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Why The French Make The Best Classic Cars


When you're thinking about the nations renowned for their classics cars, France might not immediately come to mind.

 

But on closer inspection it's a country that has produced some of the most memorable - and seminal - cars of all time. That's why we think the French are worthy of a place in our series of classic car countries - and here are our reasons why.

 

What do you think?

 

INNOVATION

 

The French, and Citroen in particular, have always pushed the boundaries over the years.

 

 

Take the original 2CV - it was launched in the post-war years, much like the Fiat 500, as cheap, simple transport, but it was so successful that it was sold until 1990. It was actually conceived before the Second World War as a way of motorising farmers who were still using horses and carts. And one specification was that it had to glide over a ploughed field - and it duly did thanks to innovative suspension.

 

 

Staying with Citroen, the stylish DS, built from 1955 to 1975, is remembered probably for two things - its sloping bodywork (more on that shortly) and the fact that its headlights moved with the steering wheel to light the road ahead as you went around corners.

 

 

But it was also the first mass-produced car to use disc brakes and the first to make use of hydraulic systems for suspension - it was self-levelling - clutch and transmission.

 

 

Peugeot, meanwhile, was founded in 1810 - a good 76 years before the car was even invented - and made bicycles first. Talk about being in on the ground floor.

 

STYLE

 

Continuing with the aforementioned DS, it was a landmark in car design as well as an innovator in mechanics. But the French were producing some of the most stylish cars long before that - take a look at Amilcars, Citroens and Renaults from the 1920s and 1930s.

 

 

The Peugeot 204, made from the mid-60s to the mid-70s, had a real elegance about it, as did the 1970s Citroen GS. And the 1960s Panhard 24 was a quirky beauty as well.

 

THAT CERTAIN 'JE NE SAIS QUOI'

 

If a little Fiat 500 defines classic Italian motoring for the masses, the Model T Ford the same for the USA and the Mini likewise for Britain, then the 2CV surely does the same for France. There's nothing quite like it and the French agreed, snapping up nearly four million of them in car form alone - and another 1.2 million vans.

 

Talking of vans, is there anything quite as French as the Citroen HY? You only have to look at it to immediately think of the Normandy countryside.

 

 

ICONIC STATUS

 

Aside from the landmark cars that we've already mentioned, there are plenty others that have gone down in history. Take a more modern classic - the Peugeot 205 GTi.

 

 

The Volkswagen Golf might well be credited with starting the hot hatch genre, but the 205 GTi is up there alongside it as one of the most legendary. Because the French can do fast as well as anybody - another modern classic, now highly sought after is a great example: the Renault Clio Williams.

 

 

Built to celebrate the successful Formula One partnership of the mid-90s, this was one hardcore Clio - the engine had 145hp, which was a lot for a little car 20 years ago.

 

 

And how could we forget the Renault 5 Turbo? Rear-engined and rear-wheel-drive, this 1980s rally special was an absolute animal and is seriously valuable now.

 

 

RACING HERITAGE

 

Talking of rallying, it's just one arena of motorsport where the French have serious pedigree. Sebastien Loeb is the World Rally Championship's most decorated driver by far and he did it all in home-grown Citroens.

 

 

And then there's Le Mans, where Peugeot in particular has enjoyed plenty of success over the years.

 

In Formula One, Renault won world titles with Williams in the mid-90s and Peugeot also supplied engines to Jordan.

 

 

And finally, there's the Dakar Rally. It all began in 1978 and ran from Paris to Dakar in Senegal and became known as one of the toughest motorsport events in the world.

 

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