The Coolest Vintage Cars of the 2019 Geneva Auto Show
Just because these geezers are getting on in years doesn’t make these machines irrelevant today.
Old-school rides are often deployed at auto shows, used by the automakers that produced them as tangible links to their heritage—especially when they want to evoke said heritage in promoting a new vehicle. They're also used as stand candy by various companies to lure unsuspecting journalists and potential customers into their booths, and as templates for dreamers looking to be the next restomod superstar, à la Singer.
The Geneva International Motor Show usually has more to offer in the vintage and classic-car realms than just about any other new-car event on the calendar, and the 2019 rendition was no different. Here we present a sampling of what we drooled over as distractions from all the shiny new machines on the floor of Geneva's Palexpo conventional hall.
70 years of Abarth. In the pantheon of Italian brands, the Abarth name stands tall. It has all the critical elements: an extensive motorsports heritage, design innovation spearheaded by legendary Italian talent, and a long history of taking otherwise unsuspecting, pedestrian Fiats and giving them a swift kick in the performance pants. As a way to celebrate 70 years of the brand, a special exhibit was curated for the 2019 Geneva show, a place where many an Abarth has made a debut over the years. Here are a few feisty Abarths that we thought best represented the fantastic grouping on hand:
1966 Abarth OT 2000 Coupe America
It had us at America, but then we saw the spare tire at the front and that sealed it. The bulky fenders and hood vents lend little Fiat 850 Coupe-based bugger a mean-mugging stance, as well. Its 1.9-liter four was rated at roughly 180 horsepower for a car that reportedly weighs about 1,600 pounds, a power-to-weight ratio that we're sure gives it plenty of pep in its step.
1956 Abarth 600 Record Car Designed by Bertone
If this thing had wings they wouldn't look out of place. Though powered by a tiny, 600cc engine adapted from the Fiat 600, this one-off was clearly inspired by the aeronautical industry, which was a common inspiration for car designers during this era. There were two prototypes constructed, and between them they set 10 high-speed world records at Monza.
1968 Abarth 1000 TCR Radiale GR. 5
First the front spare tire and now this grafted onto the front end of this 1.0-liter four-cylinder-powered runabout with roughly 105 horsepower. Based on a Fiat 1000 Berlina, the Radiale was named for the modified head of the engine that utilized hemispheric combustion chambers. The car underwent several changes to make it race-ready in what at the time was Europe's Group 5 category.
Tractori. Beyond the Abarths, we stumbled across plenty of other vintage four-wheeled wonders. And that includes tractors. Not just any tractors, though: Lamborghini tractors, the raging bulls that helped plow the way to the firm's road-car future. There were two on display. One is a special-edition model commissioned as part of the celebration of Ferruccio Lamborghini's 100th birthday. Only five were built for a cool $260,000-ish asking price. Beside it was a Lamborghinetta model done up in Lamborghini's Trattori orange and blue color scheme. We'd happily rip—or more likely trundle—through some fields in either one of these bad boys.
Hitting the slopes. Geneva is framed by the majestic Swiss Alps, known for their world-class skiing, and we found two cars sporting a vintage ski motif on the floor. The blue 1965 Porsche 911 2.0 Coupe on the Porsche stand was pulled from the automaker's museum to remind showgoers how the 911 has been used for a range of sporty pursuits. Bet folks back then had a lot of fun getting up the mountain. Mercedes tuner extraordinaire Brabus used a Mercedes-Benz 280SL Pagoda convertible equipped with a ski rack and hard top to help promote its Brabus Classic restoration division.
Citroën goes to 100. In case you didn't know, Citroën has been building cars for 100 years now. Started by French industrialist André-Gustave Citroën, the marque showed off three of its most iconic rides at its Geneva auto-show stand. There was a 1919 Type A, a 1934 Traction Avant 7A, and of course, the mighty Deux Chevaux in the form of a 1948 Citroën 2CV. All of them were done up in a white and black color scheme and served as powerful representations of the storied history one of the world's most innovative and resourceful automakers.
So does Bentley. There's another famed automaker turning 100 this year: Bentley. And like Citroën, the British stalwart dipped deep into its history and pulled one of its most iconic cars onto its show stand. The 1929 Birkin Blower is one of the marque's most interesting race cars of the era. As the story goes, "Bentley boy" Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin persuaded Bentley chairman Woolf Barnato to let him enter a team at Le Mans in 1930, which led to the production of the Blower road cars. Birkin worked on a car out of his shop, bolting a Roots-type supercharger onto Bentley's 4½ liter engine. While he didn't win at Le Mans, Birkin reportedly drove this car to a second-place finish at the 1930 French Grand Prix.
From the Haus. This supercool 1956 Mercedes-Benz SC W188 series car was powered by 115 horsepower, 3.0-liter six coupled to a four-speed synchromesh gearbox. It could roll all day at triple-digit speeds, which is where we'd have it pegged. It was on display from Switzerland's Maybach Haus classic-car dealer and was catnip for a Motorworld display hawking various wares.