AROUND 140,000 visitors attended the first Paris auto show in the Jardin des Tuileries in 1898.
The event showcased 232 cars which had been driven successfully from Paris to Versailles and back again by the exhibitors. The aim was to prove that cars were capable of providing basic, reliable transportation.
Beginning in 1901, the Paris show was staged in the Grand Palais just off the Champs-Elysees. By 1902, electric lighting had been introduced, giving the 230,000 visitors the chance to see a sight and sound show featuring the new Gaumont cinematograph.
Non-French automakers were already making their impact on Paris: Mercedes from Germany, Fiats from Italy, British Napiers and American Locomobiles were attracting the crowds.
The growth of new technologies had also become a feature of the event. Just a few years after that first Paris show, four-cylinder engines and shock absorbers had come into use.
By 1904, the Grand Palais was no longer big enough to hold the auto show. Truck displays were moved to the nearby Cours la Reine as car designs gradually become distinct from the horse-drawn carriages that had originally inspired them. Over the next few years, hoods became lower, and longer, curved bodylines became fashionable.
IN 1913, FORD displayed the Model T at Paris, and with it ushered in the era of mass car production. Nothing before the Model T, or indeed since, has left such a mark on the auto industry. People could now come to an auto show with a view to buying a car, whereas before most of them came to dream.
The Paris auto show was not held during World War One, but in 1919 the show took on the name Salon de l'Auto. Andre Citroen made a big impact with his Type A, which was acclaimed as the first European 'people's car,' and therefore as the first French answer to the Model T. It was produced at the rate of 100 units a day.
The style and excitement of the 1920s made the Paris auto show an exciting place to be. Paris became renowned for its grandiose, audacious presentations through to 1939. The only exceptions were the years 1920 and 1925 when the Grand Palais hosted the famous Art Deco exhibitions.
In 1921, Citroen presented the 5 CV. The 1926 show began the reign of the six-cylinder engine, reflecting the influence of the US industry. By the 1930s, the first front-wheel-drive cars were starting to appear - decades ahead of their time.
But not everyone was thriving. The depression led the auto industry to shift toward mass-production models and many luxury names - such as Brasier, Charron, and De Dion-Bouton - disappeared.
Nonetheless, the 1932 show turned out to be a festival of increasingly powerful 8 CV cars including the Citroen Rosalie, Peugeot 301 and Renault Mona 4. Bugatti's 57 strengthened the show's reputation for elegance.
The 1934 show saw the launch of the famous front-wheel-drive Citroen Traction Avant 7A, the first French car to have a fully monocoque design using a steel body without a conventional chassis. The Traction Avant would remain in production for 23 years. Two years later, Paris hosted the launches of the Peugeot 302, the Fiat 500 'Topolino' and the Pangard Dynamic.
AFTER WORLD War Two, the show reopened in 1946 at the Grand Palais. Remembering the huge success of the 1919 post-war gathering, the show's General Commissioner Monsieur Martin said: 'We had been so deprived of cars that this auto show was needed to bring Paris back to life.' The 1946 show was an even bigger success, with 809,000 visitors - twice the pre-war figure.
They came to see the Panhard Dyna, and in particular the Renault 4 CV - the car that came to symbolize France's economic recovery, and the post-war generation's realizable desire to own a car.
1948 was the year of the Peugeot 203, and in 1949 the hugely successful Citroen 2 CV was launched. There was more to come from Citroen, however, in 1955, with the DS 19. That show also saw the launch of the Ford Continental, and the first mass-produced French car to be powered by a diesel engine, the Peugeot 403.
These were followed by the Renault Dauphine (1956), Austin A40 Sprite (1958), and the tiny Vespa 400, which in 1959 left General de Gaulle wondering how he might fit into the smallest French car on the market. Every year's show was by now characterized by a theme, such as new rules of the road, enhanced performance, or improved safety.
In 1962, the Paris show moved to an extended exhibition hall at the Porte de Versailles. The concept of the show had to become more European with the creation of the European Community. For the first time, used cars, bicycles, motorcycles and accessories were on show.
The stars of the Swinging 1960s were the Peugeot 404 station wagon, Opel Rekord (1960), Renault 8 and BMW 1500 (1962), Porsche 901 (1963), Rover 2000, Chrysler Barracuda, Citroen DS Pallas and Ami 6 station wagon (1964), and Citroen Dyane (1967). In the 1970s cars such as the Citroen CX, VW Golf and Fiat Mirafiore drew the crowds.
In 1976, it was decided that the show should become biennial, as many manufacturers felt there were too many auto shows around the world. Paris is now staged in alternate years to the Frankfurt auto show, in even-numbered years. In 1988 the Paris auto show took on a new name: Mondial de l'Automobile.
The number of exhibitors has grown from 232 in 1898 to 1,000 today. In recent years, more than a million people have turned out annually to see what's going on the auto industry. This year promises to be one of the very best Paris shows, with an exceptional level of new model launches.
This article was prepared from information provided by the communications office of the Mondial de l'Automobile show.