My wife and I have recently completed a two week holiday in France, partly in Brittany on the north west tip of the country and partly in the south west, in the Perigord region. Being a Curbivore, the camera came too.
Every French town and village will still have at least one Renault 4 in it – it seems to be almost a regulation. In the case of Dagnan, the first one we saw was a van, suitably prepared for its duties, as advertised on the side. If you don’t read French, I’ll reveal what that is at end, to keep you reading….
The Renault 4 was a response to the Citroen 2CV, with a not dissimilar layout, although the engine was a lot larger at 845cc and water cooled, and the car had a full hatchback, almost estate layout, rather than the 2CV’s roll back roof. If you wish, it’s a 2CV that has been told to conform a bit.
If the Renault 4 was a response to the 2CV, then the Renault 6 can be seen as the closest competitor to the later and more powerful 2CV derivative, the Citroen Ami 6 and 8 series. I won’t go into much detail here, as there is a full CC in the skunk works, but the Renault was introduced in 1968, lasted until 1986 and had an 1100 cc engine option from 1970. Based on the black grille and square headlights, this is 1974 on car. Even in France, this is becoming rare now.
Alongside the Renault 6 in the market was the Peugeot 104 which was a more conventional supermini similar in style to a Renault 5 or perhaps even a more compact Golf, although with the gearbox beneath the engine, BMC/Issigonis style. Very scarce now, so any sighting, even through a farm yard gateway is worth stopping for. When it’s paired with a 2CV, that’s a definite stop. Engines ranged from 954cc to 1360cc, and production lasted from 1972 to until 1988.
Early 104s were actually four door cars and the fifth door, or tailgate, was added in 1976 without changing the profile.
In 1974, Peugeot launched a three door version of the 104, known as the 104Z, and built on a shorter 88 inch wheelbase, 7 inches down on the five door. One of these is seen here lined up with the last big Renault, the 2002-9 Vel Satis saloon. This was an almost uniquely configured car, being around five inches taller than you might expect but clearly not a MPV (monospace in French) and equipped in a luxurious manner, with wood veneer and leather in a modern style. Space and light, from big windows, are truly luxuries, and only Renault truly seemed to recognise this. An appealing alternative to the German style saloon, if commercially unsuccessful.
One reason the Peugeot 104 was not offered as a hatchback was to prevent it cannibalising sales from the nominally larger and more expensive 204 Break, or estate. Again, as it’s a true Peugeot estate, CC status is assured and the white mice in the back office are hard at work, and as production finished in 1976, sighting one is noteworthy.
Modern France was evident too, of course. This Renault Clio was our hire car, but parking it alongside a Zurich registered Cadillac Fleetwood sedan was a bit unusual to say the least.
The Clio was a 2015 car; can anyone tell me more about the Cadillac? 4.5 litre and front wheel drive doesn’t sound very French to me.
Italy was represented too, and not just by this Fiat 500 (Nuova 500) seen alongside a Citroen Picasso, a five seat MPV based on the mid size Citroen C4 hatchback. The contrast in size seems very striking, but almost more note worthy, through rarity, was this Fiat Uno.
The Fiat Uno was Fiat’s 1984 supermini, and with the Peugeot 205, arguably one of the class leaders at the time. This example is a Uno 45, powered by a 1.0 litre four cylinder engine. The Uno was one of the first small cars to utilise extra height to create space and comfort, in the way the Ford Focus did in 1998. How innovations are forgotten now.
Many of the commonly ascribed attributes of German cars are not ascribed to any French car, and these next two show examples of that. First, the compact rear drive sports saloon, in this case a BMW 1502, which I wasn’t fully aware of.
The 1502 was low compression version of the 1602, sharing a similar 1573cc engine, introduced in 1975 and lasting after the other models in the range had been replaced by the 3 series in 1976. Looking back, the natural engine for this car was surely the 2.0 litre, but as an entry level economy model this is not a bad spot. Visually, there is not much to distinguish it from the 2002, except the narrower wheels, and the owner is addressing that.
Is it just me, or is there some Simca 1301/1501 in the styling of these cars? A nice car from the day when BMW had a more easy going image than perhaps they do now. And doesn’t the colour take you back to the 1976 in one quick move?
And of course, France has long had a difficult relationship with truly large cars. Much as France likes Jaguars, they don’t buy many large cars of any type, so to see a 1973 on Mercedes Benz 280SE outside a hardware store and being used for carrying 4m lengths of cut timber was a surprise. Out of the shot, the owner was carrying 30 gallon drums to the car as well.
Aside from the wheel arch trims, there’s little sign that this car is not direct from Stuttgart. In two weeks and 3000km, this was the only S Class Mercedes-Benz of any type or age that we saw.
A 1984 Opel Kadett D, the first aerodynamically styled GM car in Europe, was also noteworthy, and most likely this was diesel powered. Rural France keeps its cars going, and these have a reputation for being a sturdy piece. The car in the background is 2003-10 Ford C-Max, a five seat MPV based on the second generation European Ford Focus.
The Kadett (or Vauxhall Astra in the UK) was competing against many cars; one of them was the Renault 11, on which the US built Renault Encore was based. This is a post 1985 facelift model, with the larger headlamps and swept back nose. Behind it is a Citroen DS3, France’s closest competitor to the Mini. Some say that this is not a true DS; that’s as maybe but since DS has been identified as a stand alone brand now, it’s not a Citroen either.
And to close, the British contingent; France does like British sport scars, and there’s nothing more British than a tidy MGB roadster in Antique white. This one was outside our hotel for two nights, although we did not meet the driver.
Or may be a Triumph Spitfire Mark IV, truly showing the patina of a daily (or at least frequent) driver. France was for a long time the home of the yellow headlight, and this 1970-74 car shows typical yellow bulbs within the lamp units.
Such bulbs are pretty rare to see now, even on older cars, but these are still working on a forty year British car. Obviously.
If you don’t want a British sports scar, how about a second generation 1982-87 Honda Prelude? Next to the great looking (especially in that red colour) current Renault Clio, you have to ask “Just when did small cars get that big?”
Last, but not least, an aged van. Regular followers will know of my thing about old French vans and that extends to some others too, like this 1978-86 Ford Transit short wheelbase minibus. The Transit may not have the charisma of the Citroen H van or even a Renault Master, but like any good compact van, it is truly a box on wheels, and in this case one that once had seats in it, though these were not in evidence, making it a van with windows now. This generation is fifty years old this year, and deservedly a CC is on this year’s bucket list.
And the user of the Renault van? The Institut International de Dressage des Mouches a la Recherche des Truffes or the International Institute for Training Flies to Search for Truffles. This appears to an old and little used technique, based on observing the behaviour of the flies, which will not lay eggs on a truffle. So now you know.
All in all, a good holiday, with no parking tickets, speeding fines and just the one incorrect use of a one-way street.