most beautiful way. I’m also very hasty to discover what the new owners will do with the cars as Mickael said before. It was now time to say goodbye to these sleeping beauties, hoping that we could see some of them in car events soon, like the Blue California under the blue sky of California. (R)