Driving Into History

Yours truly has been scouting out the South of France on an expedition called ‘holidays’ for a while.

What he found there is that Frog-land France is a great place for gear-heads with a nostalgic inclination, especially in the rural areas such as the Provence. I spent two weeks navigating my already middle-aged Bimmer through a landscape of vineyards, mountains and towns still stuck in 1247. That’s one thing taking one’s mind back in time, another is a great many of the cars seen on the road, many of them much older than my own.

It’s a bit like that one Renault commercial (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wjc0VajDXU0&feature=related), where a chap in a Renault Megane Coupe literally drives into the past. Except that in reality you drive into a past of old Renaults – and some Citroens and Peugeots too. Honestly, it’s no wonder the French automobile industry is suffering; there are so many French that drive their car until it literally falls apart! I saw so many Renaults 4s and 5s – of varying generations – 2CVs, Peugeots 504s (built from 1968 to 1983) and a Renault 12 (1969 to 1980), to name but a few. A beautiful old VW Karmann Ghia too, and a Renault 4 disguised as a BMW.

It was like I was five again, when all of these vehicles were common all across Europe. But let’s think about this: these rural Frenchies are driving cars that are thirty years and older and they’re still going, despite a hard life running up and down mountains and on roads that aren’t remotely comparable to a proper motorway. They feature old technology; anyone with a wrench and a basic technical education can fix them. Really, if it weren’t for the fuel, all of these people would be driving for nothing.

Why then do we all need a new set of wheels every four years? Because they’re more fuel efficient and better for the environment? Nonsense! A Renault 4 from before 1980 sucks up only about 7 litres for every 100 kilometres. That’s hardly more than the actual efficiency of a small hatchback nowadays. Besides, producing a new car isn’t exactly energy and CO2 neutral either. New cars are faster? Maybe, but I’ve had plenty of old French clunkers breathing down my neck in mountain passes all across the Provence! Do we just like the smell of a new car then?

Maybe, but the most important thing is in reliability. A Renault 4 that breaks down not even so often as you’d expect is all fine and dandy when you live and work in rural France, it’s a whole different matter when you’re in a hurry to a sales meeting. Yup, we’re just too often in too much hurry!

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