A Gathering of Vintage French Cars: When a Wet Sunday Can Be A Good Thing

A wet British Sunday (“Again?” I hear you say). Let’s instead remember a wet French Sunday.

Going to our favourite Sunday market in south west France, there was clearly an informal gathering of classic cars going on, perhaps meeting to run for a lunch somewhere. Ideal Curbivore circumstances. Let’s take a wander around the highlights, in the gentle rain…..

First up, and the car that first caught our attention, is this 1958-64 Simca Aronde Monaco hardtop. The Aronde was Simca’s mainstay throughout the 1950s, and the 1958 P60 was closely derived from the earlier Simca 9 Aronde and the 1955 Aronde 90.

Power came from a 1.3 litre 4 cylinder, giving some 57bhp.

To me, this is a French take on the Sunbeam Rapier, which I consider to be a compliment. Paul’s CC on the Aronde range is here.

A tidy looking car, and seemingly configured for the weather.

Simca’s larger car in this period was the Vedette, which the company inherited when it purchased Ford of France in 1954. This is a 1954-57 Vedette Regence, at the time the top of the Vedette, and Simca, range.

The styling suggests, to me anyway, evidence of the Ford heritage. It’s not very far at all from something Ford in the UK or even Germany would have done, or been told to do.

Perhaps surprisingly for a French car, the Vedette had a V8, albeit only 2.4 litres. This was derived from the Ford flathead V8, and had been used by Ford of France since 1948.

Rubens’ thorough CC on the Vedette, its engine choice and South American exile is here.

Later cars had more flamboyant styling, with larger tailfins and a squared off roofline. The compact American car look endured until 1961, although the four cylinder Ariane ran to 1963.

France’s favourite Simca was probably the Simca 1100, one of the first hatchbacks with a transverse engine with an end-on gearbox, the modern template.

The car was introduced in 1967, two years after the Renault 16, a year before the Austin Maxi and seven years before the VW Golf.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, this car was a frequent best seller in France, and successful in markets such as Spain as well.

Sold in North America as the Simca 1204, this car was the basis for the Chrysler (later Talbot) Horizon, the European cousin of the Omnrizon, and the larger Simca 1307/Chrysler Alpine hatchback, and hence it was much more significant than first glance might suggest.

The Simca 1100 had another derivative, that is less well known. The Matra-Simca Bagheera sport coupe used the drive train from the 1100, albeit mounted in a mid engined position and driving the rear wheels.

The car was introduced in 1973, and was designed and built by Matra, a diverse French engineering business with significant aerospace and defence interests. It was the latest in a series of Matra sports cars.

It was built on a steel backbone chassis with a composite body.

The other main novelty of the car was the interior: this car had three seats arranged across the car as a single driver’s seat and a twin bench passengers. Quite cosy, and probably unique.

And also offered in very 1970s colours and trims. That long gearlever was common to the Simca 1100 and all its European derivatives.

The power normally came a 1.3 litre engine, though later cars had 1442cc versions.

Does the Renault 4Cv need any introduction? To many, this is France’s Beetle, and the similarities are certainly there, and not just the styling.

Developed during the Second World War below the radar of the occupying German forces, the 4CV was launched in 1946.

The car was sold from 1946 to 1961, and for the last 6 years alongside its nominal successor, the Dauphine.

Of course, there was a Peugeot 404, in this case a tidy example with a driver and passenger keeping dry.

Surely this car needs no introduction on CC?

Also present was this tremendous Peugeot 404 Coupe.

There was no Citroen DS at this gathering, so this car moves immediately to the position of favourite, for me. My most wanted rear drive French car? Could well be.

The 404 Coupe and convertible was actually assembled by Pininfarina in Turin, and shared little that was visible with the saloon.

Really, what’s not to like about this?

There might not have been a Citroen DS but there was a Traction Avant, in this case with pre-war Citroen style yellow wheels.

This is a post war car, distinguished by the bonnet louvres rather than vent panels. Other Curbivores may give us more details.

We heard one Frenchman declare “C’est la voiture de la Gestapo!” (That is the car of the Gestapo.) Memories last a long time.

Another Citroen worth remembering was this Citroen Ami 6, the car I called the greatest ugly ever. I haven’t changed my opinion.

bracketed by a Renault 4 and a Peugeot 203 just to prove we were in France.

To finish, a close up on the Peugeot 203. Just another seminal French car.

Actually, I like wet Sundays after all!