If you were looking for parts-particularly used parts from obscure European makes that also happened to be French-this was the place to be. How often do you have a chance to buy a radiator for a Chenard-Walker, an axle for an Amilcar, or a Lalique hood ornament for your Rosengart? There were piles of axles and wire wheels and brass lanterns and radiators and even an unrestored Bugatti chassis, complete with corroded straight-eight engine and characteristic horseshoe-shaped radiator.
The two most affordable things at the show were model cars and car books. Although "affordable" is somewhat of a misnomer with the value of the dollar weak against the euro, and if you bought one or two model cars and a couple of books it would be hard to have any change back from a $100 bill. (There's always credit cards.)
Traveling to Paris is probably as easy as it has ever been with direct flights available from most major U.S. cities. Taxis are expensive, but the Paris Metro public transportation isn't and is easy to figure out. It goes just about anywhere you want to go and has a stop at Paris-Portes de Versailles. Hotel rooms in Paris range from expensive to breathtaking, but, traveling with another car-guy friend who split the bill, we were able to stay at a small hotel just a short walk away from the show for about $120 a night for a double-occupancy room. It wasn't fancy, but most of our time was spent at the show.
Despite what you might have heard, the people in Paris are friendly and helpful, even if you aren't fluent in their language. Attitudes have changed over the years as a younger and more globally savvy generation has replaced the previous, which had a reputation for being surly and obstructionist if you didn't speak French. Inability to speak the language shouldn't keep you from traveling to France to attend this show.
Retromobile costs €13 for an adult day pass for admission (there are no multi-day passes available); €7.5 for children between six and 12 years old; and children under six get in free. If you can get a group together (more than 10 people) the adult rate drops to €10 per day. I spent three days there and felt like I saw all that I could possibly absorb in that time. Details are available at retromobile.com.
So I've now got a new experience to place on my "must-do" list for true car enthusiasts. Should you go? Even with the weak dollar and the high cost of pomme-frittes, I think you should. Just walking the streets of Paris is like being in a rolling automotive exhibit of cars that don't come to our shores. More importantly, there's nothing like Retromobile here in the U.S. No matter where you live in the States, for the true aficionado of European cars, spending the last week of January in Paris is an excellent place to be.