Monday, April 09, 2007

Maniac in Espadrilles

Despite the ups and downs of yesterday, we did manage to get to Palavas after lunch à deux. I was in search of espadrilles and decided that the beach was as good a place as any to find some. How wrong I was.

Palavas was, however, packed. There was a classic car show going on which was generating a lot of interest with people out after Easter lunch on a nice day. We managed to park the car - a feat in itself - and joined the throngs milling up and down the canal-side road to the beach. With not an espadrille in sight, we walked up the other main road and came across a shoe shop with some at 25€ each. We left those to the tourist pigeons with more money than sense and gave up the search.

Instead we headed for the car show, a lot of which was taking place outside in the carpark for free. First we came to the American classic car section with Cadillacs, Pontiacs, a Bonneville, Chevrolets, Fords and Buicks. They had been lovingly looked after and were a spectacular sight, especially the cabriolets. Just looking at them images of road trips would spring up and you could see yourself driving off into the sunset on a dusty Texan road towards cactus country. Some of the owners were dressed to go with their cars, with varying degrees of success...

As we walked around, a country and western band belted out suitable music to help us really appreciate the Americana, and a tacos stand stood by to help us get the American look (big).

From there we moved onto the army vehicles and I immediately wished the boys had been there as kids were climbing all over the tanks and armoured trucks firing the empty guns and having a great time. I'm afraid I didn't pay enough attention to the signs to know what sort of vehicles they were except that they seemed to be French.

Next up were the classic cars. When you're young, you consider classic cars as museum pieces. When you get older, they represent periods of your youth, and younger days. There were some British cars such as the Triumph Herald, an MGB, a Ford Cortina from 1965, an Escort from the seventies, and a Mini. A terrific Mini Cooper 1300 customed into a beach buggy. Oh, I fell in love with it, how could you not? Green and yellow, open to the skies, a mean little engine, and total charm.

It was for sale. I asked how much. How much would you think? A couple of thousand euros? A guy who was not its owner told us he believed the car was going for ten thousand euros! That's more than I paid for my Peugeot 406 Estate. With a regretful tear, I moved on, came back to take some photos, a last wistful look, restrained myself from dashing to the Presse to buy loto tickets... and said good-bye.

In the classic French car line-up there were Renault 4s, Citroen DS, Alpine Renaults, Deudeuches, and Peugeots. There were also some beautiful old Mercedes 190SL, Spiders, Simcas, and Volkswagons. When I was very young, we used to have a sticker on the car of the front of some car by a mountain or a tunnel (I forget which), and I had a thing about knowing what the backs of cars looked like once I'd seen the front. The picture was of a very old car though, and there were no more on the roads, so I searched in vain for years (yes, I'm a bit weird like that). Finally, yesterday, I saw the front of the car from the sticker. It was starting to drive off. Memories of my quest flooded into my head. I had to see what the back looked like! This may be my last chance!

I edged round a group of people who were standing inconveniently blocking my view, and got a good look at the boot, lights, bumper, back windscreen and wheels. It was an old Simca with vertical back lights in a line, a big boot that bent over the end, and a heavy line. You can't imagine the nostalgia I felt, the feeling taking me right back to my pre-teen years.

I said nothing - well, I didn't want to come across as some sort of lunatic on the look-out for the shape of the backs of cars. It doesn't go with being a modern, go-getting paper-pusher mother of two boys type, does it?

We finished our tour, my mind completely transported to various parts of the globe, the past, and wishful thinking. I do like cars. Always have!


  1. I'm heading to L.A. at the end of this month to visit a friend. We're planning to drive to the Grand Canyon, a 1,500-km round trip, in his stunning 1967 Pontiac GTO convertible. Part of the route will take us over what's left of the old Route 66. Cue the music...

  2. Yes I did that drive a few years ago. It's a good journey. Hot as hell in the Mojave desert.Route 66 is not very interesting.

  3. Lucky you Bill! Sounds a great holiday.

  4. Hot in the Mojave, cooler up around the canyon. Yeah, Route 66 doesn't live up to its billing but I still find the remnants, the occasional surviving bit of '40s/'50s memorabilia, fascinating.
    A working holiday, Sarah. I'll be shooting pictures and writing about it for the paper. Still great fun, though.

  5. Work? Huh, it's all right for some...!

  6. You have got me feeling homewick and nostaligic, you lot....

    And, as for the Mini and cars in general, I will admit too that for me it's worse than a red rag to a bull! Jentzen, Morgan, Aston Martin, Austin Healey, Lotus, magic names and magic youthful memories come tearing back. For a bit I'd even feel a tiny weeny bit Brit!

  7. NG my memories of British cars are spending more time in the garage than anywhere else. Great on marketing, useless on mechanics. It’s the usual British illusion, all appearance no content.

  8. Ah, the great Ford Cortina.

    My father worked for the Ford competitions team in the sixties, running several Monte Carlo Rally campaigns when the Cortina ruled the roost. He would bring a different model home each weekend then, and I can remember a long family holiday driving down to Devon in a brand-new Cortina GT.

    Roger Clark was the best driver on the team, and I met Paddy Hopkirk, too. In the severe winter of 1963, my mum had the loan of Pat Moss's rally-ready Lotus Cortina, complete with studded tyres.

    Needless to say, she was the only driver moving in Upminster that January.

  9. Wow! My friends and I used to go deep into Hamsterley Forest, in northeast England, sometimes in the early hours of the morning to see the RAC Rally go through -- the likes of Hopkirk and Clark and the amazing Scandinavians. I don't know if we ever saw Pat Moss, though.
    But to actually have had connections to the Ford works team. And access to the cars....

  10. Richard d'Orleans dear, I'm such an ancient biddie that in my time it was the boys who took care of the garage part of the whole thing - and I just showed off driving the cars very very pleased with myself!!!!

    From one St. Nicolas de Bourgeuil lover to another - that was a great époque!!!

    Ahhhhhh, if only I was still that young and knew all I know now...........

  11. Well, Bill, my Dad ran that team, for a number of years.

    But sadly I never was able to drive Pat Moss' Cortina myself, because in Jan 1963 I was only just 2.

    I was a fan of Roger Clark for very much longer. Clark's best driving came later on, though, in the souped-up Ford Escorts, firstly in his heartbreaking near-success in the London-Sydney (his Escort Mexico broke its transmission somewhere near Melbourne, I think) and then a couple of years later when he finally did win the RAC Rally in a Mark 2 Escort. Sadly my Dad had already left the team by then.

    Luck played a big part in choosing the winners back then, as that breakdown in Australia proved. But Clark probably was the best of the whole bunch. 'Sideways to Victory' - that was Clark's motto, and the very apt title of his autobiography as well, if I recall correctly.

  12. My father had a brown Cortina MkII GT (the boxy one) and before that a pale blue MkI (I think). It was a long time ago! I loved the round back lights on the MkI - very original and cool.

    He then had a couple of Triumph 2000s, the last of which he gave to my mother to drive and they only fairly recently had to get rid of because it was getting too costly to maintain.

    I don't quite remember the winter of '63/64 in Upminster as I was only a few months old...


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