Car Show Classics: A Sunday In Bordeaux (Part 1: Foreign Cars)

I recently went to visit Bordeaux, a place more famous for its wine and its architecture than anything else. When one discovers a city for the first time, it’s always good to be able to check out the local classic car scene, if there is one. Turns out they have quite a few petrolheads there, and they gather on the first Sunday of the month in a colourfully re-purposed military barracks located on the Garonne river’s right bank.

The variety of the gathering was what made it interesting. I arrived a tad late, when folks were already starting to leave. This part of France is known for its oceanic “all seasons in one day” type of weather, but fortunately, he sun was out (in the beginning, at least). Plenty of roadsters about, including Shelby Cobras. Replicas, no doubt, but still pretty awe-inspiring. And very loud.

British roadsters were out in force, too. Triumph, MG, Austin-Healey and a fine pair of Morgans. Not necessarily my cup of tea, but a classic car meet would not be complete without them – even in France.

This early ‘70s MGB, which looks like it came from America, was probably my pick of that lot. The deep red colour somehow fit the surroundings in a very fitting way. No, don’t call it “Burgundy”…

Continuing with the English theme, I managed to catch this Jaguar Mk2 3.4 litre as it was leaving the premises. I was sad to see it go so soon, but I reasoned that this ‘60s Jag, beautiful as it was, was small potatoes compared to another one I caught (a genuine CC, that one) a few days earlier. It will be featured on this site as soon as possible, of course…

Sitting alone, far from the crowd, was this cute little Wolseley Hornet, its generous brightwork gleaming in the noonday sun. This is a genuine rarity outside the British Isles. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen one in person before. Neither has this website, it seems. Welcome to CC, little Wolseley…

The Wolseley Hornet was a clone of the Austin / Morris Mini, with a tacked-on grille at the front and a bigger boot out back. Along with the similar Riley Elf, the Hornet was BMC’s attempt at pocket-sized luxury for the people. Kind of pointless, rather garish, but all ‘60s Mini underneath.

The (modest) extra rear luggage space is probably the car’s only redeeming feature, though it didn’t really gel with the Mini’s body all that well. Not far from the Wolseley lay another English rarity – one that I wrote about not long ago as part of my European Deadly Sins series.

Plastic fantastic! A Reliant Scimitar GTE. Another unicorn in the bag. This looks like an early ‘70s model, still swathed in chrome and other cool touches. Ford V6 power meant that this Reliant was not for the hoi polloi, nor the faint-hearted. Princess Anne had one, don’cha know.

Well, far be it from me to criticize Her Royal Highness’ taste in motorcars, but the Scimitar is not exactly pretty. It’s weird. And in this fading blood-orange colour with matching vinyl top, it’s arrestingly weird. Love the rear screen hatch. Volvo were obviously influenced by this car when they made the 1800 ES.

The interior is pleasingly brown, as befits a ‘70s GT. Brown and beige and far more cramped (or should I say “snug”?) than I expected. The Scimitar’s original design was a 2+2 coupé, and it shows. It’s unclear to me whether these were ever imported to France as new (probably not); this was clearly was a British car from birth. The Scimitar made for a compelling subject to photograph, but there were plenty of other interesting cars around.

Strangely, the German contingent was quite thin on the ground, aside from the obligatory Porsche 911s, Golfs, Beetles and Karmann-Ghias in various states of customization. I fumbled my picture of a departing Mercedes Pagoda, unfortunately. There were a nice Transporter or two, as well. Always a pleasure to see these, especially a pre-1968 one such as this, dwarfed by contemporary SUVs.

On the Italian front, there were a few Alfas, but none of the ones I fancy (bar the one in the title pic). And not a single Lancia, which is a darned shame. But there was this über-cool metallic brown Ferrari. Well, it’s a quasi-Ferrari, as it lacks the actual Ferrari name. The Bertone-designed second generation Dino may not have the sex-appeal of its predecessor, but it still has presence.

These were made from 1973 to 1980 as the Dino 308 GT. Sporting a 3-litre V8, they were initially sold without the prancing horse logo, though everybody knew what they were underneath. Then, in 1976, they got six yellow badges: one for each wheel, one on the front and one on the steering wheel.

So looking at what we have here, I’d say this is a late model. The interior of this Ferrari sure looks like a great place to be. And having heard the beast, it also sounds like a nice place to be.

It’s about as sweet an Italian sports car as the ‘70s ever gave us, in my opinion. Very wedgy, very brown and very low, playing the part of the Dachshund to the nearby 2CV’s Great Dane. If it weren’t for the Daytona, this would probably be my favourite Ferrari of the ‘70s.

There were plenty of other interesting foreign jobs at hand, including a few Japanese entrants. For instance, this late model Datsun 240 Z. Drop-dead gorgeous in its curious orange hue, the most successful Japanese sports car of the ‘70s was prowling the grounds, asserting its rights as a high-visibility vehicle.

And the orange paintwork worked a treat. Once this thing and its huge schnozz were on the move, there was nowhere else to look. Datsun had their woes in terms of styling in the ‘70s, as we’ve discussed before. But the 240 Z was designed (by Albrecht Goertz, who also penned the BMW 507) in 1969, just before somebody spiked the water cooler at Nissan’s styling studio.

The 240 Z was a hit in Japan and in the US. It seems even the oh-so-haughty Europeans, though spoiled for choice when it came to sports coupés, were not insensitive to the Datsun’s undeniable charms, fully-optioned interior and bulletproof 6-cyl. engines.

On the saloon front, there was this time-warp 1980 Bluebird, the last of the breed to have RWD and the Datsun name. Can’t remember the last time I saw one of these up close.

This is how Nissan came out of their weirdo-styling phase of the ‘70s: make ‘em square, make ‘em bland and make ‘em sell. It worked a treat. For although there were many who bought Datsuns in spite of the styling, surely many were put off by it. Not the case here. There’s not much to object to.

Clad in its crisp white suit, this Datsun looks ready to hit the disco floor to the sounds of Born to Be Alive or some Boney M schlager until the wee hours. And now it’s here – Sunday morning fever! There was another interesting and unusual Japanese car at the show, but it deserves (and will get) its own post.

Onwards and upwards to the plus-size models. Most Europeans are wary of American cars for a host of reasons – they are very rare here, and have been for the past 50-odd years. But there is a strong contingent of European car enthusiasts who wouldn’t dream of driving anything else. Even something as unsuited to the local roads as a Lincoln Continental Mark V. You could fit a Smart car in that front overhang…

The Ford Mustang is also a perennial favourite on both sides of the pond – and beyond. It’s hard to argue against the original pony car, with its reasonable proportions, affordability, awesome V8 and sublime styling. The ’65 Fastback is probably the one I like the best, and as luck would have it, there was a pristine example there. At least four other ‘60s Mustangs were also present. The French have a thing for ponies, and not just as a beef substitute.

But the one that really caught my eye (how could it not?) was this 1965 Corvette. There really is nothing quite like a Stingray, is there? Aggressive, yet poised. Big, yet compact. And that ice-cold blue hue just made it all the more irresistible. Everybody waxes lyrical on the ’63 split window, but if you want a little sunshine in your life, this is just the ticket.

Sure, the Mustang was a great little runabout for your average Joe – and could be optioned to the hilt with performance-enhancing extras, but it wasn’t exactly sporty to begin with. The Corvette Stingray, on the other hand, was a properly expensive and exclusive sports car, with IRS, two seats and a lightweight GRP body. Nowhere for the groceries to go, unlike the Ford. Apples and oranges.

And the interior of this generation Corvette is probably the pinnacle of the breed, too. Horizontal tachs were not welcome in this Chevrolet, thank you very much. When GM got things right, they really got them right.

Which is more than can be said for the Corvair, of course. Despite having tried harder than other Detroiters at making this compact, GM fell flat on their face with this car, as Paul’s GM Deadly Sins entry on the matter can attest in much greater detail.

The Corvair’s properly deadly swing axle was already old news by the time this ’64 Monza Spyder was made. And it wasn’t so much the Corvair’s underpinnings as its styling that set it apart as one of the most influential American designs of the era. As it slowly drove away, with its distinctive air-cooled growl, it was impossible not to fall in love with this flawed automobile. Especially for a Tatra aficionado such as yours truly.

Before we leave, I’ll just mention the presence of countless bikes – Harleys, BMWs, Triumphs and the like, which are definitely nowhere near my automotive radar. There was one exception: this very distinctive East-German MZ ES, built at the old DKW works in Zschopau. It stuck out like a sore thumb, and I couldn’t resist snapping it up.

Now’s as good a time as any to pause for a breath before we attack the domestics (i.e. French) cars in tomorrow’s post. See you then!


Related posts:

Curbside Classic: 1967 MGB – To B Or Not To B, by PN

Curbside Classic: 1978 Reliant Scimitar GTE – Princess Anne Had One, You Know. And Another, And Another…, by Roger Carr

Curbside Classic: 1960 VW Bus – On The Bus, by PN

Road & Track Vintage Review: Dino 308 GT4 – One of the Most Controversial Ferraris Ever, by PN

Curbside Classic: 1971 Datsun 240Z – Revolutions Don’t Come Often, by PN

CC Capsule: 1982 Datsun Maxima (Nissan 810) – If You Can’t Afford a BMW, by PN

Curbside Classic: 1977 Lincoln Continental Mark V – Navigating Big City Streets, by Joseph Dennis

Cohort Capsule: 1965 Ford Mustang 2+2 Fastback – A Stallion Instead Of A Gelding, by PN

Automotive History: 1963 Corvette Sting Ray – Ravishing New Lust Object Appears Out Of The Depths Of The Ocean, by PN

Automotive History: 1960-1963 Chevrolet Corvair – GM’s Deadliest Sin?, by PN