It wasn’t exactly easy, but we managed to go on holiday in France last August. Long-haul flights in the Age of Corona is fraught with cancellations, queues and Q-tips in the nose, but it was worth it. The family, the weather, the food – and a few cool cars, too.
Southern France almost feels like the 2CV’s natural habitat. And there were plenty of them there. It seems like numbers have remained pretty stable there for the past 20 years.
The tin snail went seamlessly from retiree-mobile in the ‘90s to fashion accessory for hipsters today – in big cities. In more rural areas, the car’s intrinsic qualities and durability meant it never went out of use.
Some have even been given the off-roader treatment; this one ambitiously couples that with a trailer hitch! Here’s hoping they put a 1-litre flat-4 out of a GS under the hood for good measure.
The 2CV’s evil flat-twin sister was the Dyane (1967-83). I caught one of these standing still, so I’ll treat you to a full CC of one in a bit.
The other 2CV derivative that really rules the road in the summertime is the 1968-87 Méhari.
I caught a few and will do a stand-alone post of a particularly nice one later, but this orange series 1 (pre-1978) was also pretty outstanding.
There is a well-known (within Méhariste circles) outfit in Cassis, near Marseille, that specializes in refurbishing these cars. All engine and chassis parts are still easy to come by, but the folks in Cassis also recreated molds for the plastic body panels, so “as-new” Méharis like this one are now a fairly common sight.
I also bumped into the inspiration behind the Méhari – the Mini Moke. Because let’s not forget who got there first, even if the Citroën ended up trouncing the Austin sales-wise.
I’m not very familiar with these, but judging by the logo on the steering wheel and all that, it looks like a Portuguese-made one from the ‘80s.
By the ‘90s, after the Méhari and the Moke had died out, the market for beach cars was wide open. Aixam, a Savoy-based micro car manufacturer, launched the Mega marque and introduced the Club and the Ranch. These modernized Méharis used the Citroën AX’s platform, but it seems the concept had less appeal by this time. Mega sold 800 to 1000 cars only between 1993 and 2000.
Finally the long-lost Renault copycat, assembled by an outside party but sold by the carmaker throughout the ‘70s and well into the ‘80s, the infamous Rodéo. This in a Rodéo 4, based on the Renault 4 van chassis, with that car’s 845cc straight-4 providing all of 34 hp (DIN) to the front wheels.
This is a late model Rodéo 4 (1977 to 1979), if the square turn signals are to be believed, though the grille’s Renault logo is missing and the Alpine wheels are obviously er… aspirational. The range was completely refreshed after 1980 and carried on as the Rodéo 5, which managed to be even uglier than this.
Speaking of the Renault 4, there are still quite a few of those about, too. Late model vans included.
This older one (1968-74, according to the grille) was a welcome sight and warranted a couple of quick pics at least. I found an outstanding older example while on holiday as well, so that’ll be another CC post to look forward to in the near future. You lucky people.
The R4’s prodigal son, the famous Renault 5, was conspicuously absent from my path during this summer jaunt. However, the step-child Super 5 (1984-95) is still very present. How long will that last?
A couple of Peugeots to finish off the French part of our little symposium? This 204 is a well-known quantity – I’ve written it up some time ago. But it’s such a pleasant addition to this post, and to the world in general.
There are still a few 504 pickups around. Those were made from 1980 to 1993 in France, but lasted over a decade longer in Argentina, Kenya and Nigeria. Peugeot’s last RWD pickup was so well-liked (and without any likely successor) that they just kept making them until they ran out of bits. I also documented a saloon, but that deserves its own post…
So uh where have all the 405s gone?? I’m serious guys, they were right here when I left a decade ago. Only this wagon has escaped the massacre, so far as I could tell. OK, it’s not like I’m going to miss them, but still, they could have given me a heads up.
Before we take a gander at the foreign stuff, this odd-looking Citroën motorhome was puttering about. It looked a bit like a Hymer, but it’s not branded as such, so I’m not sure what it might be. Perhaps someone on CC will have an inkling.
The foreign cars encountered over in France were a mixed bag – this Morgan really caught me by surprise, though. Perfect choice for a bit of summertime motoring in Provence, to be sure, but unconventional.
Though if we’re looking at drop-tops, there’s certainly a case to be made for a classic Saab Turbo cabriolet.
Fiats were always big in France, especially the small ones, but this one is in a league of its own. The Panda 4×4 is exactly the sort of goat you need to go anywhere in any weather in the Alps. Others have tried to equal it, no one’s ever bettered it.
When I was growing up, these were all over the place, but they’re very rare now. They were known as the Ritmo over here, but some markets called it Strada. This is an early model (1978-82) and I wish I could have taken more than just the one pic from a moving car, but that’s the way the CC crumbles sometimes.
Give me your tired, your worn out, your desperately in need of a fix 1st generation Mitsubishi Pajero… And spare a spare for it, brother.
It’s not all doom and gloom – it’s also swanky British estate! There can’t have been too many of these sold new in France (or anywhere, realistically) back in 2004-05. Most people, myself included, figured that Rover would soon go bust when BMW walked away in 2000. Purchasing one of these babies new five years later would have been a strong act of (misplaced) faith.
Finally, there is one accidental beach car I forgot to include in the start of this post: the immortal Willys Jeep MB. I’m incapable of ascertaining the provenance and originality of this Jeep, but it sure looks the part.
And that’s where I’ll leave it for now. Coming up, over the next couple of weeks: six CC posts dedicated to French cars. Magnifique, n’est-ce pas?