CC Outtakes: T87’s Singles Collection (December 2020) – Part 3: A Week In Provence

Corona be damned, I did something slightly risky and flew to the old country and see my folks for Christmas. It was that or losing the plane tickets, which were booked before the pandemic hit. Yuletide intercontinental travel is not what it used to be: both to and from Japan, I flew on nearly empty Dreamliners instead of packed jumbos. Once in France, I went to my usual digs in a village in Provence – the southern Alps, nice and secluded. It also happens to be a good place to spot some unusual CCs…

Rural France is obviously a haven for older French cars, so we’re going to be seeing a few of those here. But let’s not imagine that there are no foreign cars at all – particularly from large carmaking nations, such as Italy and Germany. This early ‘90s Opel Corsa is a case in point.

It goes further than that, sometimes. Though they are no longer imported nowadays, Lada Nivas are still extant and will likely remain so for years to come. These are tough, cheap and practical workhorses, after all. And plenty were sold, as this one, with a coveted factory-made LPG conversion, making these even cheaper to run, as well as relatively clean. Those classic ‘70s Soviet looks are just the cherry on the top.

I also happened upon a very well-preserved 2nd-gen Honda CRX – definitely not a common sight in these climes, but obviously someone’s pride and joy. The most striking difference between traffic in France and in Japan is cleanliness. The Japanese are OCD about their vehicles and tend to repair everything, so cars there are usually in perfect condition. This is far from the case elsewhere, particularly in southern Europe.

As a result, although one still encounters several Peugeot 205s on a daily basis, most are falling apart or caked in layers of filth, which makes for a poor subject to immortalize. I eventually lucked out and found this one, a relatively unmolested Junior, the most basic trim with the 950cc engine, made between 1986 and 1989.

There are also plenty of 309s still puttering about, also usually in pretty sorry states. These are basically the 205’s unloved bigger cousin, though their history is a tortured one. Developed by Talbot to find a way to squeeze every ounce of life out of the old Simca engines, the 309 was hastily repurposed as a Peugeot. Since all the -05 numbers were spoken for, this odd duck was launched in 1986 with this odd number. According to the license plate, this is a 1992 model.

Unlike these Peugeots, which are still in the doldrums of banger-dom, the Citroën 2CV has become a valuable commodity. This one is hiding, unrestored, still with its original license plate. Those are becoming rare indeed…

Restored examples like this similarly beige mid-‘80s car are now the majority. Prices for these tin snails have gone through the roof. A very nice one will go for €10-15k, which is pretty much what a serviceable Traction Avant also goes for nowadays. Madness!

Try as it might, the Renault 4 was never anywhere near as iconic (nor as currently valuable) as the Citroën it so blatantly attempted to overthrow. Late ‘80s / early ‘90s cars like this one are still seen on occasion, but are now fewer in numbers than the air-cooled Cits, according to my empirical observations.

I had very limited luck with bigger cars for this singles post, sorry to say. (Stand-alone posts are a different matter, as you will see over the coming week or so). The only photo-worthy one I managed to catch was this late model (1991-94) Citroën BX. These cars are the ideal banger: nearly indestructible, it seems – particularly in diesel form, they are also supremely comfortable, with that magic carpet suspension and marshmallow-like seats.

For whatever reason, I encountered two eerily similar A2 Golfs – both GTDs, i.e. a GTI with a 1.6 litre turbodiesel. This gray one is quite worse for wear, with its broken headlamp and scruffy overall condition.

This black one, which hasn’t moved in quite a while either, looks like it’s wearing its 30-plus years with more aplomb. In case you’re wondering, that high-viz jacket on the dash signifies that this car is owned by a member of the “gilets jaunes” – a sort of leaderless protest movement that had its heyday a couple years ago.

While we’re on VWs, there are still a number of rear-engined representatives of the marque in this part of Europe, but most come in the form of the water-cooled T3 van. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer my boxers to be dry rather than wet. (It’s probably a straight-4 Diesel in any case, but I’d rather not entertain such an unpleasant thought.) Anyway, in terms of minivans, this French trip was to provide a far more exotic surprise.

That’s right, a good old Pontiac Trans Sport. I distinctly remember seeing these advertised on French TV back in the early ‘90s – one of the only Pontiacs ever widely offered on that market. My father drove a 6000 wagon in those days, so I paid quite a lot of attention to these. And they went nowhere fast. In the country of the Renault Espace, few were convinced by the GM Dustbuster. If an American minivan was required, the one to get was the Voyager, not the Trans Sport. This is a very rare survivor.

While we’re in the white goods section, here are a couple interesting large French vans. This LWB Citroën C25 mobile home, now over 30 years of age, seems to still provide some sort of service. Launched in 1984 as a replacement to the iconic Type H, the C25 was built in Italy and developed as a JV between Fiat and PSA. These were sold under the Citroën and Peugeot marques in France, as an Alfa Romeo and a Fiat in Italy and as the Talbot Express in the UK. The French versions used the Peugeot 504’s 1.8 litre petrol engine, or the Citroën CX’s 2.5 litre Diesel.

And in the other corner, the C25’s main rival, the Renault Trafic. This pre-1989 facelift high-roof van is in decent nick, given its age. These replaced the Estafette and, though sales in their home country stopped in 2001, the first-generation Trafic has been made since 1980 to the present day under many marques: Opel, Vauxhall, Chevrolet, Winnebago, Inokom and, currently, Tata.

That interior is unmistakably ‘80s Renault, as are those taillights and headlamp / turn signal combos, which bear a strong whiff of R9. These trucks are interesting in that they could be ordered as FWD, RWD or AWD. This one, being called “T 1000 D,” is a LWB model with a 1000kg load capacity and a Diesel engine; the T, being for “Traction,” makes it a FWD. Rear drive vehicles were “P” and 4x4s were “V.”

On the other end of the spectrum (in terms of size), here are a couple of VSPs that I bet haven’t been featured in too many CC posts, though I did catch one a couple years back. VSP is the French acronym for “License-Free Vehicle” – one can drive these gutless wonders on the road without a driver’s license. Maximum speed: 45kph. The one above is a very recent Aixam Crossline – quite a popular model, all things being relative.

Photobombed by a comparatively huge Fiat Panda, this is a 2004-10 Ligier X-Too. What a weird carmaker Ligier is: they have been successfully making these tiny things to keep the lights on since the late ‘70s, while simultaneously (and less successfully) running a Formula One team.

Finally, to end things on a touch of class and beauty, here’s a very nice Fiat 124 Sport Spider (circa 1970-72, if I’m not mistaken?) found outside a Citroën dealership. That’s all my week-long French trip yielded, CC-wise. Oh, aside from another four or five cars, which we will visit in greater detail as soon as I can write them up. I’m back in Tokyo and under quarantine for two weeks; that’s the price to pay for travelling, these days. Not that I’m sick – I’ve been tested twice, negative both times – but the Japanese are very cautious with this COVID-19 business. As they should be, given the age of the population.

So I’ve got a couple of weeks free to write as much CC posts as I can, plus a lot of material. Let’s seen how much I can churn out.