Last week more than 200 cars set off from Paris on the 29th edition of the Tour Auto, a 2000-km trek across France in some of the world’s rarest classic cars. Behind the wheel of one very special car was Romain Grabowski, Motul’s head of brand. The car in question was a Pichon Parat Dolomites with Panhard engine from 1955, which was not only the oldest car on the Tour Auto, but had competed in the original event in 1956. Romain was accompanied by his best friend, and the car’s owner, Hugo Baldy. This is their story.
Romain, for those not familiar with the Tour Auto, what is it?
Tour Auto is one of the best classic car events worldwide. Motul has been associated with it for 15 years. The event started in 1951 and went on until 1986. It was called Tour de France Automobile. It featured the best cars and the best drivers. In 1992 Peter Auto, who specialises in classic car event organisation in Europe, decided to restart the Tour Auto. It’s still a big event in France. It’s 2000km from Paris to Marseille. And more than 200 cars take part. In spite of COVID-19, they managed to organise the event this year. We have a lot of fans on the road. People love to see such great classic cars from the past.
What is the age limit for the cars?
Peter Auto is extremely careful in the cars they select. They have more applications than slots for the race. So, they can select the very best cars for the event. To win the Tour Auto you need to come with a car that participated in the original event. The cars have to be the exact same model and very few cars are totally original. The car we’re using, the 1955 Pichon Parat Dolomites, participated in the 1956 Tour Auto. Peter Auto has a database of thousands of cars and knows each car’s detailed history. Except for a few very expensive and rare vehicles they don’t accept rebuilt cars. They want cars that are original and have the correct technical specifications.
How do they judge the winner?
You have two ways of participating. The first one is competition. We have one or two road stages per day, plus racetrack events, judged on speed. The other one is what we call regularity. For this you don’t need to go so fast, you have to respect the average speed.
Can you tell us more about the car you’re driving?
This one belongs to my best friend Hugo Baldy. He’s a French journalist dedicated to classic cars, so he knows a lot about this world. There were only 12 of these cars built in the 1950s and only seven or eight are still in existence. Two years ago, Hugo discovered this car and, after a few months of negotiation with its previous owner, managed to persuade him to sell it. As soon as the deal was done, he started his search into the history of the car. He realised that this car was the actual one that participated in the Tour Auto of 1956, as well as the Monte Carlo Rally and many other significant events such as Lyon Charbonnieres. When a classic car like this is fully original and has participated in big races like this, the value is even bigger. We started to restore the car with Hugo’s father, who is a Bugatti specialist, but respecting the car’s patina and original spec. It took two years, but finally the dream came true and we could feature the car at this year’s Tour Auto. The car had been parked in a garage for more than 40 years. And this is the very first time the classic car community is seeing the car again. We are having really good media coverage because it’s got a great story: it’s the oldest car on the Tour Auto with the smallest engine and it is fully original.
How has your experience been?
My father was a big fan of racing. I grew up in the paddock because he was competing in the French championship. I always said maybe one day I would love to race. For many years I attended Tour Auto, Le Mans and many other races as a spectator through my work at Motul. So, it was a dream come true to take part this year. We’re doing it with a family spirit. There’s a very good mood among everyone. The weather is great. We had a big mechanical issue the other day where we had to change the engine, but when you manage to solve that it becomes a good memory for life. The cherry on the cake is that the car is wearing a Motul livery and we are winning all the stages at the “index of performance” ranking!
© Picture credits: Mathieu-Bonnevie, Frederik Herregods, Peter Auto