Report From Techno Classica

Here are my observations from my first trip in 2007 to the 19th Annual Techno Classica in Essen, Germany. A decade later its obvious that our love and appreciation for cars that matter is far more reliable than our politics and economy.

Classic Cars
Elaborately furnished exhibits at Techno Classica in Essen, Germany
Elaborately furnished exhibits at Techno Classica in Essen, Germany

Essen, Germany? Well, think of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, but east of Paris, France, about five hours and 300 miles. Then consider Retromobile, except Techno Classica is four times larger, staged in a million square feet in 20 expo halls plus outdoor display areas accommodating 2,500 cars, 1,000 manufacturers, brokers, vendors, and clubs for five days. This, the 19th Annual Techno Classica Essen describes itself as “The World’s Fair” of important and collectible automobiles and motorcycles — attended by 154,000 enthusiasts!

BMW Isetta exposed to illustrate the club's bodywork seminars
BMW Isetta exposed to illustrate the club’s bodywork seminars

The biggest exhibitors are manufacturers like Alfa, Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes, and Porsche — represented by truckloads of their museum’s collections in grandiose exhibits, some in a hall all to themselves, some with concept and new model introductions.

Their counterparts are dioramas and displays of cars stages by 50 clubs, followed by even more elaborate dioramas presented by model makers. Competing for top honors are the concourse-worthy displays of the major broker/dealers, auction houses and event sponsors like the Tazio Nuvolari Museum. Then add the likes of Bosch and Bilstein with historical exhibits and technical support; restoration shops, a school, and guilds with live technique demos; tire, wheel, and watch manufacturers; tools, equipment, and used and restored parts, niche apparel and accessory vendors; vintage rally and tour operators; even the DB car train; and the small business man with collectibles — all there to be noticed, to network, and do a little or a lot of retail to cover their costs or kick start their year.

It’s a different market over here on many levels:

  • Currencies and transaction styles
  • Sensibilities and culture
  • Quantity and mix of events and venues
  • Automotive heritage and icons
  • Couture and design rather than “custom”
A vendor's display
A vendor’s display
A dealer's display
A dealer’s display

What’s hot? The Euro, the British pound, [no longer true in 2017 – ed.] and fine cars. What’s cold here? American muscle cars. Ask yourself, is a Hemi Cuda really worth that much more than a Porsche 911 RSR? Yes, they used to be in Arizona, sometimes in another State — but anywhere else? However they still love American chrome and are starting to really appreciate Corvettes over here. The competence of the C-6 and victories at Le Mans finally did the trick, though the C-1 is still a nice joke..

Alfa Romero's various T33 race cars
Alfa Romero’s various T33 race cars

They won’t pay an American’s premium for the big block or matching numbers though. The European Classic Corvette Collectors club displayed two coupes, a ’67 built with the big tank and a ’64 built for Switzerland with some very rare parts and features — body and chassis separated for restoration. Some of the other local clubs with displays of significant American cars include Buick, Cadillac, Cobra, Mustang, Thunderbird, and Studebaker marques. And there was the German Street Car & Bike Magazine — with circulation over 20,000 — with a display of a dozen cars replicating a drive-in circa 1963.

Porsche display
Porsche display

Germany is setting export records and Germans are starting to feel confident. The population of licensed Oldtimers and Youngtimers just exceeded a million this year. They’re tossing big money on interesting cars like using a book to reserve a prime chaise at a resort. Sales are still discrete and mostly in private. You wont’ see an obvious BJ froth, but the glass is getting fuller. In Paris a restored 190SL broke the $100K barrier — easily doubling expectations. Techno Classica Essen will show it’s no fluke but an emerging habit.

Harley Earl's 1958 Oldsmobile unrestrained
Harley Earl’s 1958 Oldsmobile unrestrained

The prime dealers and brokers were all smiles but caught short — too many customers for certain cars. Missed-buy opportunities are becoming frequent. This competitiveness and economic sunshine will raise all classics in favor here because the Euro is now king. [Not now, the dollar is king in 2017, but the appetite for European classics is still insatiable – ed.]

Alfa Romeo was one of a half dozen manufacturers who brought valuable cars from their museums
Alfa Romeo was one of a half dozen manufacturers who brought valuable cars from their museums

And what classics are in favor? The best bets still are on museum pieces and race cars, but I predict the coming surge will be with significant cars that are enjoyable conveyances for motoring in the myriad of rallies and tours they do so well over here. And this time around our object of desire is morphing into a solid hedge on the currencies.

This report was edited then published as “Essen: Retromobile x 4” in Sports Car Market magazine (July 2007).

All photos by Peter Pleitner.

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