Car Show Classics: A Sunday In Bordeaux (Part 2: Domestic Cars)

I’m pretty sure that there’s some French law that requires the presence of at least one Traction Avant at classic car events held on French soil, just as the must be at least one Camaro at Cars and Coffee in the US. Now that we got this mid-‘50s Reine de la Route out of the way, let’s look at some of the other domestics on display.

The same law probably also mandates the presence of at least one Simca Aronde. These Fiat-designed cars were extremely successful back in the ‘50s and into the ‘60s. This is a late model (probably 1963) of the “P60” kind (1959-64), a heavy restyling of the 1951 body.

You can really tell this car is pure ‘50s from the shape of the greenhouse, as well as the car’s general proportions. The tacked-on fins, which were all the rage in 1959, had not aged that well either by the mid-‘60s.

But then the Aronde’s successor (the Simca 1300) was already in pre-production by 1962, so there was no point in slapping yet more lipstick on this little pig. Said swine’s snout was adorned with an absolutely massive hood ornament – a stylized swallow, Simca’s official logo, which symbolized the car’s appétit d’oiseau (literally “a bird’s appetite,” i.e. low fuel consumption).

Gotta love the interior, complete with period-perfect aftermarket radio and parcel shelf. The small fin-like appendage jutting out from the top of the steering column is the turn signal – perhaps the worst placement for such a constantly-used feature in any car I’ve seen.

Next to the Aronde lay a suprising Simca, which hasn’t been featured much in CC – the 1200S coupé. Born as  the 1000 Coupé in 1963, the sporty Bertone-styled Simca was based on the rear-engined 1000 saloon, but was deemed a tad effeminate. In June 1967, Simca gave it a big boost in the tail, as the engine grew to 1204cc and 80 hp – doubling the amount of cavalry.

Marcello Gandini, over at Bertone, was also tasked with “manning up” the car with an additional grille (the radiator having moved to the front of the car) and other touches here and there. The result was quite good and the car’s image was transformed.

The body of the 1200S was produced in Italy by Bertone and shipped to France for final assembly. This usually made for very rusty cars in short order (viz. the PininFarina Peugeots), so few have survived. This is the first one I’ve seen in over 20 years, and it looks like it was restored to its former glory. Just don’t get it wet again.

As this will be an unfamiliar car to many of you (myself included), I see no harm in showing you the interior, which just screams of Italy. This could be a Lancia or a Fiat of the same vintage. And given that we’re talking about a Simca, it really is not far off.

The issue with the Simca 1200S was that it was surplus to requirements. In late 1966, Simca started providing Chappe & Gessalin (CG) with the 1000’s engine and underpinnings, which CG fashioned into a rear-engined GRP roadster. It was kind of Simca’s answer to the Renault Alpine. The Bertone 1200S was downplayed a bit to give CG a chance.

To top it off, Simca tied the knot with Matra in 1970. This meant that CG was no longer really viable – even with the optional 1200cc and 1300cc engines (and they did collapse in 1973), and that sports coupés would be the purview of Matra alone, just as soon as they could engineer a new model. The Matra-Simca Bagheera came out in 1973, just as the last batch of 1200S coupés hit the streets.

While we’re on the subject, there were a couple of Matras at this Bordeaux meet. First up, here is the ur-Matra – a 1966 or 67 Djet V. Born in 1962 as the René Bonnet Djet, this was (probably?) the first mid-engined sports car ever made for road use. Matra bought off René Bonnet in late 1964 and continued producing the Djet until 1968.

The Djet usually had a souped-up 1100cc Renault Gordini engine providing 72 hp (gross), though the very last ones graduated to 1300cc (103 hp). This particular one was modified with fatter tyres and flared wings, so I’m guessing it probably packs a bigger engine than it came out of the factory with.

And on the other corner, there was this Talbot-Matra Murena. Launched in 1980 after Chrysler Europe had been bought off by Peugeot, this three-seater was an evolution of the Bagheera for the ‘80s. The basic model had a Simca/Talbot 1.6 litre 92hp engine sitting behind the driver, but a 118hp 2.2 litre option was available.

This car’s rear spoiler and alloy wheels identify it as a 2.2 litre from 1983-84, making it one of the last Matra sports coupés ever made. The divorce between Peugeot-Talbot and Matra became official in early 1984 and Matra got hitched up with Renault to produce the legendary Espace.

On the Renault front, there were few interesting models, unfortunately. I missed a lovely Caravelle cabriolet but did catch this cute early ‘50s 4CV. It was seemingly festooned with as many period accessories as humanly possible, including a funny hood ornament with four horses.

There were a number of Renault 4s and 5s, but otherwise nothing much from the number one French carmaker. Well, except this 1985 Renault 9 TXE, which I photographed out of pity, more than anything. I remember these well (my grandfather had one) and they were some of the tinniest and flimsiest cars I ever had the displeasure of riding in.

Peugeots were not out in force either. There was a 204 saloon there, almost exactly the same as the one I wrote up a while back. I passed on that and went straight for this sublime 203. Hard to put an exact date on these sometimes – it could be from anytime between 1953 and 1957, assuming the lion’s head hood ornament was there originally.

This 203 lost its trafficators, as many did. Peugeot stuck with those antiquated gadgets until 1957 and many 203s and early 403s were retrofitted with front and rear turn signals. This car’s rear turn signals blink in red (in the American way), which is not how they would have come out the factory.

I have a serious soft spot for the 203. Its American-infused styling is, for once, very well balanced for a European size. Just compare this car with the Ford Vedette or the Standard Vanguard, which both look ponderous and too narrow. And the interior is nothing short of gorgeous.

Plus, there’s actual legroom at the back, which is not something seen on all cars designed in the ‘40s. This was the first in a long line of unit-bodied RWD Peugeots – stretching all the way to the 505. For my money, the original remains unsurpassed.

We’ll skip one car that deserves (and will get very soon) its own post and go directly to Citroën. There were many, but not all were remarkable. For once, there was a representative of the RWD variety in this 1932 C4 G saloon – which was also the oldest car at the show. Also called the 10 CV, the C4 G had a 1.8 litre 4-cyl. engine and an all-steel body, but was otherwise pretty conservative.

Well, with the exception of the Chrysler-patented “Floating power,” as signified by this swan on the grille. This change, implemented on most Citroëns from April 1932, consisted in mounting the engine on specially-designed rubber mounts to reduce vibration. The same principle was used on the Traction Avant, which came out two years later.

It seems even at the time that folks noted Citroën’s tendency to emulate American designs. The C4 was called “La Plymouth de Javel” by some pundits (Javel being the location of Citroën’s main Parisian factory). Things would soon change though, and Citroën’s Traction Avant and rescue by Michelin in the last days of 1934 turned the carmaker into one of the most idiosyncratic mass-production firms ever.

This 99% original 2CV is a good example of the quirky Citroën we all know and, presumably, love. This car was made in the last weeks of 1954 and sports (in places) the only available colour at the time, a rather nice grey-blue shade. It’s a “deluxe” AZ model too, which entitles it to a 425cc air-cooled twin producing, along with its characteristic growl, all of 12 hp.

The 2CV AZ also had turn signals and two stop lights – a plethora of lighting compared to the standard model. But it kept the canvas bootlid, which only turned into metal at the very end of the ‘50s.

The dashboard of the early 2CVs were an exercise in ultra-simplicity. There was no dash to speak of, for starters. A small metal plate, containing a battery charge dial and two switches, was all Citroën were willing to provide. Then, very late in the game, someone thought of adding a speed gauge, which was screwed on the bottom left corner of the windshield, completely as an afterthought. And there it stayed for over a decade. The plaid seats and grey door cards are also original to this car.

The thing that really makes this 2CV is undoubtedly its single-wheel Erdé trailer, a much sought-after period accessory seen on many small Renaults and Citroëns of the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s all about balance…

There were no DSs nor SMs, unfortunately, but there was one very nice 1976 CX 2400 Pallas – the top of the range until the LWB Prestige took over that role in 1978. The addition of plastic / rubber cladding makes these a tad less appealing than the lower-end models in my eyes, but for everyday driving, the presence of a 2.4 litre with EFI and goodies such as electric windows do give one pause for thought.

Someday, I’ll bag me a proper CX and write it up the way it should. And on that day, I’ll have to get access to that spaceship interior and really show you what madness lays within. Until then, here’s a quick glance at this relatively rare blue one.

Early CXs such as this are getting mighty hard to find now. Rust protection wasn’t exactly top of the list of Citroën’s priorities in the ‘70s, busy as they were trying to survive. Later CXs are a bit more common, but also half as quirky. And if a Citroën’s not quirky, it’s not really a Citroën.

Finally, there was one lone representative of the old-fashioned French grand tourers of yore: a 1954 Salmson 2300 S, s’il vous plaît. Having gone into the Salmson story relatively recently, I can only encourage you to check out my prior musings on this exceptional marque. This car is chassis # 121, out of 226 made from 1953 to 1957.

Salmsons were known for their high build quality and their DOHC engines. The 2300 S, as the last Salmson model produced, certainly has the best engine – a 2.3 litre all-alloy 4-cyl. producing 110 hp. Being relatively light, it could reach speeds exceeding 180 kph, which was pretty good for the time.

This car has the “second series” raised roof. The initial 2300 S had a much lower roofline, which looked better esthetically but caused clients a lot of grief and bumps on the head. They were produced by Esclassan, a small coachbuilder whose prices were reasonable, but who couldn’t keep up with Salmson’s orders, minimal as they were. So body production was switched to Henri Chapron in 1954. Prices went up, as did the roof, and sales went down, inexorably. The only remedy was to fork out even more money and get Chapron to turn it into a convertible, which few people did.

Like many big French cars of the era, Salmsons usually came with a 4-speed Cotal electro-magnetic gearbox. The long lever on top of the steering column is the inverser, which orders the gears to go forwards, backwards or stay in neutral. Once in “forward” mode, the four gears were selected via a small switch on a stalk coming out of the left-hand side of the steering column (for cars like this one with RHD, anyway). This did not eliminate the clutch pedal, but it did make driving much easier, with only a smidgen of left pedal recommended (if at all) to switch into gears 2, 3 and 4.

Having a Cotal or a Wilson gearbox must be one of the best insurances against car theft ever. But, like a lot of this car, it’s ‘30s technology. The Salmson 2300 S is a strange mix of pre-war and ‘50s. Endearing and capable, but fundamentally flawed.

That’s all my camera caught on this blessed Sunday in Bordeaux. Well, not entirely: I’m keeping two cars from this report, to be featured as stand-alone posts. So we’ll return here very soon. Cheers!


Related posts:

Automotive History: The Citroën 15-Six – Traction Royalty Genealogy 101, by T87

Curbside Classic: 1956 Simca Aronde (90A) – French Training Wheels, by PN

CC Outtake: 1982 Talbot-Matra Murena 1600 – What Is French For Rarity?, by Roger Carr

Curbside Classic: 1956 Renault 4CV – A Little Car With A Big Impact, by T87

Trackside And Curbside Classic: 1951 Peugeot 203 – I Came To Own The World’s Fastest 203, by Dawid Botha

Curbside Classic: 1969 Citroen 2CV – The Most Original Car Ever, by PN

Cohort Classic: 1981 Citroen CX Pallas D – Modernism’s Last Stand, by Perry Shoar