The Curbside Classics of Paris


Mrs. mcc.pj and I are currently relocating to the US, after several years in Australia. And since it’s not every day that you have a free month or two off work, we’re taking the long way home via Europe. Our first stop is Paris, and naturally, I’ve been excited to see what kind of classics can be found curbside in France.

I’ll get the bad news out of the way first: there aren’t really that many of them. As with many metro areas, it seems that if you can afford to run a car in Paris, you can also afford a nice one, because late-model Teutons make up much of the automotive landscape. The rest is largely comprised of mopeds and Smart cars. I had half-hoped to see a 2CV on every other corner, so this was something of a let-down. But fear not, mes amis, as CCs are far from extinct even here.


Let’s get started with a proper Gallic basket case. This ’90s XM may not be a 2CV, but it is viewed by many as the last ‘real’ Citroen, being the direct successor to the CX, and the iconic DS before that. Like those cars, the XM was fitted with Citroen’s trademark hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension, plus its sensitive hydraulic brakes and steering.  But Citroen toned down these features–and the XM’s styling–in an unfortunate attempt to compete with more ‘mainstream’ brands. As a result, the XM suffered something of a charm deficit, and flopped in most markets. It was discontinued without a replacement in 2000.


Citroen without a big, wafty executive car? Quelle disastre! Fortunately, Citroen tried again in 2005 with this car, the C6. Its reception outside France has been lukewarm–it was sold in Australia, and I saw maybe two of them in as many years. But its styling revives some of Citroen’s old spaceship quirkiness, and it being French, the snail-shell taillights are amusing. The C6 is also a favourite among French government officials, so it cuts quite a formidable swath in traffic.


On the more proletarian side of things, here’s a Renault 4–the closest I got to a 2CV. The 4 wasn’t in production as long as its Citroen counterpart, but it still had quite a lifespan, being built from 1961 to 1992. In that time, over eight million were made. And with front-wheel-drive, a roomy hatchback body, and a space-efficient dash-mounted shifter, it was certainly the shape of things to come in the Euro family-car market. Just watch your chin when you open that rear gate–it’s long, and looks ready to deliver a knockout.


Here’s the 4’s spiritual successor: the Renault Twingo. Compared to the task this car faced, the  4 had it easy. That car was the product of an age when many French families were buying their first car ever, and all they wanted was cheap wheels. But when the Twingo launched in 1993, France was a fully mature automotive market, and cheap wheels also had to be cheerful, funky, and fashionable to sell.  Renault nailed the brief. Twingos are everywhere in Paris, most in better shape than this well-worn example.


That’s the luxury- and entry-levels covered, but the French–like most Europeans–are also big fans of the ‘hot hatch’. I was delighted to stumble upon one of the hottest built in the 1990s: a Renault Clio Williams. Less than 4,000 of these were made, all in 1993, and all finished in a Subaru-esque blue and gold paint scheme. With 2.0 liters and 145 horses stuffed in the nose of a 2,200 lb front-wheel drive-chassis, I can only imagine the rear-wheel-lifting mischief you could get up to in one of these…


… or, for that matter, in one of these. Peugeot’s 106 GTi was a contemporary of (and competitor to) Renault’s sportiest Clios, and it’s reputed to be just about as much fun to drive. I’ve only ever ‘driven’ these miniature hot hatches as a teenager, through a controller, in early instalments of Gran Turismo. I’d love to try one on the road–though I’d pass on this particular example. If you think the yellow faux-Recaro seats are bad, be thankful you can’t see the enormous fart can on the back.


Had enough of French cars? No problem, as there’s no shortage of imports in Paris. Take this MINI, for example. Though it abandoned the US market in the late ’60s, Rover continued building the ‘old’ MINI long after its disappearance Stateside, all the way up until model year 2000. So to Europeans, there was little discontinuity between the classic icon and the BMW-designed ‘new MINI’. This example likely dates from the mid- to late-’90s.


From the other side of the Channel, here’s a Mercedes-Benz A-Class. As one of the smallest Benzes ever at the time of its 1998 debut, Mercedes invested a great deal in ensuring this car was safe–and that it was seen as such by consumers. Unfortunately, these efforts were overshadowed by its spectacular failure in a Swedish ‘moose test’, in which an early A-Class was swerved violently around an obstacle at speed–and promptly rolled onto its roof.


That was sad for Mercedes, but there’s nothing as sad as this facelifted Ford Fiesta, circa 1996. Forget the third-generation Taurus–I’m nominating this car for the ‘Most Unhappy With My New-Edge Ford Design Language’ award. Can someone please give this thing a hug?


Time for a palate cleanser, and one you don’t exactly see every day: a 1967 Toyota 2000GT. No, it’s technically not curbside, but it is housed in a Toyota showroom on the Champs d’Elysees, and that’s curbside. Anyway, just look at it–that should be enough to justify its presence here.


If you’re not familiar with the 2000GT, it’s essentially the late-’60s ancestor of the Lexus LF-A: a nimble, high-revving Japanese ‘supercar’ meant to showcase what Toyota was technically and aesthetically capable of in its day. Low, lightweight, and powered by a tuneful inline Six, the 2000GT was highly praised by Western reviewers when new, and has begun to command Lottery money today. Only 337 were built.


While it’s nowhere near as rare, I was also quite happy to find this Fiat Barchetta parked near the Eiffel Tower. Its name is Italian for ‘little boat’, and its flowing, gently bulbous lines carry the theme well–it’s sure to attain classic status in another decade or two. But mechanically, the Barchetta is perhaps best described as a sort of Latin Mercury Capri, with front-wheel-drive, a reputation for suspect build quality, and none-too-forceful performance, at 130 hp and 9.0 seconds 0-60.


Judging by its duct-tape top ‘repairs’, this particular Barchetta is also nearing the most precarious stage in any car’s life. Its next few years are likely to go one of two ways: neglect, ‘beater’ status and the crusher, or salvation at the hands of a sympathetic enthusiast. Let’s hope it’s the latter.


Happily, I saw a number of cars in Paris that came out on the right side of that juncture, like this Fiat 500L. The 500 was Italy’s answer to the VW Beetle, with a tiny, rear air-cooled engine and the sort of folk-hero identity that comes with putting thousands of families on the road for the first time. This example was executing an extraordinarily neat parallel-parking job on a Renault dealer’s forecourt. For a sense of scale–the hulks on either side of it would easily be considered ‘compact’ in the US.


Other survivors include this Peugeot 304. But unlike the pristine Fiat, this car looks Eastern Bloc rough-and-ready, with its bile-green paintjob and sandblast-finish wheel rims. Add a bull bar, some fog lights, and ‘Paris-to-Dakar’ body decals, and it’s ready for the classic rally circuit.


Wrapping things up, it just wouldn’t be France without ‘Le Car’, so here’s a Renault 5. Fun fact about this one: the styling of this second-generation 5 is the work of none other than Marcello Gandini, the man responsible for Lamborghini’s Miura and Countach, Maserati’s Ghibli, the Lancia Stratos, and the Alfa Romeo Montreal. What I can I say? We all phone it in some days.


But while it was no surprise to see the 5 on Parisian roads, this sighting took me completely off-guard. Is that really what I think it is?


Indeed, in repose before a stylish storefront, with an urban-chic Polo on one side and a luxury Mercedes on the other, sat one of GM’s Dustbusters. What was it doing here? Was one of the locals such a big fan that they’d imported one from the US? If so, why? Or did an American relocate to France, take their car with them, and never get around to replacing it?


As usual, the Internets provided answers. It turns out that the Trans Sport was actually sold in Europe for a number of years in the 1990s–although, for some reason, many of them used the Oldsmobile Silhouette’s body panels, including the pictured car. Other Euro peculiarities included extra lights, an available 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine (which must have been a real treat, with its 137 horsepower), and a five-speed manual transmission. You could even opt for a diesel/manual Dustbuster, which is probably a dream car for someone, somewhere on this site.

That’s one city down, four to go. And while my primary focus this trip may not be snapping photos of aging cars–which may relieve some of you regarding my sanity–I will have the phone cam at the ready. Au revoir, and hope to post back in a few days.