A QUIET show, with few novelties except for the more expensive or “way out” designs like the Pininfarina Ferrari 365P, with centre-steering, or the O.S.I. Scarabeo. This was the general verdict on the 53rd Paris Show, first in the autumn round which has lost its glamour these days as manufacturers tend to forward their release dates more and more. Jaguar and Ford of Britain had not by then announced their new models but fittingly, since British manufacturers were numerically strongest, the most (commercially) interesting cars came from Rootes, with their Hillman Hunter and Sunbeam Imp, Standard-Triumph with their GT6 and Vitesse 2-litre, and Vauxhall with the Viva.
This is a boom year for the French motor industry, capitalising on a sharp pick-up after a colossal slump two seasons ago. They expect a record production in 1966, and will probably overtake Britain’s industry to take second place to Germany in the European league table. Significantly, it is the American and U.S.-financed companies that are making the running. General Motors have brought out the Camaro and the f.w.d. Cadillac Eldorado, Opel have now completed a magnificent range of cars, and the Vauxhall Viva makes a full house for this year. Ford restyle the Mustang, making it prettier but less of a character, introduce the Cougar, a new Taunus in Cologne, and held their hands on the new Cortina till the London Show. Under the Pentastar banner Rootes are just beginning a most thorough revision of models, though in France the Simca organisation (also Chrysler) content themselves with adding refinement and luggage space to the 1301/1501 series.
Just as London has rain, Paris has its own Gallic charm portrayed as the one-day strike, in this case the Metro and bus services on opening day—it rained too! Monumental traffic jams were forecast, but in the event Paris just stayed at home that day and the Salon was by no means crowded. Anyone who thought the car was going to prove itself man’s worst enemy was disappointed, though any wet evening in Paris will serve as illustration. At around six o’clock anything up to eight lanes of cars make a splendid confiture in the Champs Elysies, hundreds of vehicles coming to a steaming halt at each intersection and defying every strenuous effort on the part of the gendarmerie. We counted thirteen lanes circulating l’Etoile (just) with priorite a droite being used murderously. No wonder they sit on the left.
Inevitably it is the fast cars on show that get talked about most. Pininfarina personnel were looking pretty smug until the new, so far nameless, Aston Martin Touring arrived, long, low and very potent-looking. It is based on the DB6 chassis but chopped around to move the engine 8½ in. rearwards, 2½ in. down, while the aluminium-on-steel tube body/chassis has been lowered to an overall height of 48 in. This is a twoseater without doubt, though with masses of luggage space in the fastback semi-estate tail, and a most exciting one with a claimed top speed of 165 m.p.h. It certainly appears that there is room for a larger-capacity V8 engine in time to come; production begins next spring at the Touring factory in Milan, by which means the car can be sold cheaper than the DB6 in Europe, though at slightly higher cost in Britain. One of the chief advantages of this model is the paring-off of 400 lb., bringing the kerb weight down to 25.4 cwt., so with a net output of 325 b.h.p. from the six-cylinder Vantage engine it must do all that is claimed for it. Aston Martin were also showing their new Volante four-seat convertible based on the DB6 chassis, now that all the 2+2-length DB5s have been used up.
Pininfarina can always be relied upon to come up with something unusual, although we don’t necessarily admire the styling every time. This year the star attraction is a dazzling white mid-erigined Ferrari 365P which is steered from the centre seat, driver flanked by passengers whose main attribute must be short legs, since the wheel arches are terribly restrictive. The car is not wholly practical—there is for instance no room for luggage, not even oddments inside the cabin—but it represents an idea which might well catch on in limited production. More likely, though, this is a very good solution to the tentative proposition that Group 6 cars at Le Mans next year may have to accommodate more than one passenger, according to engine capacity. Centre-driving seems an obvious mode for Group 6 cars, especially for longer circuits where not all the corners are right hand, though one inevitably remembers the efforts of the Mercedes grand prix team at Silverstone in 1954 when Fangio particularly repeatedly skittled marker drums in the streamliner model.
Another interesting, but predictably ill-fated machine to appear was the mid-engined Scarabeo, constructed by O.S.I. of Turin with an Alfa Romeo Giulia engine mounted transversely. The drive-train goes through an acute angle, and will have to prove to work in racing conditions before we believe it. The Scarabeo, or Cockroach, is very low at the front, has an enormous panoramic screen like the experimental Vauxhall XVR, and a high “bread van” rear which one may grow to like, in time.
The Matra concern is getting stronger all the time, and the installation of a 1.5-litre Renault 16 engine in the Jet 6 should prove popular. This is an extra model, though in the same bodyshell as the Jet 4.
Chappe Freres et Gessalin, who make the plastic bodies for the four-seat Alpine, ventured into the production business with a two-seat rear-engined sports car based on the Simca Mille coupe. It is quite small and unambitious but the workmanship and finish were outstanding, and it’s quite possible that the CG Spider 1000 will catch on in France.
Two cheaper ventures were from the Belgian Mean Motor Engineering and from Sovam both of which are plastic-bodied and not very attractive. The Mean has a mid-engined Cortina unit driving through a VW gearbox and swing axles; styling is angular, either with fully convertible styling Or a fixed rear window and detachable roof panel. The Sovam, rounded in all the wrong places, also has a fixed rear window and detachable roof panel, but this one reverses a Renault 1100 engine at the front, becoming a front-wheel-drive model.
More seriously, no doubt, Peugeot made the biggest breakout in the French industry this year with convertible, coupe and estate versions of the 204. We have already established this front-wheel-drive model as an excellent one, and as the new styling is rather nice too, the cars are sure to be successful, even if highly priced in Britain.
It is very “in” to have a Mini-Cooper or a Triumph Spitfire in France. B.M.C. did not have anything new to offer, but the new GT6 should be a winner for Leylands, especially since the winter production has been reserved for export. It was nice too to see T.V.R. back in the fray with a dozen modifications on their 1800S to improve the ride and comfort factors. From Sweden, the Saab Sonnet made its second show appearance with a French price-tag approaching £1,800, which is liable to be somewhat burdensome.
Technically this is a very quiet year in Europe, but there are plenty of interesting developments on the way.