Postcards from France - driving in style - Citroën car icons in France
Have you driven in France? Do you love the idea of a classic car to explore the smaller roads of this beautiful country? While the coach drivers on my many school trips bore the brunt of the speed limits and braved the chaotic blend of cars all seemingly going in differing directions around Paris, I could sit back and relax! Nowadays I'd rather be driving along a quiet country road or a near-empty toll road in a classic car. I'm still not too sure about the hairpin bends though. One thing I am sure of though is how the cars we're exploring today are iconic French creations!
Surely some of the most renowned French cultural icons in the automobile industry are the cars that always raise a smile as you travel - either as the driver, passenger or passerby. It just so happens that Citroen has made three very iconic French cars and they feature on our Postcard from France this week.
I show some love and appreciation for the Citroen DS, the equally iconic and charming 2CV and the older vintage Traction Avant . Have you ever wanted to understand the appeal? Let's have a brief journey through France with these iconic classics!
It wasn't until I moved to Canada that I appreciated that many people from outside Europe don't know a lot of the brands of French cars and they aren't part of the car landscape at all in North America. I grew up with those Renault adverts with Nicole and Papa and the va va voom years with Thierry Henry. 😉
But that nostalgia aside, cars made all over Europe are something I suppose I took for granted. For example, the Renault Clio was the bestselling car in Europe. In France there is a pride for the car industry and you'll always see a huge number of French car brands on your travels or in daily life. Whether they are Citroën, Renault or Peugeot you will probably find many of these too if you hire a car (usually a manual transmission too.)
I'm not a petrolhead but I do feel that certain models of the French brands are iconic and will forever be part of the cultural landscape of France.
Sometimes clichéd, but often just daily life objects, cars like the redoubtable 2CV exude French country classic vibes and remain popular. It is the rural classic to the city future of the DS (with its beautiful lines still so distinctive today.) Of course before both of this cars, there was the Citroën Traction Avant. A classic car now that makes me think of Maigret and pre-war films.
Let's briefly explore a little about each of these classic Citroën cars as the French icons they are.
Citroën Traction Avant
Released in 1934 by Citroen (and then later when Citroen's company was taken over by Michelin) this classic beauty is elegant and beautiful.
If you'd like to see it in action today, then you might like Jay Leno's Garage video (with his amazing car collection linked below.)
He has a beautiful unrestored version from 1949 which drives superbly and looks just gorgeous! You can see it in the video being drive by Leno and also static in the garage.
At the time it was quite aerodynamic looking for a sleek saloon and it had innovative ideas in the placement of its suspension, engine and the body of the car. It is thought to be the first car design created by sculpting from clay. (Designed by André Lefèbvre and Flaminio Bertoni, the Traction Avant features on Citroënvie's website.)
If all that horsepower and saloon style elegance doesn't cut it for you, then you might like the charming and frankly simpler 2CV. Designed to be able to transport hen's eggs to market on the back seat, with no breakages, the 2CV is renowned for its springy comfort and charming look. As iconic as a lavender field in Provence or a field of sunflowers, the 2CV is a rural icon first and foremost. It will take you off to the weekend market or daily trip to the boulangerie with ease.
Would you like to see if the car lived up to its goal? You can see the eggs-in-a-basket challenge in action with the BBC Top Gear video below.
You'll find many people still use a 2CV for geting around and its been only subtly changed over the years including those Dolly versions in the 1990s.
Popular with collectors as well as ordinary people, it's perhaps the iconic car that you might associate with moving to rural France. You can even see the purchase of one (a van version) by British chef John Burton-Race in the series where he and his family moved to rural south west France for a year. (Do you think he perhaps paid a bit too much for it?!)
The first pre-production cars were hand-built in utmost secrecy in the summer of 1955 and the car was unveiled the following October at the Paris Motor Show. It was the car that embodied the future that year and this 'goddess' of a car (the letters d and s said in French sound like déesse, which translates as goddess in English) the DS continues to be popular with collectors and fans worldwide.
It's even popped up as the car of choice for Inspector Morse-like investigation Judge Vernaque (Roger Allam) in the new BritBox series Murder in Provence, filmed in and around Aix-en-Provence and full of beautiful scenery (and some murderous storylines.)
And yet again Jay Leno has a beautiful example of one in his collection, which you can explore here (although he says it D S in english, so don't copy him - it sounds like dayess remember?😉)
It's a beautiful car and stil looks completely unique. Find out more about is history and all the details on its design and manufacture at this great post.
It makes me want to put on my most elegant outfit, find an Yves Saint Laurent or Yves Montand lookalike and go driving around Paris to the sound of Miles Davis. Is that just me? Thought so.
What does the stylish DS evoke for you?
Have you seen this French icons where you live? Have you spotted them in French films and series? If you could choose, which is your favourite?
For more French cultural icons and journeys around the hexagon, join me next time for the Postcards from France.
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