CC Road Trip: Reliving the ’90s on a Paris Weekend, Part 2

Opel Vectra_Astra Parc des Expos 20151111

In this second of two trips down memory lane in the Paris area, we’ll look at some (mostly) non-French vehicles that might have been seen on the streets during the 1990-98 period, when I still lived there. More of these will be recognizable to our readers than the previous batch of Gallic exotica, but if you bear with me, there are a few surprises below.

Leading off are probably the most common (and arguably most boring) German-made vehicles of the era: a first-generation Opel Corsa (1990-93, post-facelift) (foreground) and second-gen Vectra (1995-2002), spotted in the suburb of Villepinte, next to an inevitable Renault Twingo. Old Corsas seemed to be the standard cheap wheels for students when I lived there, and the Vectra: well, in the UK they were considered a stodgy, sales rep’s car, so not hip at all. Didn’t stop ’em from flying off the lots, apparently. This particular model also served as the base for the short-lived Saturn L-series in the USA.

Opel Astra wagon Gare de L'Est 20151111

Somewhat less common, for whatever reason was the mid-sized Opel Astra (1994-98). This fairly clean example of the Caravan (wagon) variant was lurking alongside Gare de l’Est.

1990-94 VW Polo Notre Dame 20151107

This heavily-laden Series 2 Volkswagen Polo (1990-94, post-facelift) did not in fact run down a hapless pedestrian in front of the Tour d’Argent. These were a highly popular choice if one wanted something a little nicer than a poverty-spec Renault 5 or Peugeot 205.

1983-92 VW Golf Notre Dame 20151107

Here’s a well-maintained example of a Series 2 VW Golf GTI. Closest I ever got to one of these was a few rides in a co-worker’s base Golf sedan of the same vintage. I recall a lot of engine noise and that seemingly every interior fitting rattled at the slightest bump, but not much else about it.

1997-2001 Mercedes A Class Conflans 20140531

The first-gen Mercedes-Benz A-Class (1997-2001) appeared near the end of my French sojourn, and made a pretty big splash not only for its distinctive one-box styling, but for an unfortunate tendency (long since cured) to trip and fall over in sharp maneuvers.

Fiat 500 Pont des arts 20070422

The original Fiat 500 had been long out of production by the time I got to Paris, but one would still see them here and there. In the 2000s. however, they’ve become nearly extinct, so it was a treat to glimpse this one from my vantage point on the Pont des Arts. The suicide doors indicate this is a D model (1960-65); no pampered car-show queen this one. I would have liked to have gotten more shots of Fiats, particularly early Pandas, Unos and Puntos, but this will have to do.

1990-95 Alfa Romeo 33 Rue Chateau-Landon 20151108

I was very pleased to stumble across this angular late-model Alfa Romeo 33 (1990-95) on Rue Chateau-Landon, as these were relatively frequent sights back in the day. Early 33s, like many Alfas of the period, were notorious rustbuckets, but a late switch to a galvanized metal substructure has helped preserve this one.

Mini Bir-Hakeim 20131116

Minis, such as this Mark VI example (1990-95), were, as in many other cities, a popular choice for the urban hipster. Due to the complete mismatch in bumper height versus…anything not a Mini, the extra bars front and rear were absolutely essential if one wanted to keep one’s machine reasonably intact when parked on the street.

Rover 75 Bir-Hakeim 20131116

A bit of a ringer, as it was introduced just after my return to the States, I feel compelled to include this Rover 75 (1999-2003) (pre-facelift) anyway. These fairly interesting vehicles, handicapped in part by a perceived lack of support from then-owner BMW, cry out for the full CC treatment. In the meantime, big British luxury sedan, Italian registration, spotted in Paris: for a boy from Western Pennsylvania, it doesn’t get much more exotic than this…

1991-97 Renault Espace Rue Chateau-Landon 20151108

…or this, truth be told. There are a whole lot of memories triggered by this candid shot of a beat-to-hell, second-gen Renault Espace (1991-97), once again on Rue Chateau-Landon. That laverie is where I used to do my laundry, and I ate at the restaurant next door numerous times, although back then it was a pizza joint rather than a noodle shop. As regards the Espace, the company I worked for had a very well-equipped one of these with a V6, and since I was the only employee in my department who actually lived in the city, I’d often be asked to use it to pick up visiting clients at one of the airports. Any tales of hooning across Paris with a vanload of terrified Libyan or Iranian geologists, I’ll leave for another day.

Ford Transit Pont des arts 20070422

Yet another treat viewed from the Pont des Arts is this pristine 1971-78 Ford Transit camper, the primary alternative to a VW Type 2 for the discerning Euro-traveler. The plates indicate a Paris registration, so I guess they’re heading out of town for the weekend.

Dodge Caravan Ave Daumesnil 20140420

The most common American vehicles that one might find on Paris streets tend to be Chrysler products, mainly due to their having an assembly facility on the continent, in Graz, Austria. With that said, Mopars still weren’t frequent sights. This second-gen Chrysler Voyager (1991-95), a rebadged Dodge Caravan, somehow just looks wrong on a Paris street, as if a suburban soccer mom neglected to take that right turn at Albuquerque.

Dodge Ramcharger Conflans 20140531

Even more out of place, what to make of this early Dodge Ramcharger (1974-80), taking the sun along the Seine in Conflans Sainte-Honorine? Glad I’m not paying for the fuel, or trying to ease it down one of Conflans’ narrow streets.

De Tomaso Pantera Ave Daumesni 20131124

To close things out, here’s a brave soul negotiating Avenue Daumesnil in, of all things, a De Tomaso Pantera GTS (1972-83). This is another one that is clearly in regular use. Hey, cars are meant to be driven, so bravo!

Further reading:

Perry Shoar looks unfavorably at the sedan version of the Opel Corsa

William Stopford on the (Holden) Astra

Mini article by Paul N.

Roger Carr’s treatment of the Renault Espace