This time last week I was racing along the deserted roads of Northern France in happy wonderment at just how well maintained they are. From A road to D road, they’re flat and fast, with rarely a fellow driver to be found. It must be said however, that those who use said D roads appear to do so to their very limits, as evidenced by the chap in the Clio who sat an inch from my bumper on the twisty D28 to Callac – I wouldn’t have minded, but I was doing sixty at the time! Aside from the crazy country drivers though, what always strikes me when I’m over there is the incredible amount of motoring literature that’s available – the supermarket shelves are bursting with motoring magazines, and the bookshops unfailingly devote large sections to cars and racing. They’re all expensive, mind you, but the quality of publications like the quarterly Autodiva, or the copiously illustrated tomes from ETAI do tend to give you just reward for the Euros spent, and it’s encouraging to see that a market still exists for such specialist publications.
Sadly, and I suppose it’s the purpose of this particular blog, the roads of France have lost a great deal of their character since I first visited some twenty years ago, and though it’s easy to exclaim ‘well what do you expect?!’, the bulk of that change occurred just four years ago with the introduction of the dreaded scrappage scheme. Much has been written here in the UK about the long-term effects of such schemes upon our motoring heritage, the subsequent sparsity of spares, and the consequent rise in thefts of what have now become endangered cars, but in France the lasting effect to my eyes is the loss of some national identity.
You see for me, a Citroen H van was every bit as French as the moules it carried to market, and until recently they had remained a common sight, but those days it appears have passed, for this time I didn’t see one. Maybe they’re all being used to sell overpriced sandwiches in South London these days – very possible – but sadly I suspect that France’s favourite corrugated rustbucket went to the scrapyards in its thousands, to be replaced by the same miserable white boxes that tailgate motorists the world over. The little Peugeot J7s have all gone too (well, I saw one), as have the Saviems.
Car-wise it’s the same story: gone are generations of Peugeots, from 304 to 205, and I saw not a single Renault 5, let alone a 15. There are however always enthusiasts upon whom one can count, and during my Sunday morning assault on the car boot sales of the Manche region I found that many had turned out to what in France are often village encompassing social events. One in particular had several groups in attendance, including a team of young Renault 4 racers, and cars including an R8 Gordini, a stunning DS Pallas, and a Chevrolet Impala. Other highlights included a lesser-spotted Alfasud Sprint Veloce and a lovely Simca 1100.
As always, it was a strange set of holiday snaps that returned with me: aside from the Hotel de Ville in Caen and a couple of interesting viaducts, they were best suited to an old Observer’s book of Automobiles, though at least these days I can say they’re for my son…
First published on discoveryuk.com