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The 70-lot sale, directed by French commissaire-priseur Marielle Digard, with Bonhams’ specialist Philip Kantor, brought €8.9m hammer (£6.6m), the highest ever total achieved for a sale at Retromobile auction (where Paris firm Artcurial sell regularly).

The Bonhams sale was 75 per cent sold by lot and 61 per cent by value.

Top price of €2.1m (£1.57m) went to a 1928 Mercedes-Benz S-Type supercharged Torpedo Roadster, with coachwork by J. Saoutchik of Neuilly. It sold to a private European bidder in the room.

Bonhams had been hoping for €3m.

But a 1929 Bugatti Type 43 Grand Sport doubled its low estimate as it sold to a Dutch buyer for €1.2m (£896,000).

A 1936 Mercedes-Benz 500K Cabriolet, formerly owned by the French artist Georges Mathieu, sold to America for €800,000 (£597,000).

James Knight, managing director of Bonhams’ motoring department, was delighted with the results of the firm’s French debut, saying that “the combination of a prestigious venue and exceptional motor cars proved to be a winning formula”.

He said Bonhams would be back at Retromobile in 2009.

But, despite abundant speculation in the French press, Bonhams remain coy about their plans to stage auctions of art and antiques in Paris.

Meanwhile Artcurial’s 46-lot sale at Retromobile on February 9, directed by veteran racing driver Hervé Poulain, made €3.2m (£2.39m) hammer – with a 1935 Avions Voisin C25 Aérodrome claiming €425,000 (£317,000).

By Simon Hewitt