France’s car culture is a strange one. While events like the 24hrs of Le Mans draw massive crowds, loving cars is not deemed very socially acceptable. Between constictive speed cameras, diesels, and policies banning older cars, it’s easy to forget that France does have a car scene at all. However, a small classic car meet like the one I went to last weekend is all it takes to put all that behind.
Jouarre is a small town 30mns East of Paris, and it has been hosting a local classic car meet (and parts exchange) every year since 2011. It is not a big event; and if all you want to see is Bugattis and 917s, you’d probably be better off waiting for next week to get to Chantilly Arts&Elegance. But a small reunion like this one is as much about the cars as it is about the people.
Rendezvous was given Sunday morning for a drive on the small, empty and beautiful roads next to Jouarre. As soon as the cars started arriving, little groups of people who already knew each other began to form and wander around the cars in the parking lot, commenting and greeting members and cars. It is called a meet, after all!
The variety of cars there was quite amazing. There was a D-type replica parked next to a stanced E30, the cleanest Austin Metro in the world not too far from some Pre-war cars, and of course the almost compulsory DSs, 2CVs, Renault 4Ls and Traction Avants. Not that anyone was complaining!
The whole group of about 50 cars then departed for the 60kms drive through the local countryside, stopping for a glass of cider offered in some wonderful gardens.
I have to say, the drive itself was probably the best part of the whole day. Mind you, I wasn’t even in the rally itself, rather simply following the group from a respectful distance, not wanting to impose the view of my Clio to anyone.
But even there, at the back with the ominous rescue plateau truck and the local mechanics’ car, it really felt special. Driving very calmly through empty (save for some cyclist), beautiful roads, following cars from another time really puts a new perspective on driving. I felt almost as if my car was a classic too, and coming back to Paris’ noisy, angry traffic later that day was quite a shock.
A couple of hours later, our elated group came back to Jouarre, for the real “meet” part of the event. The atmosphere had quite changed in the meantime, with whole families joining the party, barbecues, people selling parts, and even a band playing some classic rock.
Seeing kids and families who probably didn’t come solely for the cars was a good reminder that cars can be something more than corrupting tool that society needs to get rid of.
Ihad a nice chat about that with the organizers. They found France’s general stance on car culture to be a pity, especially seeing how popular even a small meet like that one can be: “it can be really hard to organize these kind of events”, they said. “But if you pull through, you’ll be rewarded with a lot of people coming down and loving it, even if they’re not into cars!”
It’s a sentiment that was shared among the participants, it seems, and Paris’ decision to ban cars older than 1997 was often taken as a prime example of how cars are seen in France.
“Look”, told me a TR3 owner, “we classic cars owners aren’t the problem. We take care of our cars, and drive respectfully. If you want to ban one category of cars, ban diesels. They are the one who really do the polluting, and there are so many owners not caring enough to go through proper maintenance. This is what’s doing the damage, not car people.”
But all these preoccupations didn’t prevent the crowd from having a great time. The sun was shining, the air was full of the smell of BBQ and old petrol, the cars were pretty, all was well.
I had a great day, and it looks like everyone who came did as well.
It was really uplifting to see so many people seeing the car as a way to get together, and not as some necessary evil that takes us apart. I mean, we even came across a group of cyclists as we were driving around, and even them were all smiles and thumbs up. You just don’t see that in “real life”.
And so it was quite a revealing experience to come back to Paris and its big city traffic immediately after that.
People drive like maniacs, it’s noisy, smelly, and you’re not getting anywhere. Everybody gets angry, and it’s hard to keep calm too, when you’re assaulted by traffic like that.
It’s like car enthousiats are some sort of secret society, living among normal, car-hating people, and gets together a couple of times a year at events like these to celebrate the ancient and slowly forgotten tradition of loving cars.
Attending a classic car even once in a while should be made mandatory.
More pictures (and in higher res) I took from that event can be found on Flickr there: