Pepe le Pew . . . On Wheels

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Other than the captive nations of the former Soviet boc, no one built consistently awful – or downright bizarre – automobiles better than France’s Big Three: Citroen, Renault and Peugot.Pepe lead

Thankfully, we’ve had better success ejecting their unwanted wares from our shores than the French have had warding off the relentless juggernaut of Disney, McDonald’s and Miley Cyrus.

So, grab your clothespin, affix to your nose, and walk with me down memory lane a moment:

* Renault Le Car –

A sad little machine that could give a Yugo self-esteem lessons, the Le Car (also known as the Renault 5 in Europe) was launched in 1972 with the slogan, “Hello, I’m the Renault 5, in town and on the road . . . .They also call me Supercar.” A rather audacious claim given the 850 cc, 36-hp engine that powered the original. (My riding lawn mower has 25 hp – and is probably about as quick.) Le car 1

Later models were offered with a noxious 1.6 liter diesel that smelled worse than the car itself looked.

The Le Car sold through 1985 in the U.S. – and actually sold fairly well. Some three million were built, all told – proof that quantity and quality are often not synonymous.

Luckily, only a few remain roadworthy today – and they’re easy enough to catch and smash, if you come across a survivor.

* Citroen 2CV –Citreon 1

Imagine a moped without the sex appeal – or the performance – and you’ve got a handle on the 2CV.

It germinated in the mind of company founder Pierre Boulanger, who wanted to create a car that would “… carry two peasants and 100-pounds of potatoes. . .” The result was the TPV – Toute Petit Voiture – the early prototype of the 2CV that would appear after World War II.

Unfortunately, it was not a casualty of that conflict.

The original 1948 2CV – “Deux Chevaux” – featured a 9 hp air-cooled engine, canvass roof, no door locks or ignition key – and a pull-start system that made it easy for anyone to jump in and steal the thing. Not that it ever crossed anyone’s mind to steal a 2CV, since it would be faster – as well as more reliable – to get away on foot.turd 1

The 2CV became ubiquitous in postwar Europe, where the unlucky losers of the Big One weren’t in much of a position to motor around in Series 62 Caddies or 283 Power Pack ’57 Chevys – and had to make do with this well-named “peasant’s car.”

* Renault Alliance –

This 60 hp K-car wanna-be was probably the car Adam Sandler had in mind when he wrote his beautiful ballad, Piece of Shit Car.

The Alliance was sold from 1983 to 1988 in the United States under the desperate partnership formed by liver-spotted, on life-support  American Motors Corp (AMC) and Renault. Alliance pic

In a move whose astutenesss rivaled that of Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana “Purchase” – whereby America got most of the land West of St. Louis for pennies per acre – AMC wheedled Renault into dishing out $350 million in early 1980s dollars to acquire a 46.4 percent stake in the company that brought the world such exemplars of style, engineering and quality control as the Pacer X (with genuine Levi jeans seat covers), the Gremlin, and – of course – the Matador.

Even though AMC was on the ropes, the French were sold on the idea of exploiting AMC’s still-large dealer network to hock their Pepe Le Pew chariots. But things didn’t turn out so well for AMC – which went belly up a few years later.

Nor for Renault – which eventually fled the U.S. market, never to return.

* Renault Fuego –Fuego 1

Fuego means fire – like the blue flame that comes from you-know-where.

Built from 1980 through 1993, the two-door Fuego is about as hot-roddy as French-made sports cars get – 64-hp engine, 99-mph top speed. Look out!

A “high performance” turbocharged version was added to the mix later on that upped the ante to 107 hp, and gave the car a top speed approaching 120 mph flat out. Right there with a new Hyundai Accent – but without the Hyundai’s build quality. fart light

There are still a few die-hards left who lovingly preserve the few Fuegos that rust – and sledgehammer-wielding prior owners – didn’t claim.

* Renault Rodeo 6 –

Convertibles are fun because you can feel the wind through your hair – but the Rodeo 6’s 75 mph top speed made it hard to get up much of a breeze. On the upside, the 38 hp, 845 cc engine did get good gas mileage. Basically a Le Car with a Jeep-like (and extra shoddy) body, the Rodeo 6 is still in favor as a beach-mobile on the French Riviera and similar locales, where its open-to-the-outdoors cabin is ideally suited to the Homeless Guido lifestyle. rodeo 6

Strap on your speedo and climb aboard!

* Peugeot 505 diesel –

The Peugeot boys began by making coffee grinders and sewing machines more than 100 years ago – and the company that bears the family name ended up building a car with an engine that sounded very much like a sick coffee grinder – only slightly more powerful than a high-end sewing machine.

The Peugeot 505 sedan was actually not such a bad car – if you exclude the breakdown-prone 2.5 liter, 64 hp diesel engine and sketchy frogified electronics. Straining like a late-stage Marlon Brando running up a flight of stairs after a full plate of fettuccini Alfredo, the 505 diesel eventually struggled to a top speed of 90 mph. Getting to 60 mph required the patience of a Buddhist Monk on qualudes – though later turbocharged models almost broke the Beetle Barrier with an 18 second run. peugot pic

The 505 lingered like Limburger until the mid-1990s – though thankfully not in the United States.

* Citroen DS –

French president and national icon Charles de Gaulle escaped an assassination attempt while riding in a DS – though it’s possible the assassins were shooting at the car, not de Gaulle.

Citroen fans credit the getaway to the DS’s self-leveling “hydro-pneumatic” suspension system – which enabled the car to keep going even with two tires shot out. Fortunately for de Gaulle, he didn’t need a fast ride to the hospital – because the DS needed 15 agonizing seconds to reach 60-mph – and could barely get into the three digits on top (106-mph screaming at redline). DS pic

Still, the car had a presence – in the same way a Pontiac Aztek does. People stand transfixed when one passes by, unable to avert their eyes – as if Tony Soprano’s crew  just dumped a body in the middle of the road.

The DS was built for almost 20 years, from 1955 through the mid-1970s. It remains perhaps the most obviously “French-looking” car to most people – and the one you’d most want to disassemble and then rebuild inside the cramped office of your least favorite college professor.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  1. I’m sorry guys, I have to disagree on Citroen. The 2CV and the DS were designed by Flaminio Bertoni, an Italian artist and industrial designer (who also designed the famous TA Traction Avant (Front Wheel Drive) of the 1930’s, which appeared in countless noir movies).
    Maybe I am a irretrievably degenerate European, but I consider those cars jewels.
    I owned a red 2CV with a cc 498 and a canvas rolling top that was very nice (you could also hand crank the engine with the crank of the jack). If there’s ever been a world car, that is, an iconic car recognized worldwide, the 2CV is it. (Well, there have been cars like that: the Beetle, the Willis Jeep, The VW Van…)
    Before I read this article, I read Eric’s piece about allowing the sale of simple, inexpensive basic cars in the U.S.; and I think something like the 2CV, with a modern two cylinder air-cooled motorcycle engine in it, even with its peculiar design would qualify splendidly.

  2. Great article, Eric. I had to laugh because I owned two of the cars on your list: the LeCar and a 505 diesel. Not at the same time, thank goodness. The R5 (LeCar) required premium gas, but returned almost 40 MPG in 1979. Decent ride for a small car, but very rough around the edges. In a rain storm traveling from DC to CT, it couldn’t defog a window. Went through several towels on that trip. Funniest story about that car was a trip back to upstate NY before Christmas 1979. My wife and I stopped by the side of the road to cut and buy a Christmas tree. We got a short one and managed to cram it into the car. However, I never saw my wife again on the trip home because she was obscured by the tree, which took up the entire inside of the car. The 505 had a great suspension and shocks, and a very comfortable seat. On the downside, required a head gasket too early and couldn’t hold speed going up the hill climbing outside of Montpelier, VT. Would go into the hill doing 70+ and exit the top of the hill barely making 50. A friend had an identical car, and when I wholesaled my car to buy his Honda Civic, his blew the engine.

  3. The first 2CV I ever saw was parked on a narrow street in Montmartre. My initial thought was that I could buy one, fold it up, and bring it home in the overhead luggage compartment.

    That said, I’ve always liked the distinctive styling of French cars. If parts and servicing weren’t so expensive I might even have an old Peugeot for Sunday drives. By the way, parts are available for all French cars through a company in California called Western Hemispheres. That is, if you don’t mind taking out a second mortgage on your house to pay for them.

    Back to the 2CV, I’ve heard that it was not originally designed as a road car, but as a farm vehicle that farmers could use to traverse their fields. Something to do with an unusual suspension system. I’m not a car guy, so any corrections to that understanding are welcome. Anyway, a friend of mine (who used to work at Western Hemispheres) tells me that a 2CV was used as the film car for forest scenes in the movie “Last of the Mohicans.” I guess Hollywood didn’t have to worry about the cost of parts.

  4. Wow- I have heard some nasty stuff, but I wonder if you really considered what France went through after the war, and the requirements for cars built in Europe at the time. (Let’s just say post-war) The Traction Avant was as fast if not faster than American cars of the time. The Germans stole them, and they were used as getaway cars for the French baddie bank robbers! They even had a gang! Seriously!
    I owned a Citroen DS, and to this day that is the finest car I have ever owned, and got many many admiring looks with it. Unfortunately since Citroen is no long in the US, I had to sell because parts were so expensive. On the other hand, it ran better than any US made cars made in 1966 and I saw about as many. I still have a couple 2CVs, and though agreed- they are no speed demons, it gets crazy gas mileage. They mad ea ton of these cars and they are known everywhere and still have a huge following. Just because it’s not some 442 screaming won the freeway getting -12 mpg doesn’t mean it’s not a good car. Citroen made some very innovative cars, and many of those innovations have been copied repeatedly.
    Sure- French cars may not be best suited for American roads, but the requirements for a car compared to their native Europe are very different. Just like a Chevelle SS isn’t’ going to be very happy in Europe. Too wide for small streets, too thirsty etc. Heck- Top Gear bags on US cars all the time, and know why? They aren’t intended for Europe and the UK. Also, we’re talking cars made in the 60s through the 80s and the 70s and 80s were a bad time for all car manufacturers. Pintos blowing up, pacers taking forever to get anywhere and different length doors, We have outdone France in crap cars. For sure. I love Yank Tanks, but I also know they aren’t as refined as German or Japanese cars. I still dig a good old American pickup. I think if Citroen came back, or even Renault, or Peugeot, they may get a resurgence. They make great cars now, just watch some WRC, and be impressed!
    I like my quirky French cars. Chicks dig them too. At the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about? ;O)

    • Dear PTB,

      I had a Peugeot PX-10 for a year in 1970.

      Sad to say, someone broke into my apartment and stole it.

      It was a great bike. Loved riding it.

      (That’s bicycle, not motorcycle.)

      • Those PX 10’s were amongst the finest road bikes on the mass market anywhere. I had a ’69 Piglet Tour de france model, which I converted to a single speed fixie some years back.. rode that crazy thing all over the place, then got a REAL track bike (custom handmade for ME by Ron Cooper his-self.. sweet ride) sold the Peogeot to a kid here in town to rode it into the ground.. he was a pounder, but fast (and crazy…. I heard he’d stacked it up and bent the frame….) . I’ve still got a couple old Peugeot coffee mills from the late 1950’s/early 60’s, and one “art deco” wooden tower mill dating to about 1915.. VERY rare and pretty. I found it on eBay in France a few years back. I believe it is quite collectible.

        • Dear Tionico,

          I was really pleased with mine. The price was amazing too. If I remember correctly I paid only 200 dollars for mine, brand spanking new.

          Too bad it got stolen out of my apartment in NYC only a year later. I would probably still have it today otherwise.

    • I remember those; nice bikes, somewhat innovative – they had the plasic, …errr, ‘Delrin” derailleurs, right? Somewhat amazed that those could last 40 yrs, congrats.
      Among snobbish dilettantes like me and my long distance riding buddies back in high school they were known as “flexi-flyers” – softer frame which increased rider comfort, but decreased power transmission to the wheels.

      • I remember the flexi-flyers. My last was a nice Jenet, a 21 lb. engineering marvel. Half a crank would send you a long way. Very nice Shimano brakes gears and derailleur. Loved that bike.

        • Niiiice.
          My sophomore year I upgraded from a VolksCycle (which freshman year I’d already ridden from the east bay to Yosemite Valley) with a Centurion for $150. Not a bad mass market bike – I kept the Suntour GS derailleurs, the crankset, the frame, and the handlebars, oh, and the 34-13 cluster – but over time got new wheels w/ Phil Wood sealed bearing hubs (Hi_Lo in back), narrow gauge rims with low profile tires; buffalo hide saddle; side pull brakes, and traded out the dumb Suntour shifters for the beautifully minimal Shimano shifters mounted on the downtube.
          Still weighed 28 lbs though, lol. But it got ‘er done for a few more Yosemite trips and lots of others.

          Good times.

          • Horse, I was at a motel in Pecos, Tx. 11 months ago when some people from TTU(Texas Tech U)pulled in and stayed a few door down. They had some of the nicest racing bikes I’ve seen. I was fascinated to learn from them that those bikes they had(don’t remember the brands, just exotic stuff)were awesome. I spoke with them about the 120 mile race they were headed to. One fellow told me the difference in the bikes they used and my 35 year old Jenet would be about a minute slower for the race due to flex. The bikes they had weren’t any lighter actually, just much stiffer with better wheels and tires. I think they thought this old man was sorta off at first but warmed up after I spoke of my bike. My wife bought that bike for me for a birthday present in Sweetwater Tx of all places. Who’da thunk it? I wish I had a place to ride and a prostate that would take it ha ha.

        • Hey Eight,

          I have a real flexi-flyer… the sled. Not one of the particle board POS new ones, either. I’ve got a real deal Flexible Flyer from the 1930s, made of solid hardwood, with beautiful iron skids and real painted pinstripes. It’s the big one, too.

          Ever see an example?

          • eric, my knowledge of sledding. Snow gets fairly thick. Take one old car hood, turn it upside down, attach rope to front of it and rear of pickup, hang on and hope the fool in the pickup doesn’t stop when he’s got you cooking in a straight line. I have seen PICTURES of snow sleds, look pretty neat.

    • One of the worst marketing disasters was when Chevrolet marketed the Nova in Mexico. None of the geniuses at GM remembered from their high school Spanish that “No va” in Spanish means “Doesn’t go.”

      • Don’t forget about the Lamborghini “El Diablo” aka “The Devil”. This probably isn’t that good of an example, because if I were a wealthy spanish speaker and not a religious indoctrinated moron, I would buy the shit out of the super awesome sports car called “The Devil”…

        Note to self: design a super awesome sports car that translates into at least 3 major languages as, “The Foster Child That Had the Shit Beaten Out of Them By Their Legal Guardians, Not to be Confused With Their Biological Parents (Who Openly Supported the Smoking of Weed Which Made the Government Forcibly Steal Their Child From Them), Who Later Turned Into a Notorious Serial Killer That the Same Government Blamed on Unsound Genetics, Instead of the Simple Fact of Not Allowing the Parents to Raise Their Child How They See Fit, So That Government Started Forcibly Sterilizing its Population”… It will get 1,000 miles per gallon and go 0-100 in two tenths of a second.

        • Hey Jacob,

          I wants muh a DeTomaso Pantera. Now that is the ticket! You want a car that shoves both thumbs in the eye sockets of political correctness – while kicking it in the balls, too? The Pantera is your car. Imagine a 351 Cleveland howling – the Holley four barrel’s vacuum hissing – inches behind your right ear. Can’t see a got-damned thing behind you, though. But who cares? What is behind you does not matter.

          This is one of my all-time favorite cars, ever. See also:

          Jensen Interceptor
          Lamborghini Muria

          The Jensen is conceivable. Guys like us might be able to afford one someday.

          The Muria?

          Forget about it. Unless your last name is Zuckerberg.

          • @Eric – I have coffee at Starbucks with a fellow who owns a 3 year old Lamborghini. Can’t say which model, all I know is it is a $320,000 700 HP V-12 bad ass 2 door that Darth Vader would be proud to drive. Without a doubt the sexiest Italian sports car inside and out that I have ever seen.

          • eric, I saw one up close at a car show. I think I had sex with it….or something close to it. Even my GF was turned on.

  5. I loved my 1948 Citroen L15. Even the clanking, prone to disconnect rod gear assembly that cantilevered through the dash all the way to the front bumper, where the transmission was. Talk about styling!

  6. I don’t know if anyone mentioned this yet or not, but in 1984, faced with bankruptcy, Renault managed to con the French government into a corporate bailout. The French government did so in exchange for controlling interest in the company. (which in turn had controlling interest in AMC). So, from 1984 to mid 1987 when it was sold to Chrysler, AMC was actually owned by the French government.

  7. I’ll forgive them then the rubbish (and the DS is not rubbish, the best car in the world at time) for the Renault Five turbo, Peugeot 205 GTi, Renault Alpine. Their problem is they like to be brave in the styling which is usually seen as weird especially after coming from Japanese and German designs which are very conservative.

  8. Ehh, the 2CV “Douchebowl” was a great car for the poor folks. Back in 56/57, you often saw people park in the Bois de Bologne, undog and remove the seats and sit in the shade for a picnic lunch.

    Parking place a bit short? Put the nose in and then pick up the rear and slide it into the space.

    Of all the “corporal car” Citroens, though, I’d still like to have one of the old “gangster cars”, a 6CV of the 1920s to the ID/DS series. A Humphrey Bogart/James Cagney car, for sure.

    • “Of all the “corporal car” Citroens, though, I’d still like to have one of the old “gangster cars”, a 6CV of the 1920s to the ID/DS series.”

      Hell yeah., the Traction 15/6cv and the Traction Avant, with those chevrons on the grilles That was an elegant body style. Some italian cars from the pre-WWII era were similarly cool, especially the 1934 Fiat 508 Balilla.

      They’re cool indeed, but my all time European fave is still the Tatra T87. Now that was a highway car.

      • I was in San Diego in the late 1960’s going to school,… sort of… mostly monkeying about with motorcars. I had seen a few of those old 30’s Citröen sedans…. could NOT believe they were that old. Sleek stylish reasonably fast, and a guy in San Diego area was ferreting them out of the barns and backyards of rural France and importing them to the SD area. They were selling for about $1200 if memory serves… at the time I was buying running MGA’s and Triumph TR 3’s for maybe three hundred max, so that was rather dear. I still wanted one… badly. BUT.. I happened across a 1951 Jag Mk VII sedan, running but rough interior… for $300. Done. What a monster that was. 85 mph in third, then drop it into fourth and it would still jump. I still remember those old Citröen sedans… long “wings:, chevrons on the boilertube nickel plated grille, large headlamps on a bar, spare tyre wing-mounted, sleek beautiful body…. and, from what I understood, fairly strong in the performance department.

  9. Here’s my AMC Gremlin story. I worked several months in Midland MI in the winter of ’81. Bought a used Gremlin from a co-worker. That piece of S*** was SO nose-heavy and of course real-wheel drive, that, on the way to work, driving across snow-packed roads, whenever I’d have to come to a stop, the car would just spin a wheel when I tried to start up again. Had to open the driver door and give a push with my foot, while feathering the throttle, almost every time to get it going.

    At the time I was young enough to be amused; today I’d probably just curse.

    • Here’s my AMC story: I had a 1976 AMC Hornet with about a billion miles on it. Complete heap of junk. I was working in an office one time, and my boss asked me to deliver some papers to a high dollar client staying at the Phonecian Hotel & Resort in Scottsdale. I pulled up to the valet stand in this bit of wreckage, and the man in front of me had a brand new Mercedes. He stepped out, and handed the valet the keys and said, “I paid more than $40,000 for this car. Don’t scratch the paint.” (This was in 89 when that was still a lot for a car). As soon as the valet got back, I handed him my key, and said, in the same high society tone of voice, “I paid more than $400 for this car. Don’t scratch the paint!”
      The whole crowd in front of the hotel burst out laughing, except the stuck up Mercedes owner, who just glared at me. It was priceless.

      • Dear Paul,

        Not bad! Reminds me of that scene in “Beverly Hills Cop.”

        [Foley hands the keys to his beat-up car to a valet]

        Axel Foley: Can you put this in a good spot? ‘Cause all of this shit happened the last time I parked here.

  10. I’ve owned a lot of Euro-Cars, including several Citroen DS, CX, XM, HY and 2CVs and five of the much more rare Panhard PL-17 /17B sedans & cabrio. I’ve driven them across Europe, top to bottom in the UK and across North America.

    Some of the favorites have been a highly tuned 2CV6 (had a cross engine) which would hit 160 on a good day, a CX2400 Pallas that was one of the better long distance cruisers I’ve driven, a wonderful PL-17 GR that was frugal enough to let me tour the UK on a student’s budget, and the excellent driving XM which again was a great driver’s car.

    No better or worse than some of the other Euro-Cars owned – Vanden Plas Princess, Morris Traveller, Austin Maxi (yup… and yes it isn’t nice), Mini Clubman, Bristol 408, Landrover Mark IIa, numerous Golf/Passat types, Volvo 265/740/960/V70/C30’s, an Alfasud 1600, an A8L and an S500, a few Euro-Fords (Sierra Estate, Granda Ghia S), a Vauxhaul Omega and a few others I’ve forgotten about.

    Only time one of the French Cars let me down was freezing the brakes at -25c with a DS-21, but then it was cold enough that the flatbed wrecker broke down too….

    All seriousness the cars slagged are fine machines, enjoyable to drive – quirky, sure, but not disasters. I’d actually really like to have my old 1981 CX2400 Pallas C-Matic again… fine machine!


    • “the cars slagged are fine machines, enjoyable to drive – quirky, sure, but not disasters. ”

      I agree. What probably made most owners have bad experiences with them was that there weren’t many mechanics who knew the designs and had access to parts and tools. Poor dealer prep can make a lemon out of a good car as well. A chef I worked with had his new car delivered to him by the dealer with no engine oil. That would tend to make the new car a bad deal, wouldn’t it? 😉

  11. “the 505 diesel eventually struggled to a top speed of 90 mph”

    Was that going down a mountain slope on snow skis? Or on the back of a tow truck?

  12. You forgot Bugatti.

    Top Gear likes French cars

    The 2CV was meant as a cheap entry level car, which meant the young could go outside unlike today.. One reason the attractiveness of rural America for young people has collapsed is the are no cheap cars, but apparently loads of cops.

    • I’ve got mixed feelings about Bugatti.

      No denying the attention to detail, the over-the-top (in a good way) engineering. But some of them – the Veyron, for one – are simply hideous. Fast as it may be, the Veyron, with its Edselian-urinal-looking grille and JC Whitney-esque kit car bodywork, is, to me eye, a jumbled and lurid concatenation of forms. It’s the perfect car for over-rich Guidos who – hopefully – will drive it into the nearest concrete abutment at the car’s top speed of 240 MPH.

      • Dear Eric,

        Re: Bugatti

        Ditto. For me, only 1947 or earlier Bugattis count. The company died with the man.

        The new ones are intriguing exercises in wretched excess, but not the real deal, any more than the Fourth Gen front wheel drive “Pontiac GTO” was a GTO.

  13. I own two Citroens, a ’71 DS21 Pallas and a grey-market ’79 CX 2500D (diesel) Pallas. Neither is a muscle car, but they are both incredibly comfortable long-distance cruisers, and you won’t often see another one going the other way. Plus, the CX gets 41 mpg highway on B20 biodiesel, sold locally, which smells much better than straight diesel. If I want to go fast, I drive my ’97 Mustang GT (which gets only 14 mpg city/24 highway, at best). The engineering on the Citroens, contrary to Eric’s opinion, is superb for its time, but very different from American cars. You cannot take them down to Bubba’s Garage and expect satisfactory repair service (and that was their downfall in ‘murica). They were very rust-prone, but so were most American cars of that era. Here in central California that’s not a problem (I pulled a ’53 Kaiser Manhattan out of a farmer’s field in Lodi, and it had only mild surface corrosion after sitting for many years in the dry sun). Anyway, I don’t think you should call something “crap” if you have not actually had the pleasurable experience of driving one. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (the E-type Jag is my favorite design, but the DS is a close second). Parts are readily available from and several other American suppliers. Bring a fat wallet – they stopped selling Citroens in the USA in 1973.

    Jim Agnew,
    Newsletter Editor/Treasurer
    Sacramento Valley Citroen Club (SVCC)
    Rocklin, CA
    (I’m also a Docent at the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento)

  14. When I was growing up, my father bought a 1984 Renault Encore. He got a deal at the dealership because in the showroom the seatbelt harness on the passenger side was coming undone and it had a flat tire. It was a legendary car for my father. He drove it almost 300,000 miles. It had no pick up and the top speed was like 55 mph, but that was okay because that was exactly how my father drove, slow off the line and in the right lane at all times. It was an ugly car with beige interior and a beige paint job. He was one of the few who loved that Renault. He never shut up about it. I never thought it was that great, especially the car he bought after that was a ’78 Nova.

    • Awesome voice, great vid! Thanks for turning us on to that.
      I am reminded tangentially of a poem learned in French 4, it starts with:

      Il pleut dans mon coeur quand il pleut dans cete ville,
      Quel est cete langeur qui penetre mon couer?
      … (sorry, too lazy tonight to do the alt-char, I’d have to look them up.)

      Best friend and I rewrote it for the recital:

      Il bruille dans mon coeur quand je mange l’escargot,
      Quel est cete bruilleur qui penetre mon coeur?

      That got us a, “Ah! Vous ete incorrigible!” and a big smile.

      Seriously, great song.

  15. So….they make ugly cars, and they consider bathing twice a month extreme, yeah, OK. Still, this one little ol’ French gal can belt out a song, an unaplogetically romantic song at that:

    They know about butter and beef marrow, too. I can’t dis my French ancestors, Great granpere DuTemple and them.

    In case my embed code didn’t work:

  16. It’s funny how “ugly” seems to come full circle when it comes to cars. I look at some of the monstrosities on the road today (e.g., anything by Honda that it markets as a “van” or “SUV”) and could swear that I’m looking at a late 1920’s Model A Ford.

    I could tolerate “ugly” if it came with “high performance” and “efficiency,” but seldom ever is this the case.

  17. That’s one opinion about the Citroen DS, but here’s another: James May of Top Gear called it “Easily the greatest car in the world.”
    Yes, it’s slow, but the French taxed horsepower, and Citroen couldn’t price an already expensive car out of reach of their customers. I’m a bit surprised that someone as astute automotively and contrarian as you, Eric, hold the attitude you do about the DS.

    • James May of Top Gear called it “Easily the greatest car in the world.”

      The man also known to his co-hosts as “Captain Slow”.

      • Liked the desert rally shots and talk about the ride (which I still miss) – you know thinking back now, I don’t remember the DS/ID having any issues at all with oversteer or understeer – you pointed it & it went, as long as you knew what to do with the accelerator on a front wheel drive car.

    • I agree Citro, but through the years I have noticed many typical American biases in Eric Peters work. Eric claims French auto’s were “consistently awful”. Well at the same time Renault brought us “le car” from AMC (and Jeep) which they had just bought, they redesigned the Cherokee from a 3ton anchor to a 1.5 ton work horse. In Europe they marketed a Diesel version that was quite popular and paved the way for the solid presence of Jeep through out Europe marketed with Diesel engines. Across the middle east many thousands of Peugeot 504’s are still in service after decades.

  18. Eric, you left out my very first “car”. The Renault Dauphine ( dɔfin, dô-fēn’; Fr. doh-feen) is a rear-engined economy car manufactured by Renault in a single body style — a three-box, four-door sedan …as the successor to the Renault 4CV, 845cc and 32HP, with over two million examples sold worldwide during its production run from 1956 until 1967.

    Harder to start than an old cranky Harley Davidson, and wanted to overheat on any day over 80 degrees. Broke-ass slow but teenager fun to listen to the engine run near redline everywhere I went.

    • Dear Gary,

      That’s always baffled me.

      The French are fully capable of doing high tech. Examples include the Mirage fighter and the Concorde airliner.

      But for whatever reason their auto industry has been responsible for a long list of automotive lemons.

      Go figure.

      • @Bevin – Because they let the gay clothing designers do the car modeling. Fortunately for the French they have not turned the designers loose on fighter jets.

        The Dauphine was born during a conversation with Lefaucheux and engineer Picardy Fernand. The two agreed the 4CV was appropriate in its postwar context, but French consumers would soon need a car appropriate for their increasing standard of living.

        In 1950, the president of General Motors (GM) had visited Renault, noting the cars’ drab colors, inside and out.[10] According to their own 1951 Survey, Renault’s studies had shown that women held stronger opinions on the colors of a car than the actual choice of a particular model.[10] Coincidentally, well-known Parisian textile artist Paule Marrot (1902–1987) had written Renault’s chairman, Pierre Lefaucheux,[9] giving her opinion that the cars of postwar Paris were a uniformly somber parade — and wondering whether an artist could not help find fresh, vibrant colors.[10]

        Marrot had attended Paris’ prestigious L’école des Arts Décoratifs, had won a gold medal in 1925 at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes and had received a 1928 Prix Blumenthal.[9]

        Convinced of her value to the project, Pierre Lefaucheux made her a member of the Dauphine team — “to rid Renault of their stuffy image. After decades of being dipped in various shades of black and grey, car bodies [would be] painted in happy pastels.”[21]

        A 1951 survey conducted by Renault indicated design parameters of a car with a top speed of 110 km/h (68 mph), seating for four passengers and fuel consumption of less than 7 L/100 km (40 mpg-imp; 34 mpg-US).[9] The survey indicated that women held stronger opinions about a car’s colors than about the car itself (See below, Marrot at Renault).[10]

        By August 1953, head engineer Picardy had an almond green prototype delivered to Madrid for dry condition testing — ultimately experiencing only five flat tires and a generator failure after 2,200 km (1,400 mi).[7] Subsequently, Lefaucheux ordered engineers to test a Dauphine prototype directly against a Volkswagen Beetle.[7] The engineers determined that noise levels were too high, interior ventilation and door sealing were inadequate and most importantly, the engine capacity was insufficient at only four CV (748 cc). The four-cylinder engine was redesigned to increase its capacity to 845 cc by increasing the bore to 58 mm — giving the car a new informal designation, the 5CV.[7] By 1954, a second series of prototypes incorporated updates, using the older prototypes for crash testing.

        Lefaucheux followed the testing carefully — often meeting with his engineers for night testing to ensure secrecy[7] — but did not live to see the Dauphine enter production. He was killed in an automobile accident on February 11, 1955, when he lost control of his Renault Frégate on an icy road and was struck on the head — by his unsecured luggage as the car rolled over

        • Dear Gary,

          LOL. It probably didn’t help. But still, the “gay fashion designers” don’t explain the crappy engineering and QC.

          In fairness, some French cars were terrific. For example, the Bugattis of yore were really something.

          Bugattis noticeably focused on design. Engine blocks were hand scraped to ensure that the surfaces were so flat that gaskets were not required for sealing, many of the exposed surfaces of the engine compartment featured Guilloché (engine turned) finishes on them, and safety wires had been threaded through almost every fastener in intricately laced patterns. Rather than bolt the springs to the axles as most manufacturers did, Bugatti’s axles were forged such that the spring passed though a carefully sized opening in the axle, a much more elegant solution requiring fewer parts. He famously described his arch competitor Bentley’s cars as “the world’s fastest lorries” for focusing on durability. According to Bugatti, “weight was the enemy”.

          But that was a long time ago. 1947.

          Also Ettore Bugatti was Italian, born in Milan. So maybe that “doesn’t quite count?”

      • Bevin – I think you really just mean Renault. I remember when Le Car was popular, never met an owner who was very happy with the purchase. The phrase, “Built to Last a Lunchtime,” comes to mind.

        Citroens, from the beginning, were over-engineered and decades ahead of their time. The hydraulic 4 wheel independent suspension they developed was used by Rolls Royce (Silver Shadow) and Maserati. I’ve only driven one Peugot, a 75 P 405 that was about 15 yrs old, but it was a solid car, well laid out, and fun to drive. Just, like the Citroen, good luck finding parts for it in the US.

        • Dear HB,

          I believe the Renaults were the ones with the worst rep.

          The others I’m not quite as certain about as far as QC.

          But their oddball designs made the bad reps about poor engineering and QC more credible.

          Probably unfair, but as a recent LRC article noted, physical attractiveness tends to increase credibility.

          Jaguar of course is the flipside of that.

      • most are government owned or controlled. And the Froggies were EXPECTED to buy whatever cars were made in France. I guess they had some onerous import duties on “foreign” cars. Besides, Froggies got pride…. Ribbit ribbit ribbit….. gotta buy local.

  19. Back in the early 90’s, my brother bought a used Fuego Turbo. It had a hemi-head, after-market racing turbo, weird wiring, and 1/4-inch vacuum hoses running everywhere. When everything was hooked up correctly and working right, it would do 0-60 in just under 5 seconds and had a top speed of somewhere well north of 140 mph (we often outran ‘Vettes and ‘Stangs, and even gave a friend’s rodded out ‘Cuda a run for its money). That was when everything was hooked up right.

    The dumb car was often plagued with vacuum hose blowouts, broken vacuum-hose connectors and the like. Often the symptoms included not being able to maintain an idle, loss of power brakes, turbocharger not spooling, and a huge lack of power. The worst thing was that the vacuum hose blowouts always occurred at a different location. The thing finally died when the starter motor gave out and the supposed “direct fit” replacement starter arced with a metal radiator hose bib while driving down the road, causing the lower radiator hose to melt; which caused the engine to overheat; which, in turn, destroyed the camshaft bearings, and all heck broke loose from there. It was a fun car while it lasted, but it was a nightmare to keep running. We sold it for parts after that as the body was still in pretty good shape.

    • Great story, Shoal!

      It reminded me of the mid-80s Dodge Omni GLH-S that almost beat my stroker (383) ’78 Camaro. Those little Omnis could haul ass… for a little while.

      Then, they’d self-destruct.

      I haven’t seen one on blocks in probably 15 years. Last time I saw a running one was more than 20 years ago.

      • I live in north -western Maine and there is some young gal running around town in a Navy Blue Dodge Omni. I do a double take every time I see it – not believing what I see.

      • Hah, OMni GLH puts me back about three years… a crazy musclecar buddy of mine got one, had driven it for years till it got tired. Parked it on blocks, inside, he paid me well to tear down and rebuild the engine and 5 speed close-ratio trans. Got a turbo with deeper lungs, cranked the fuel pressure way up (I got him the Bosch adjustable version), got larger injectors…. we cammed and balanced the engine… put it all together and it was hard keeping that engine under 4K for breakin. Once we got past the first 500 miles, we opened it up wide… Oh. My.Good. Ness did that thing FLY…. Body was perfect not a speck of rust, he droped the suspension a touch more than it already was, we put a hurkey antiroll bar under the front end, fitted KYB GasAdjust all round…. I thought he was crazy, but hey, it was HIS money he was spending, and I made plenty of it on that job.

        • Morning, Tionico!

          Yeah, good times!

          The Omni GLH had very light weight going for it. IIRC, it was just over 2,100 lbs. or about 600 pounds lighter than a current Corolla. Put a reasonably peppy turbo four in that package and . . . good times!

          The fact that it was an ugly little shitbox adds to its appeal in my book. Cops don’t pay as much attention to ugly little shitboxes that look like they can’t outrun a Moped. The insurance is less. And – best of all – you can mess with guys like my younger self in hopped-up Camaros and make ’em wonder what the hell just happened to ’em!

          One of the most appealing stealth rods I have ever seen was an older Volvo wagon – with a complete Corvette (about four years older than the current/2014) drivetrain stuffed under it. I don’t mean just the engine. I mean – everything. The ‘Vette’s six-speed, its suspension – everything.


  20. Great post Eric, I laughed so hard I shook the cat off my lap; typing through tears of laughter right now. One of my high school teachers drove a Citroen, he thought it made him sophisticated and “continental” and all that. Too bad Citroen is also French for lemon. 🙂

      • eric, my whole life is cats now. 8 weeks ago I’m driving along coming up on a river bridge and the car in front of me does a quick maneuver to the right. I have so much fever I can’t see so I’m straining, finally see a little smudge of tar and then it moves so I go right too. It’s tiny kitty, so I stop, go back and pick it up, take it home. 2 days later it’s everywhere, right on my heels. Now Smudge is 10 weeks old, weighs over 3 lbs and is about the most fired up cat I ever saw. She’s taken in the last litter of 4 three week old kittens who have already taken in to following me everywhere. So now when I walk somewhere, there’s the 5 kittens that are 7 months old, Smudge and the 4 new kittens and sometimes the old kittens daddies/uncles(don’t know which is the daddy since they’re our first and only identical cats). I sit at the computer and if it’s chilly, all 5 older kittens will be vying for a lap spot as will Smudge and now the little kittens. Help, kittens need good home, free!!!

        • Lawsee!

          But they’re worth it, eh?

          One of my favorite fictional characters – Hellboy – is also a big cat person (er… uh… devil. But, a good one!).

          The Egyptians were onto something…

          • This is all a strain on Cholley Jack, trying to keep them all in line. Somehow, he voted himself the police of cats. If I discipline one he comes running and the cats OBEY him after blowing me off. When they hear him coming, they do what I told them to do. I feel sorry for him. He’s standing here just watching the tiny ones going bonkers. He has to sleep with a few of the 7 month old kittens anyway and he doesn’t mind them using him to stay warm, just draws the line at them getting on top of him… too. Smudge is in my lap, says Hello.

          • Paul, according to my wife, I am the crazy cat mama/daddy. I was flat on my back with a broken leg when all the 7 months old kittens were tiny and they just crawled all over me, slept on me and knew me as the feed bucket. I never had cats like this, never imagined it could be this way. I can grab the kittens(7 lbs)by their belly skin and walk around with them purring so loud you can hear them coming. CJ’s best bud growing up until a few months ago was a tomcat that died a mysterious death(coyotes probably or a snake, found him dead in a kennel nothing could get into except a cat). Oh wow, last night coyotes were going bonkers so I stepped out with my 20,000,000 CP spotlight and tried to light them up but they were behind the tank dam so I turned it south just for grins and lit up two big yellow eyes about 60′ behind the barn. I held it there and waited for two other calves, the only livestock on the place right now to show up but they didn’t and then I hear the most evil taking on from a buck deer I’ve heard in my life. He was mad(in rut)and going bonkers. It was a moment I’ll remember since I never heard one take on like this. I stayed close to the house, wishing I had an AR in my hands, didn’t even have a rifle or shotgun, standing in my altogether just out of the shower. ‘at’ll teach me. Come to Tx, get back to nature.

            • Hey Eight,

              It got cold last night, so lit up the wood stove. I took a pic of five of our cats absorbing the heat as though they were on the Riviera, basking in the sun! Cats – our cats, anyhow – hate the cold.

              Speaking of coyotes:

              I was talking with my neighbor yesterday; they were out hunting in the “back yard” (the 100-something acres behind us) and had bagged a few deer. While they went to get the truck to haul ’em back, a pack of 20-plus coyotes rushed in and went to town on one of the carcasses. They weren’t able to get back in time to do much – and the deer was ruined.

              The coyotes are becoming a real problem in our area. I never go out in the woods anymore without a rifle – or my .45 . …

          • eric, I didn’t sleep long, hurting leg and when I gave up, I had to shed 2 cats with 2 more using CJ as a heater. If we had a stove, I know where you could find them all. Cats are smart, cold sucks. We have a huge amount of coyotes this year too. CJ saved Tiny the tom from 3 of them right here in the front yard back in the spring and actually chased one down. I saw him outrun 3 of them, something no other dog we ever had has done. When he’s in that mode I call him Master Blaster, fairly descriptive. I’m not scared of coyotes but then I never had 20 of them in a group looking at me either. That’s too many. I’d have to thin them out some. I shot one that got close to the barn a couple weeks ago, wish to hell I’d had some hearing protection since that .243 is a killer inside the barn. 45 gr. 4350 pushing an 85 gr. soft spire point boat tail in the back of his head made him lose his mind. I varmint hunted some when young but don’t really care to kill varmints now although I’m forced to at times, like the 7 coons eating cat food on the back porch.

      • I’ve actually got two, sisters from the same litter; I’d love to have a couple more but these two don’t play well with others, whichever one is not onmy lap will sneak up and smack the one who is. At least we have a king size bed so they both can co-exist there, get one on each side which is great now that winter is almost here. Makes it awkward if I have to get up in the middle of the night to pee, they get all grumpy. 🙂

        • Mike nB, when I brought Smudge home it was an orange tom almost identical to his uncle/daddies who was chilliest, started cleaning on Smudge when I first showed her to him while all the rest didn’t want anything to do with her, typical cat fashion. They all play with her now although they’ve accepted her at different rates. Sitting here last night they all got on a big play and emptied the book shelves of phone books, quite a stack, knocked over two boxes, made a game in a case beer box and tore around making so much noise I could barely hear the stereo. I’m glad they all get along having had a bunch that didn’t or certain ones didn’t get along. There’s a really neat cat toy being sold now that’s like a whiffle ball the size of a gold ball with a bell inside. Seems like they’re called Midnight Surprise or Madness which is an apt name. I’ll wake up and hear one being swatted all over. It’s much better than the self tapper metal hide screw they had been playing with that made a hell of a noise or the extra long golf tee they found somewhere, or a pecan hull, etc. etc. You have to be careful at night or you’ll find something with your foot that’s painful.

  21. I have fond memories of the Citroën 2CV. A small ~660cc engine that took me around Greece. Those seats were something else. Comfortable, but non-adjustable. I would have had difficulty trying to drive that car, due to lack of sufficient legroom (for me).

    I was amazed that the 2CV could get to 75mph. (took a long stretch of road)

    As long as I did not need to move (and/or accelerate) quickly, the 2CV is adequate for going from A-B. It was simple to work on which was good when the car broke down. (Some duck tape was enough to get us to our destination until more permanent repairs can be made)

  22. I thoroughly enjoyed this one – Frog cars are just …well, so Froggy.

    The real question Eric – is what happened that set you off on this rant?

    Did some stuck up French Bastard cut you of in traffic driving one of the POS’s?

  23. Ain’t it nice that it’s still acceptable to dis the French? There are still a few guilty pleasures in life, after all.

    Whenever I think of Renault, I think of the Alliance my buddy Ronnie bought in ’83, after Motor Trend made it Car of the Year (!). Our friend Steve looked the car over and said to Ron, “Well, it’s purty nice … ” He paused, then added, “… for a piece of shit.”

  24. re: Citroen DS – 15 seconds 0-60 sounds wrong. I drove a 65 Citroen ID19 around Orange County and LA for a few years in the mid 80’s, never had problems getting up to freeway speed (the ID is the same as the DS, just a lower trim package & less options, like the headlights that turned with the steering wheel that you could get in the DS. Mine had a 1.9L four in it, and could cruise all day at 75mph while getting 40+mpg – these cars had a lower drag coefficient than a Porsche 911.)

    Anyway the DS was a touring sedan, not a muscle car, and it was damn near perfect in that role, especially compared to what American companies were offering at the time. I guess you’ve never gotten to drive one, else there’s a good chance you’d love these cars as much as I do.

    • I agree about the DS. The ones built mid to late ’60s were just pure-D cruisemobiles. I have to say that they are ugly as day old dog shit, but that isn’t what makes for an economical daily driver. The weird lines were all about presenting a slick profile to headwinds, not about good looks.

      • I never really got the “ugly…” bit. But I’m a big “form follows function” kinda guy, so I always found the DS/ID (and SM) to be rather beautiful. (And which makes the Aztek comment a lowblow, Eric, lol – anyone seeing that thing has one question: “WHY?”)

        But it is a contradiction of American styles at the time – most “murican cars were either boxes, or looked like they were straining forward, even parked, with a big aggressive grill and bumper. The DS was the opposite.

        Oh, and Eric – funny article and points for the “Real Genius” reference. 😉

      • Ed, beauty, eye of the beholder, all that. I thought they were neat and tried to get my dad to buy one. I’ll tell him all about their suspensions, their aerodynamics, they’re seats, amenities, drivetrains. I don’t recall he ever replying to anything I said. It was probably “another” one of those Jed/Jethro”I gotta have a talk with that boy” moments for him. On the rare occasion one passed through I’d be right beside. Say Millicent, do you think that boy in that Chevy pickup is operating on all eight?

        • 8, I remember the strange steering column on one I saw, probably ’68 or thereabouts. I never really liked the looks of them but from all accounts, they were very fine road machines and very comfortable. My misfortune, never having had a chance to drive one.

          • Ed, I never drove one either and considered it a misfortune too. That big pipe bent over with a wheel attached was just too cool. You could adjust the suspension to a high setting for rough roads, just the thing for country folks. It always seemed like the hottest girls were riding in them too ha ha. I say girls, are you encouraging that bumpkin? Was it just me or did everybody who drove them seem to be in high fashion?

          • 8, that steering column was like the Pilgrim’s whole boneless chicken, “a mind bogglin’ thang”. Yeah, the only ones I saw were around Charlotte, where there were people who could buy a car like that. Strictly for them “high fashion queens” 😉

        • Sorry that you haven’t gotten to drive one yet. It’s…
          This is the best representation I’ve found so far.

          The part about the comfy chair riding on a waterbed is so true. But it wasn’t a performance issue as some may assume – just a different “seat-of-the-pants” than a more punishing vehicle.

        • Sleep ain’t coming, and my instinct in comments is to maybe be too terse & stay out of trouble, lol, but I’ll expand a little here because the subject is so near & dear.

          Maybe substitute “punishing” for “performance.” Another favorite car was an 81 VW GTI which was sooo different – the car made you a cyborg, you feel everything it did as far as the road. Beautiful. Loved winding mountain roads, could accelerate going up steep grades, incredible mpg.

          The DS ,,,well those seats had at least 3″ of open cell foam as the outer layer, more going on beneath that, if that gives you an idea. Back seats too, with a folding armrest that was also a pass-through to the trunk, like for carrying skis; and FWD meant the floor pan could be lower and no drive train hump. Sitting in the back was really like an awesome armchair without your knees in your face or up against the front seat. (I’m 6’3″ like Eric, I can attest to this.) But you still had an acute sense of the road in it – it’s just that the hydraulics took care of so much – braking, suspension, steering, transmission all tied together with the hydraulics – eg., when you braked hard, the suspension sat down in the back and stiffened a bit in the front. That and disc brakes gave it a very short stopping distance. That’s just one example.

          There’s this canyon road from Laguna Beach to the 405 in SoCal – I think PSL 45 or 50. Winding, slightly uphill. We’d take that at 70mph in the C, and it was way fun, but it wasn’t thrilling, wasn’t on the raggedy edge – it just did it. Maybe that sums it up.


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