One of the advantages of having migrated from New Zealand (with it's Australian muscle and abundance of tasty JDM imports) to the grey isles if Britain (with its.... ummm.... diesels?) is their proximity to the continent. A week or so ago I took advantage of this handy quirk of geography and spent a weekend in Paris. I was expecting a few days of wine, cheese, architecture and as many rich, buttery pastries as I could cram into my face-holes. I wasn't expecting some of the most rewarding car-spotting a Jalop could ask for.
I had been letting the automotive landscape pass me by, until I took a stroll up the Champs-Élysées. This is basically Paris' high-street; a collection of high-end boutiques, international chains and touristy restaurants. However, hidden amongst the Louis-Vuittons and Pradas are stores/galleries, belonging to a number of European car makers, and a Japanese one that warrants a special mention.
Upstairs at Toyota's shiny, white store, flanked by an honour-guard of GT-86s, was this:
Yup, a 2000GT. I never thought I'd see one in the flesh, but there she sat. Even seeing Sean Connery sticking out the top of the one they decapitated for You Only Live Twice, I wasn't expecting it to be so small, but she makes a Fairlady look chubby. The lines are almost perfect. You can see influences of E-Type and 250, but it's synthesised into something uniquely Japanese. But the best thing about this one was its patina. It had been driven! My heart sang.
On the floor below was this little gem, which anyone my age will recognise as one of the hero cars from GT2: the Toyota GT-One.
There was also the FT-86 Open concept, something that resembled the love child of a segway and an office chair, and a hybrid I couldn't care less about, so onwards!
From there I wandered up the street, toward the Arc de Triomphe and had what could only be described as "a very French experience". First my ears pricked up. Then I noticed that the busy, late-afternoon traffic had been stationary for quite some time, and those at the back of the queue were engaged in some rather gallic honking. Looking up the street, I saw a number of immaculately turned out policemen stopping the traffic to allow what seemed to be an ad-hoc parade of veterens, including a full military marching-band, to make their way up the street towards the Arc. I kept pace with the band and watched as they crossed the most insane traffic I have ever seen, and set up shop under of the Arche, by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I was watching the band (who had now atrted playing the French national anthem), when I noticed that the traffic was far more interesting. Apparently the only real rule here is that you have to give-way to traffic entering the roundabout. I'm sure a Franco-phile Jalop can fill me in, but to my eyes, this looked like chaos.
After deciding that French drivers were either lucky, skilled or a mixture of both, I headed back down the other side of the street. I paused to watch the Peugeot men roll one of their Le Mans prototypes on to the pavement, then wandered into Mercedes gallery. Behind the sterile, teutonic sedans and Benz-branded perfume was a car of almost unparalelled loveliness; a 190SL.
The 300SL, with its trick doors and Silver-Arrow lines is the one that gets all the attention, but I honestly think the 190 is prettier. (Sorry for the lens-flare. I think JJ Abrams must have had a hand in the Lumia 920s camera design).
The Renault dealership across the street had a number of racers, including one of the Red-Bull F1 cars, but I figure you've all seen those, so I'll skip to the end of the street. I didn't literally skip. It was more of a saunter. Maybe the odd skip here and there, but I was in Paris, and full of butter and garlic, so the world was a wonderful place. Don't judge me!
Outside FIAT's base, I came across a flock of wild Autobianchi. There were Abarths and convertibles and panel-vans (for some reason, being chaperoned by a Barchetta). I imagine this is what Máté Petrány's dreams look like.
Here are a couple of my favourites:
There were probably 60 or more, and thats 60 odd more Autobianchi than I'd seen in the wild up till that point. While Paris was full of Lamborghinis, Ferraris (including an F12berlinetta and a 512TR) and more Porsches than you could wave a baguette at, it was this odd little collection of obscure Italian iron that made me the happiest. The other tourists, who probably don't lust after rusted Alfas or 80s Toyotas, walked past unaware, and I felt that this was my Paris. This car-park full of tiny Italian economy cars was my happy place. I felt like a Jalop.