In a major city like Barcelona, there's no shortage of things to see. This major Spanish city is worth a visit for the Gaudi architecture alone, not to mention the general architecture, parks and avenues. On a recent visit, I discovered the recently unearthed ruins of 18th century Barcelona beautifully preserved and presented under the Mercat del Born public market. Barcelona should be on anyone's list of cities in Europe to visit!
As an unrepentant car fan, I was also extremely pleased to run across a lovely car I had never seen before. This model happened to be British in origin, a handsome and clean Triumph 2000. Knowing nothing about this car (except that it had overdrive, as a badge on the rear proudly stated!), I had to look it up, and discovered that the 2000 was produced from 1964 until 1969. The 2000 was meant to offer the low operation and maintenance costs of an 'average' car with upscale comfort and luxury features unexpected for the class.
This handsome light blue sedan was in beautiful shape, and only needed a wheel detail to look perfect. A touch of chrome trim added to the design without being too flashy, making this Triumph a surprisingly understated sight on a Barcelona street filled with modern vehicles. The 'Overdrive' badge suggested this was an automatic model, which struck me as surprising in Europe where manual transmissions have long been the norm.
While it's still common enough to see sporty Triumph coupes and convertibles out, especially when the nice weather hits, you don't see a car like this 2000 sedan every day. Barcelona is a fantastic city with lots of sights and sounds to entertain a tourist, but for a car fan, a discovery like this only makes it better. This Triumph-ant visit makes me want to get back and discover even more!
A boxy old Volvo may still be a relatively common site in Europe, but they still manage to turn my head every time. This recent 240 GL sighting, was especially interesting for a few reasons:
1) It was an appealing light beige tone
2) It was in really great shape
3) It was a wagon
4) It was a diesel
5) It was a manual
Any of those points alone make an 80's car worth looking at, but the five combined make it the holy grail of old relic finds! As I snapped a few pictures I took a close look at the overall design and details of this imposing wagon.
I've always been a fan of traditional Volvo styling, and I think that they are even more interesting nowadays that most cars have a similar curvy shape with little to distinguish them. Even when most other cars were similarly brick-like, Volvo stood out as the 'boxy' brand. It's easy to imagine designers starting with a block of clay in the studio and hacking away at it with a chainsaw to get the upright profile of this wagon.
That said, there are some great design features like the gently curved windshield, rounded fender line running the entire length and an extremely long hood that differentiate the Volvo 240 from other wagons from the same period. The tall, upright greenhouse and ample glass all around make this car an excellent family vehicle with fantastic visibility for all aboard.
To compliment the overall design, Volvo designers added some simple yet attractive details, such as sporty rims, chrome door handles and trim, tall taillights and exposed hatch hinges. Think of these things as cuff-links, a lapel pin and a pocket square on a simple, handsome suit.
It would appear that this Volvo Wagon, which was sitting on a street near the Eiffel Tower, was a regular daily driver. It's great to think that some families still enjoy this sort of throw-back family car. As much as I generally prefer smaller cars, every time I see one of these brutal and yet at the same time elegant wagons I picture myself entering my 'Volvo' years. Considering how tidy this one is, I doubt the owner is in a hurry to part with it, so I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for other examples of this 'styled by chainsaw' legend!
On a recent trip to the UK, I had a very exciting automotive encounter. For several years I have been getting to know Ian, a friendly and knowledgeable British car fan that stumbled across my blog when I posted about a Ford Consul Classic I discovered in a garage covered in dust in the south of France. While we did our best to help a member of his Ford Consul Classic club purchase the car before it was hauled out of its dilapidated garage and off the the wrecking yard, we were unable to determine what happened with it in the end.
When I told Ian that I would be visiting Manchester in February he invited me up for a visit. He was more than happy to show me his collection, which includes a Ford Consul Classic 315 sedan (a model that was built in 1962 but registered in 1963, in Goodwood green), a 1962 Ford Consul Capri 335 (in Lime green and Ermine white) and a 1963 Ford Consul Capri GT (in white and Monaco red).
One rainy afternoon I headed up his way and we met at a local pub. After a short drive to the property where his cars are stored I finally got to see his beautiful collection. The three cars are safely stored away in a large garage with a bunch of other vehicles, so simply walking in was a treat. There was an old Jaguar, a Rolls Royce, a Citroen SM and a rare Renault Alpine. But it was Ian's cars I went to see, and I wasn't disappointed. The battery of the green 1963 Ford Classic was nearly dead, but with a quick boost it fired it. He pulled it outside for me to get a proper look.
In what I assume is typical fashion for a February in East Lancashire, it was grey, cloudy and drizzly, but that didn't bother me. Ian was more than happy to take me for a drive through the countryside and let the old girl stretch her legs after sitting for a while. We headed along some fantastic country roads and snaked our way not too far from Pendle Hill. The Consul bobbed and leaned gently through the corners and made an appealing growl every time Ian accelerated.
After an enjoyable ride we got to a small town called Downham. There are no road markings and few moderns touches, which allows you to feel like you've stepped back in time. With the car parked at the perfect angle (I'm pretty sure he did it on purpose!), I was able to grab some great shots.
The most obvious and remarkable feature of the Consul is the reverse-angle rear window. Only a few cars in history have featured such a unique and interesting rear window, and it makes the Ford Classic really stand out from other classic cars you see. The rear end is equally interesting, with wings that climb up over the taillights. Chrome bumpers, grille and trim add class to the Consul Classic and give it a very appealing look.
After a stroll through the village while Ian explained a bit about the history of the town and the surrounding area, we headed back. At one point we were on country lanes that cut through farm fields and I even had to jump out and open an close a gate to let the car through! The setting seemed perfect for this gorgeous old car and I enjoyed the ride back to the garage. It was late in the afternoon and it was starting to get dim so I couldn't get a great look at the other cars, but Ian said if I came back in the summer he'd be happy to show them to me as well.
Before parting ways we enjoyed a bite to eat and a pint at the local pub (thanks again Ian, I owe you!) and talked more about cars and travels and other adventures. Ian even gave me some tips and directions as I headed up to visit Scotland. It was a real pleasure not only to discover this wonderful car in person but also meet a real class-act like Ian. Thanks for sharing your passion for old cars. I look forward to getting back in the summer and see your other classic Ford's... hopefully next time I'll have an interesting car to show you too!
The term 'collectible' doesn't mean the same thing to everyone. While certain classic cars are without question worth investing in as collectible cars, certain old vehicles only have appeal for certain people. In France, you still see a faire number of the Renault R4 (also called the 4L) van on the road. This model was produced from 1961 until 1994 during which time over 8 million models would be manufactured. Available in several versions, the 5-door model was by far the most popular as an affordable, practical and reliable family vehicle along the lines of the similarly-sized Citroen 2CV.
One of my favourite models of the 4L is the utility version, the F4. It trades the rear passenger compartment for an enclosed cargo space with one large rear door. Some versions had full windows, but this beautiful example I saw recently only had small side windows on either side. This type of vehicle, the small white 'utilitaire' van is a common sight on French roads as the tool of choice for businesses as an economical and practical work vehicle suitable for small French towns and roads.
I discovered this example in Coucy le Chateau, an old French town with medieval walls and the ruins of an old castle and prison. Most of the original site was destroyed during the first and second world wars, but many of the walls that surround the city are still standing. The old Renault 4L may not be medieval, but it looked right at home in this quiet rural town. Parked in front of a Bed & breakfast, I suspect this vehicle gets used to make runs to the hardware store and grocery store, as it makes a practical buggy to pick up all sorts of cargo.
As with most old cars of this type, the Renault 4L wasn't spotless. As it's not a true collector vehicle, it doesn't spend its days parked in a heated garage. This one probably gets used daily, and there's a good chance the owner would be surprised that I not only stopped to take pictures but am also writing a story about it. That's what's fun about liking cars that don't fall under the traditional 'collectible' heading. I run into vehicles nearly frequently that most people wouldn't give a second look but that make my day. I'd be happy to add this one to MY collection!
Distill the automobile down to its basics and you have this: the Caterham 7. I can't think of any other way to describe it. I had the extreme pleasure recently of piloting this gorgeous, raw roadster and instantly fell in love with it. It's noisy, rough, uncomfortable, and yet somehow the most enjoyable car I've ever driven.
Right around the time I was leaving France back in summer 2014, my friend Christian told me he was buying a new car. Already the owner of a gorgeous Alfa Romeo GTV 1300 Junior, he had always wanted the classic 7 roadster. After nearly buying a kit car version (that needed to be assembled), he decided on a green and yellow model that was already built and ready for the road. It has the 128 hp Rover Twin Cam SuperSport engine and 6-speed manual transmission, and such incredible luxuries as a heater and windshield defogger.
Two long years later I found myself back in France. I was eager to see Christian and catch up with him, though I have to admit seeing the Caterham was never far from my mind! On a chilly Sunday afternoon we headed down to the parking garage to pull the car out. Quite literally, we pulled it out of the garage. At approximately 550 kg (or 1200 pounds), the 7 is easy to drag around by hand. Once it was out of the garage Christian checked the oil and fired it up. The engine makes a lovely growl even at idle, and we looked the car over as it warmed up.
The Catherham is long and low, with the wheels pushed as far to the corners as possible for the best possible handling. There's very little body to the car. There are no doors, so you simply step over the sides. The hood is a flimsy piece of steel that unsnaps with a couple of hooks. There's a little trunk but only a canvas cover over it. Apparently there's a folding top but we didn't bother with it that day. The design of the Caterham 7 dates back to the 1950s, when Lotus created their legendary 7. After several decades of production (and countless racing vistories), they sold the rights to Caterham who are building the 7 to this day.
Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus, once famously said that the key to building a proper sports car was "Simplify, then add lightness", which is evident in the 7. The same engine in a heavier car might not be all that impressive, but in the featherweight Caterham 7 it's more than enough. I would find this out quickly enough, as we climbed into the car, buckled our seatbelts, and headed towards the countryside.
The 7 has to be experienced to appreciate fully. For some it might seem rough and uncomfortable, which it is. There's little room for your legs, which makes climbing in a chore. Once you're in there's hardly any space to buckle your seatbelt, so you find yourself stabbing blindly until you hear a click. The rearview mirror is there for show, as are the side mirrors. With an exhaust pipe running down each side, you have the full sound of the engine right in your ears. If you prefer modern, quiet, insulated cars, the 7 isn't the ride for you. The rest of us can enjoy the appeal of this glorified Go-Kart and the sensations it provides.
Even as a passenger this car is a hoot, but halfway through our chilly but sunny ride Christian pulled over and told me to take the wheel. I was hesitant at first, since the roads were a bit damp, but wasn't going to miss the chance. My first few rows through the gears were pitiful, as I upshifted way too early. Christian kept telling me to hold gears until 5,000, 6,000 or even 7,000 rpms... engine speeds at which my own car would explode! He knows his roadster well, however, because as soon as let the revs climb I found the 7 much more responsive and entertaining to drive.
I didn't dare hit the speeds Christian did, since I wasn't all that familiar with the car or the roads, but thoroughly loved pushing the Caterham 7 through the twists and turns of the quiet country roads we took. The low weight and wide stance means the Caterham holds the road incredibly well. The ride is sharp and choppy, which would be annoying in a family sedan but only adds to the appeal of a sports car like the 7.
Just as we were pulling back into town an older couple walking down the street slowed down and gave us a thumbs up. That's just the kind of car this is. Few people don't turn their heads when it goes by. Even if you know nothing about cars you can see that this is something special. I don't know when I'll get the chance to own something like the Caterham 7, but I can honestly say it is now at the top of my list of dream cars. Christian said anytime I want to borrow it for a week I can, so as soon as the warm weather hits I'll be calling him again. This. Is. Car... and I'm. In. Love.
Through motoring history there have been a fair number of automakers who have created true legends. When it comes to affordable compact models, the list gets shorter. Their popularity and simplicity meant that the average person could afford one and keep it on the road for many years.
The Model T is the first example, opening driving up to the masses well over a century ago. More recent cars like the VW Beetle, Fiat 500, Austin Mini, Hindustan Ambassador and Trabant 501 offered, at different times and in different regions of the world, the chance for people to get mobile and enjoy the pleasure of motoring. Nowadays we view these vehicles with nostalgic glasses, so it's hard to guess what people thought of them when they were new. I suspect their compact size and simple nature offered real appeal, and their ease of repair and maintenance certainly made them even more desireable.
In France, few cars marked the history of the automobile as much as the Citroen 2CV. Designed to open up driving to rural populations, the 2CV took its name from the term '2 cheveaux', meaning '2 horsepower', the 2-horsepower tax bracket for automobiles. In development by Citroen since before the Second World War, existence of the 2CV was hidden from the Germans until after the war, and it was finally released in 1948. The unmistakable Citroen would be produced more or less in its same form for 42 years, and eventually 3.8 million would roll off the assembly lines.
A few changes to the air-cooled engine, front and rear lights, wipers, and brakes were made over the years, but the basics never evolved. The first models had center-hinged 'suicide' doors, making them extremely sought-after, but those models are getting very hard to find. Many variants, including a proper 2-door convertible, the Acadiane 'utilitaire' van, the slightly more modern-bodied Dyane, and the roofless beach buggy Méhari would appear, but it's the 2CV that remains the most legendary and celebrated.
This lovely grey example belongs to a family I know. The father Gérard, who owned a 2CV many years back, had always dreamed of restoring one, and picked this one up several years ago as a family project. With his two brothers (one a mechanic and one an automotive painter, conveniently!) and his sons, my friends Franck and Stèphane, they set out to restore their 1970 'Deudeuche' (the loving nickname of the 2CV). The goal was never to create a show car, but instead do a clean restoration that would give the car many more years on the road. Apparently Gérard wanted to have a car to enjoy in the summer with the top down to putt-putt around with his wife, which is about the best reason I can think for restoring an old jewel like this!
The absolute simplicity of the 2CV makes it an easy restoration project. Even today all of the major parts are easy to find. The doors, hood and trunk can be slid off their hinges and removed in just a few seconds. The front and rear fenders are held on with a couple bolts and hooks. The engine and transmission can be removed in a very short time, and be lifted out by one person. As a matter of fact, it's common practice at fairs and car rallys for teams to race to completely disassemble a 2CV and see who is first to reassemble and start their car!
With alot of elbow grease and some new parts (such as the removeable canvas top), they were able to get this Citroen back into roadworthy shape over the course of a year. All that's left is some interior work to repair the old seat fabrics and recover the door panels, and find a few pieces of exterior trim that aren't readily available.
The day I went to see it we tried to start it but there was a problem with the engine. It hadn't run in a while and the battery was a little low, so Franck told me he'll let me know when it's running again so we can take it for a drive. Several years back a friend, who had restored a gorgeous 'Cocoricco' version, let me take his for a drive, and let me tell you: it's a riot! The incredible body lean is disconcerting at first, but once you have it figured out, you can push it into corners hard and have a laugh as it works to straighten itself out thanks to a simple yet ingenious suspension system that uses the movement of the front wheels to 'prepare' the rears for a bump.
The 2CV was ready last spring for its inaugural roadtest, and Gérard got to take it for a spin with one of his brothers. Franck even showed me a video of his dad and uncle testing out the brakes! Unfortunately that would be the only time Gérard got to enjoy the fruits of his labour, having lost his battle with an illness shortly after. Still, it was such a pleasure to see this fantastic throwback to a simpler automotive time, and realise how much energy and passion had gone into this restauration. I'll consider myself priviledged to try it out next spring.
This is what an automotive project like this is all about. Working with family and friends and enjoying bringing a car back to life. I'm glad Franck shared this story with me, and I'm happy to share it with you. It also has me convinced that someday I need to pick up a Citroen 2CV of my own...
Day to day driving can be boring. Your regular commute to and from work is the same road day in and day out. Stop-and-go traffic can make your daily commute quite dull, which is why having a fun car can make all the difference. With the right car any drive is more entertaining, and encourages you to take the long way home. One such car I saw recently was a tiny 2-seater convertible that appears like it would make a great commuter car, and alot more exciting than most subcompact runabouts.
The Daihatsu Copen is a Kei-car, a special class of vehicle for the Japanese market. Kei cars are designed around size and engine displacement limits and benefit from reduced tax and parking fees in crowded Japanese cities. In overseas markets such as Europe, a larger engine was fitted to the Copen (a 1300cc unit replaced the Kei-specific 660cc turbocharged powerplant) to give it a bit more power. At 3395 mm / 133.7 inches it's a whopping 555 mm / 21.8 inches shorter than the original Mazda Miata roadster, the industry benchmark.
Unlike the rear wheel drive Miata, which was designed as a sporting roadster, the front wheel drive Daihatsu Copen is more of a casual commuter, but one that you can pop the top on to enjoy open-air cruising as well. The look is certainly more 'cute' than 'sporty', but to my eyes you could almost call it a baby Porsche. The round headlights, taillights and front and rear fog / reverse lights suit the curved shape of the fenders, hood and trunk well. The folding hardtop, when up, seems a little too upright, but with the top down the car has a much racier look.
A dinky little 1.3L FWD convertible isn't the kind of car to get most pulses racing, but if it's this or a basic subcompact commuter car, I'll take the Copen in a heartbeat. Reviews I have read make it sound like the small size and light weight deliver a relatively tossable little car, and while it may not be a substitute for a proper sports car, it doesn't claim to be one either.
If you have to be copin' with the daily commute, you may as well do it in a cool little car like the Copen!
Those that follow the automotive industry often talk of 'rebadges'. This negative term refers to vehicles which are sold under more than one brand with few changes. The 1980's Chrysler K-cars and the later Dodge and Plymouth Neons are recent examples: aside from the badges on the grille, trunklid, steering wheel, as well as the hubcaps, the cars are identical.
Today the name is often applied to vehicles that are based on the same platform, but in many cases they are far from true 'rebadges'. Vehicles like the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups often get called rebadged, but these vehicles feature unique exterior panels and interiors, so while the platform and overall shape is the same, they clearly aren't the same vehicle. The same goes for the Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ sedans, for example. There are enough differences in the bodies, interiors and options available that the rebadge moniker looses its meaning.
North American car fans will remember the Cougar, a front-wheel drive addition to Mercury's lineup in 1999. It took a traditional name and applied it to a coupe based on the global Ford Contour / Mercury Mystique platform (two cars that themselves straddled the line between sharing a platform and being nearly-identical rebadges). The car was basically a replacement for the Ford Probe coupe, which had ceased production a few years earlier, but this time wearing the slightly more upscale Mercury badge.
Since Mercury didn't exist in Europe, Ford chose to brand the Cougar a 'Ford'. In this case we have another true rebadge. The only differences in the car, aside from a few changes to the head and taillights and side marker lights for legal requirements (due to difference between US and European laws) are the Mercury-to-Ford badge swaps.
Seeing as how there wasn't the identical Mercury model for sale in the same market, I don't have a problem with this at all. The popularity of the Ford brand in Europe clearly made it a smart decision, as introducing an unknown brand like 'Mercury' would have been complicated and expensive (especially since Ford had previously marketed cars there under a similar 'Merkur' name). I rarely see these cars on the road in France, so I don't suspect it was a huge hit. Still, for a car guy, a find like this is always fun.
Any North American Mercury fans driving a Cougar out there? If so, know that you're a badge-swap away from driving a Ford! On the flip side, maybe there are some European or Australian Cougar owners who like the idea of driving something a bit more obscure. If that's the case, let me know, and I'll see what I can do to get you some Mercury badges! Disguising a car has never been easier!
Not too long ago, during a lazy stroll through the lovely historic city of Laon, France, I once again stumbled across an uncommon and smile-inducing old car. It was a quiet, crisp, late-fall Sunday afternoon, and there weren't many people around or cars in the street. The historic heart of Laon is perched up on the top of a huge hill, and is worth a visit for its architecture, cobblestone streets, and 12th century Cathedral.
As for the car, it was a Lada 2104 wagon, the trusty Russian stalwart produced over a span of more than 30 years. My friend and I stopped to take a peek. While it was far from perfect condition, the body looked to be in fairly solid shape. The doors and fenders had a few dents and dings and had been repaired at some point, but weren't yet showing major rust damage. The only big problem was a huge spider crack in the curved windshield.
In typical fashion I started my photoshoot, grabbing shots of every angle of the Lada and some of the more interesting features like the slant of the rear hatch, the taillights, and the grille. Until then I hadn't noticed a gentleman standing in a doorway nearby. He asked me if I liked his car! Surprised, I told him that I was a big fan of old cars like the 2104, and asked him it it was his. Turns out he WAS the owner, and was more than happy to tell us all about his car!
He had recently purchased the Lada, which was a 1996 model. I was very surprised, as it looked to be from the 1980s to me. He explained that the body style had not changed during the time the car was produced, so it was hard to guess the date. According to him it ran like a top, and would have passed a recent safety check if it weren't for the broken windshield. He had tried to find a replacement but had been unsuccessful, though he was determined to continue.
(At this point I wished I had remembered to tell him about the other old one I had seen nearby several years earlier...)
The owner of the car seemed pleased to meet someone as enthusiastic about his oddball car as he was, so he told me to go ahead and climb inside and check under the hood. The interior was in typical shape for the age of the car, with a few rips and marks of wear, but nothing major wrong with it. Under the hood the original engine was still in place, with a fusebox that would look more at place in a house than a car reminding me that this was a rugged Russian car dating back to only one year after my birth!
As we were chatting, a couple walked by that apparently knew the owner of the 2104. They were curious about his latest purchase as well, and joined the conversation. The owner was a big fan of Lada and said that he also had a Niva 4x4. After a few more pictures we wandered off, but not before finding out that he had another old car a few blocks away (story for another day...)!
This funny old car hits all my buttons. It has a classic wagon shape, is powered by a trusty old lump of an engine (a 1.7L 4-cylinder) attached to a manual transmission (5-speeds in this case), and isn't something you see very often. As the owner stated, finding a windshield was proving extremely difficult, so owning a car like this would take alot of patience. Still, if I have the chance at some point I won't hesitate to pick something like this up!
I am once again reminded that it's important to relax and enjoy a stroll once in a while. We all spend so much time rushin' around that we risk missing great finds, like this lovely Russian!
After years of being the top choice for 'people mover', the minivan has fallen off the charts in the past decade. Customers looking for a high seating position, room for up to seven people, and lots of cargo space now turn to crossovers, SUVs or CUVs, whatever you want to call them.
Just as the minivan supplanted the traditional family station wagon back in the 1980s, the 2000s saw the minivan turn into an uncool form of vehicle that appeared headed for the history books. While several manufacturers are still producing minivans (including market leader Chrysler, as well as Honda, Toyota and Kia), two of the largest manufacturers in the world, GM and Ford, no longer offer a minivan in their North American lineups. Minivan volumes aren't what they used to be, which is why many manufacturers simply don't see the benefit to offering this type of vehicle.
In Europe, the story is a little different. While crossover-type vehicles are gaining in popularity, there are still some minivans on the market. The European versions are a step down in size compared to the huge Chrysler Caravan (now called Pacifica), making them better suited to the older cities and smaller parking spots and garages you often find in Europe. Here, GM and Ford still see some success with their Zafira and Galaxy minivans, though they're losing ground to crossovers and SUVs.
While Chrysler is credited with pioneering the minivan in 1984 in North America, the same year French manufacturer Renault created the Renault Espace, their take on the ultimate people mover. The Espace has remained ever since as one of the most popular and well-recognized European minivans. While it never featured sliding doors, like most minivans do, it has always been available in 5 or 7-seater versions.
There was talk several years ago of axing the Espace in favour of a large crossover, but Renault went ahead and introduced a fifth generation Espace back in 2015. I got to see my first Espace a few weeks back upon my return to France, and was pleasantly surprised. Combining the silhouette of a traditional minivan but design details more reminiscent of more stylish crossovers and SUVs, the Espace is, in my eyes, the best looking minivan on the market.
I have no need today for a 7-passenger minivan, but if I did, the new Renault Espace would be at the top of my list for sure. In typical Renault fashion it comes with a variety of gasoline and diesel engines, as well as automatic and manual transmissions and tons of great features and options. There's even an upscale 'Initiale Paris' model that comes loaded with luxury goodies.
There might be some life left in the minivan if they continue to evolve as the Espace has. If you've got people to move and they have a lot of stuff, there's no better way than with a minivan. And when they look this good, it's an easy choice. Long live the minivan!
Welcome! My name is Paul, and I am an old-fashioned, low-pressure, low-buck car fan with lots of automotive stories to tell!