Paris Motor Show 2006

Both Audi and Alfa Romeo were showing cars that were at last available for the public to actually buy, but despite the German mid-engined coupé’s towering technology there could only be one winner at Paris this year – the 8C Alfa Romeo Competizione, the car intended to take the Italian marque back into North America.

With its 450 HP Ferrari/Maserati-sourced V8 giving it a maximum speed of around the 190 mph (300 km/h+) mark, and production limited to just 500 cars, it’s a return to Alfa’s glory years of parity with hand-built sports cars from Mercedes, Bentley and Bugatti. The price has still to be confirmed, but it’s clearly going to be in the territory between Maserati and Ferrari. The car carries most of the styling cues over from the concept first shown at Frankfurt thee years ago, with touches of the TZ1, TZ2 and T33 sports racers of the 1960s.

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In contrast, Audi’s big beast was right up to date with a plethora of high-tech tricks carried over from its dominant Le Mans cars (including the name) carried under ‘family’ bodywork with the gorgeous, high-quality interior we’ve now come to expect from the Ingolstadt manufacturer. Unlike the Alfa, this one’s for sale to anyone prepared to join what’s likely to be a fairly long queue and pay the likely £80,000 price in the UK. Will there be 911 and Aston Martin V8 Vantage drivers in there? It’ll be interesting to see.

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Moving southwards to Modena and Maranello, Ferrari was treating Parisians to the French debut of its fantastic 599 GTB with customary style, while close relations Maserati had “Contemporary Classic” versions of the GranSport that may well be the last incarnations of this model GT Coupé and Spyder before next year’s likely introduction of a completely new car. Arch-rivals Lamborghini had nothing truly new, but used the occasion to marry the legendary French sense of style and history of fashion with its own personalisation programmes and camp chic. The result is the “Lamborghini Murciélago LP 640 VERSACE”, a creation in either Isis White or Aldebaran Black limited to just 10 vehicles and featuring a range of accessories to accompany the cars such as “Couture Limited Edition luggage set” with his-and-hers suitcases in matt-black calfskin with a Greek fret motif and a white satin interior.

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On the World Debut front (apart from the 8C and the R8), BMW had the new MINI, that very cleverly looked like the outgoing model yet had a lot of changes under the skin, and it was also showing the latest 3-Series Coupé. Volvo had a nice alternative to the Audi A3 and BMW 1-series in its brand new C30, a Scandinavian design of subtlety and quality with influences of the stylish P1800ES from the 1970s such as the downwards-extending rear window ‘hatch’.

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The Mercedes-Benz stand had examples of its latest AMG tuning wizardry such as the range-topping CL63 AMG and S63 AMG, both powered by the same new 6.3 litre, 525 HP V8, as well as officially launching the “SLR McLaren 722 Edition”, a tuned and tweaked version of the Anglo-German supercar, titled after the race number of Stirling Moss’s Mille Miglia-winning 300 SLR from 1955.

And finally, on the Aston Martin stand was a V8 Vantage distinctly lacking in the gearlever department. The reason? The British company has installed a paddle-actuated ‘shift for the 6-speed transaxle that trims gearchange times and also offers an ‘automatic’ self-shifter for around town. It will be available in 2007 and we can’t wait to try it.

Text: Steve Wakefield
Photos: Nanette Schärf

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