ONCE again at Paris Show time the French Press Association organised a test day at Montlhery so that visiting journalists might drive the various products of the French industry. The full 12 1/2-kilometre road-cum-track circuit was used and apart from being able to drive a number of different cars it is always enjoyable to dice round this remarkable circuit that is no longer used for racing but which would really sort out the Grand Prix boys if the French Grand Prix was ever held there again.
Unfortunately the day was miserable and wet as far as the weather was concerned but it did enable one to discover things about French cars that normally would not be apparent. For example the seemingly vague out-of-phase wiping motion of the wipers on the Panhard PLI7 is deliberate and allows 30 per cent. more area of screen to be wiped than if they went back and forth in time with one another. The water tightness of the little canvastopped 2 c.v. Citroen was remarkable as it was taken out in a virtual cloudburst, while its roadholding properties on wet roads must make it the safest vehicle ever designed. In contrast the new coil-sprung Peugeot 404, with its inclined 1,628-c.c, engine, was apt to break away on the front wheels too early for my liking on wet roads, but could be forgiven a little as it stayed with you at all times so that things never got really out of control. Compared with its predecessor the 403, this new Peugeot is much smoother, more luxurious, has far better vision and a more positive gear-change mechanism, but does not have that nice safe and solid feeling of the 403, and it rollsfar too much on slow corners. It was nice to see that Peugeot have not been afraid blatantly to copy Citroen in providing fresh air “Waffle” grilles at each end of the facia panel. Changing from one make to another in quick succession one soon becomes a little irritated with manufacturers who supply lots of unmarked knobs and switches. If you have time to sit and study the instruction book all may be well, and no doubt the designer knows what all the switches do, but leaping into a new car and trying to drive off in the rain caused some awful things to happen on some cars before the windscreen could be wiped clear of the teeming rain.
Apart from Citroen, who started with a clean sheet of paper and produced the DS19, the French manufacturer who has made the most progress with no very visible changes must surely be Panhard. The six-seater 850-c.c, air-cooled twin-cylinder PL17 has been improved out of all recognition, for two years ago it was a beastly contrivance and now it has lost nearly all of its faults. The violent oversteer has gone completely, the engine is smoother and much quieter and the whole car has lost that nasty rough character that it used to possess, and it still goes just as fast as ever on its small engine for such a big car. The one I tried was the hot version known as the Tigre and was fitted with a neat little rev. counter with a moulded rubber hood, and the way that engine buzzed up to 6,000 r.p.m. was most impressive. Of the Citroen DS and ID models there is little to say for they have little to change but driving the many versions from all automatic all power DS de luxe to the spartan ID shooting brake keeps one’s sense of proportion about roadholding, comfort, ride, brakes, steering, vision and general excellence as regards a family saloon. Driven gently neither version appears to have much performance, but wound up to to 50 m.p.h. in second gear and over 85 m.p.h. in third gear, a quick snick into top keeps either model cruising along at a respectable speed and you can ignore road surfaces and any normal curve. Of the Simca range of cars there seemed to be a never-ending list of variations, but consecutive drives in the new “Rush”-engined Ariane Miramas, which is the large bodied car that also can have a s.v. Simca-Ford V8 engine fitted, whence it becomes a Chambord, and then one of the smaller Simca Arondes that grew up from Fiat -ancestry, it was easy to appreciate that the Simca concern offer good honest motor cars devoid of frills, but the Ariane made the Aronde seem very old fashioned as regards visibility, suspension and control, but both were very lively and had willing engines.
Finally I tried the new Ondine Renault, which is a Dauphine with a four-speed gearbox and slightly improved rear-suspension, but it still oversteers in a mean manner and the knitting needle that acts as a gear-lever makes me wonder whether the Renault engineers have ever tried a VW gear-change. However, the more expensive Floride Renault is a far better car and judging by the numbers one sees about in all European countries the motoring public would appear to consider the extra cost of a Floride well worth while. To complete my French education I went round in a Vespa 400, a sort of saloon jour-wheeled motor Scooter, with a splendid little gearbox but an awful thrashing lawnmower-type engine in the back. If I must suffer economy then give me the 2 c.v. Citroen any day and let me enjoy my economy in comfort and in amusing and friendly surroundings. Fortunately. I am able not to have to afford economy, and can manage with one good car that will do nearly everything.—D. S. J.