Monaco has long been a haven all things exotic and expensive: its combination of lenient tax laws and a picturesque backdrop have rendered it the domain of the one-percenters for many years now. It should then come as no surprise that its streets are teeming with all sorts of rare and noteworthy automobiles: Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Bentleys, and the like delight throngs of tourists with their sharp lines, loud paintwork, and burly exhaust notes. You would think, then, that this would be the perfect vacation destination for those interested in cars, but in reality it’s not quite all that.
As I navigated through the boisterous crowds and busy streets, taking in my surroundings, the whole city seemed a lot more superficial than I had imagined it would. I felt as if I was walking in an endless loop down Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, in a place where people drive expensive cars not to enjoy them, but rather for other people to admire them. So while I did encounter many exotic cars, including many that I’d never even seen before, the whole experience was missing something.
That something was the element of discovery, the thrill of spotting a rare car in the wild, the head-turning presence unusual cars commandeer in the streets of everyday life. In Monaco, none of these cars were head-turning anymore. Hell, they were using S-Classes as taxis. What seems so special when it’s the only one around becomes a new sense of normalcy, and then you realize you’re walking around in a sea of ostentatious wealth, and then it’s not so much fun anymore.
But it’s not that Monégasque beauty is only skin-deep; in fact, many of its treasures lie beneath its opulent surface, tucked away in Monaco’s many parking garages. I first realized this not by seeking these hidden cars out, but rather as a result of trying to park in the train station parking garage. On my way down the many levels, searching for a parking spot, I noticed an old light blue sedan that clashed sharply with the late-model Mercedes and BMWs that comprised the majority of the parking lot’s tenants. I couldn’t identify it upon a glance, so after parking a level below I hiked my way back up to take look. It turned out to be this Renault Frégate.
We’ve never really covered the Frégate at CC, although it was alluded to in a recent article about rear-engined cars – the Frégate itself wasn’t rear-engined, but it was initially supposed to be, and the finished (front-engined) product was regarded as hastily-engineered and was ultimately a flop – while it sold in decent numbers for a few years after its introduction in 1951, the introduction of Citroën’s far-superior DS in 1955 terminally torpedoed the Frégate’s sales.
This particular model is equipped with Renault’s ‘Transfluide’ semi-automatic transmission, which was first introduced for the 1957 model year, and the grille identifies it as a 1959-60 model, which would make it one of only 5,390 Frégates produced during that two-year span.
Of note is the fact that there are no fewer than four ‘Transfluide’ logos present on this car (including a dedicated front logo), and just two mentions of ‘Renault’: a discrete badge on the back and a small inset in the front logo.
After concluding the day’s activities, I returned to where I had parked and decided I would peruse a few of the garage’s lower levels, where I ran across some vintage American iron.
The first was this bright yellow 1949 Dodge Wayfarer Roadster. 1949 Dodges were the first new Dodge design of the post-WWII era, and the Wayfarer was the base model, intended to be affordable and basic transportation. The roadster was just about the cheapest convertible money could buy at the time at $1,727 (about $18,000 in 2017 dollars), and 5,420 were built.
This Roadster also features a semi-automatic transmission, in the form of Dodge’s Fluid Drive.
Nearby the Wayfarer was this Willys Jeep, which at first glance seems to be a genuine army model, but I suspect it may be a recreation due to the presence of both a “U.S.A” type on the front hood and “Caution: Left Hand Drive: No Signal” on the rear (which should only be present in Jeeps assembled for RHD markets).
Nevertheless, it was an unexpected find.
Also present in this collection was this lovely Mercedes-Benz 220S convertible, one of just 2,178 made:
And this Autobianchi A112, also in near-perfect condition.
Just for fun, I decided to drive through one more parking garage before I left Monaco for good (this frivolous venture was enabled by the fact that these garages had free parking for the first hour), where I happened upon a couple of Italian classics.
The first was this Lamborghini Countach.
And the second (and final featured car) was also the most valuable: this Ferrari 330 GTC, dating back to around 1967. Equipped with a 4-liter V12 pushing out 300 horsepower and an independent rear suspension, it was just about the most desirable car around when it came out, and continues to be just as desirable today – these cars regularly change hands for upwards of half a million dollars.
Though these last couple cars are indeed Italian exotics, and though all of these (save the Frégate) are in near-concours condition, to me it felt more satisfying to see these vintage cars being cared for, rather than the countless brand-new sports cars that are only really purchased to show off. These classic cars are, without a doubt, the toys of the wealthy, but they’re unique enough even in Monaco that they turned my head, at least.