French Cars of 1962
There was perhaps no more a decade than the 1960’s when the term “Typically French” was true. They specialized in the field of lightweight utilities - the Citroen 2 c.v., the Renault R3 and R4 – yet the French car, very broadly speaking, was no different from any other. Some betrayed great originality in design, whereas others were stolidly conventional. Some had a world-wide reputation for their excellent handling qualities and their rugged build. Others handled less well than they should and were perhaps less substantial than the European average. There had been abortive attempts in the UK to produce small utility vehicles, but none of these was clever enough in design or sufficiently developed, or backed by a large enough organization to succeed.
It was generally believed at the time, and with some justification, that the British public would never flock to buy anything so ugly and austere as a Renault R4 or a Citroen 2 c.v. – even if it bore the name Austin or Ford, and sold at a low price without import duty. As in Italy, by 1962 there were still no signs that the French popular car manufacturers were going to follow the U.S. and British leads in offering fully automatic transmissions as alternatives. The nearest approach was the power change with automatic clutch of the Citroen DS. Following the demise of the Simca V8s, no French cars were offered with independent overdrive.
The French Babies
While in its native country there was an undiminished demand for the little four-door Citroen 2 c.v., it had not been available in the U.K. since the two-door plastic Bijou coupe was introduced. This was a valiant attempt to make the 2 c.v. more acceptable to British buyers, yet Bijous were so rarely encountered on British roads that the formula clearly had a narrow appeal. However, in 1961 its price was reduced substantially, and on top of this the lower purchase tax now then in force brought it down from £599 to £493 (including tax) - £3 less than the standard BMC Minis, and only £6 more than the basic Ford Popular. At that price the Bijou was a much better proposition for anyone with a soft spot for Citroens and a predilection for exceptional comfort and low running costs. But it was not for speed merchants, a top speed peaking at around 50 mph - in 3rd or top gears - but its overall consumption was practically 50 m.p.g.
The Bijou had a horizontally opposed two-cylinder engine, air-cooled, which drove the front wheels through a four-speed all-synchromesh gearbox. The elegant coupe body sat on the standard 2 c.v. platform, with its strange, interacting suspension system, which provided a very soft ride, together with such long wheel movements that very rough country could be traversed. You had to attack really bad going with some discretion, as the little car was prone to dig its nose in. At the Paris Show in 1961 Renault showed their direct challenge to the 2 c.v., called the R3 or R4 according to its engine size. In the UK only the R4 was marketed. Like the French 2 c.v., it had a full four-seater body with four doors, front-wheel-drive and a very soft, cross-country suspension system; but it was very different in respect of its engine and transmission.
The R4 had the o.h.v. water-cooled four-cylinder unit which powered its rear-engined predecessor and the gearbox was a legacy from the 4 c.v., having only three widely spaced gears and no synchromesh for first - an extraordinary omission for a car planned to sell in hundreds of thousands to people with only a rudimentary driving ability. Moreover, the fact that it had only three gears meant that first had to be used more frequently than would be the case with four. The Renault 4L (de luxe) lacked the driving traction of the Citroen, which meant that the latter might keep going where the Renault would stick, and on its relatively high first gear it only just restarted on a 1-in-4 slope. When cornered vigorously its inner front wheel could easily lift clear of the road and spin, while the car was not so stable directionally as the Citroen.
However, it could be driven extraordinarily fast over a deeply potholed surface which would bring the Citroen down to a walking pace. It gave an exceptionally level ride on any surface and its seating was as comfortable as contemporary and similarly priced car from the era. Yet the backrests were wafer thin, so that those in the back had plenty of legroom. Not a cubic inch of space was wasted. In contrast to a Morris Mini, for example, the Renault's control layout was complex and untidy to a degree. You could not climb into an R4 and drive it away without some preliminary cockpit drill. Once learned, the somewhat involved heating and ventilation system was unusually effective in both hot and cold weather. On the open road the Renault 4L could be wound up to a heady 54 mph. as a mean maximum and its overall consumption was 38 m.p.g. Unfortunately it had to be fed with premium fuel, whereas the Citroen ran happily on the cheap.
Next Size Up
In this category the French industry was well provided - the Citroen Ami 6
, the Simca 1000
, the Renault Dauphine
and Floride, and the Panhard PL.17
. There were also two specialist sports cars, the DB based on Panhard
components and the Alpine which was largely Renault
. Although perched on the same wheelbase and track, and in many other respects similar to the 2 c.v., the Ami 6
was no relation to that car - or to any other - in appearance and was much more fully equipped. The factory liked buyers to regard it as a minor edition of the DS or ID but this was somewhat hard to swallow. Like the 2 c.v., it had a flat-twin engine, but of 602 c.c. instead of 425, and interacting suspension
The bigger engine developed 22 bhp as compared with 13.5, thus the Ami 6 could reach nearly 70 mph and cruise indefinitely at 60-65 mph in the most untiring manner where the going was easy; on give-and-take roads you needed to spend a lot of time in 3rd gear because the engine was not at all flexible - below about 35-40 mph in the high top it became quite rough. Road testers of the day found overall fuel consumption to be around 44 mpg on regular grades. This car was well equipped for interior heating and ventilation, and the facia layout was tidy, if unorthodox. As with the 2 c.v. and Renault R4L, its gear lever was the pull-and-twist type, set in the middle of the facia.
The Renault Dauphine
Its bench seats were trimmed in Victorian-looking patterned cloth, and were arguably the softest in the industry at the time, moulding themselves to whatever shape required and providing restful travel. The unconventional rectangular headlamps were less effective than the round variety, so that was a case of French style over substance - something rare in those days as the French were normally so good at creating form AND function. By 1962
there were three versions of the 845cc Renault Dauphine
, each with the same four-door saloon body. These were the standard Dauphine
, the Gordini and the Gordirii de luxe. The standard Dauphine had only about three-quarters of the Gordini's engine power and a three-speed gearbox, but four speeds were optional. None of the Renault boxes had synchromesh on first.
Some of you may be old enough to remember that the Dauphine engine was an in-line four-cylinder of 845cc., water-cooled. It was at the back of the car in unit with the transmission
, and drove through independent swing axles. As a four-seater the Dauphine could be a little tricky to handle when travelling light, because of the preponderance of weight at the back and the positive camber of the wheels in that condition. Unlike more conventional cars, it handled better and better the more you loaded it.
The Renault Floride
At the Geneva Show in March of 1962, a new type of Renault Floride was presented. Its engine capacity has been increased to 956 cc., giving 51 bhp at 5,500 rpm, the newer unit having five main bearings. Among other innovations, the radiator
was put right at the back of the engine
compartment instead of behind the back seat. The rear swing axles
received extra fore-and-aft location from radius arms running forward to rubber-bushed anchorages near the chassis centre-line. The Floride was the first small French car to have disc brakes all round, these being made by Lockheed. In closed form it seated four and was known as the Caravelle. There was also a convertible and hard top two-seaters called Speciales. All three were very well equipped for the standards of the day.
The Panhard PL. 17
By comparison, the Panhard PL. 17
formula was ambitious - a high-efficiency flat-twin engine of 848cc pulling a four-door saloon which could hold six at a tight pinch, and behind this a luggage boot of almost unbelievable volume for so compact a car. But the Panhard was not really at home outside the French domestic market, being somewhat noisy and fussy to drive except on long, straight roads. On these it could bowl along happily all day at 70-80 mph. This suited it very well, of course, for France's main Autoroutes and Routes Nationales - but not so for other countries. The formula would have been easier to justify had the small hard-working engine returned an exceptionally low fuel consumption, but the overall figure was 28.7 mph.
While there were a few criticisms of the Panhard PL. 17
, there was no doubting that it handled better than previous Panhards, and was also notable for first-rate suspension
, the damping in particular being admirably matched. The standard PL.17 was a better proposition for most buyers than the Tiger, having more power at low engine speeds; and being significantly cheaper. A striking convertible style was put into limited production in 1962, but was only made with left-hand drive.
The Simca 1000
The Simca 1000 made its debut in 1962, as a direct rival to the Dauphine. Like the Dauphine, it had its engine and transmission concentrated at the back, and the capacity of the four-cylinder unit, 944 cc., lined up with that of the then new Florides. At the 1962 Geneva motorshow an attractive sports coupe style was added to the Simca 1000 range, with a more highly developed engine, which was in direct competition with these bigger Renaults. Neither the Alpine nor the DB were marketed in the U.K. The Alpine, which carried smart coupe and convertible bodies of moulded plastic, could be ordered from the factory with engines of 747, 845, 904 and 997 cc. Claimed power outputs for these extended from 48 to 68 gross bhp.
The largest engine was mated to a five-speed gearbox, and the makers claimed a maximum speed of 115 mph. Like the Renaults, from which they were derived, all the Alpines had their engines at the back, whereas the DB Panhards works were concentrated at the front. The only production DB was the Le Mans convertible, available with various stages of engine tune and equipment - Racing, Luxe and Grand Luxe. Alternative cylinder capacities are 848 and 954 c.c., and the power outputs extend from 40 to 70 net bhp
The Happy French Mediums
By 1962 the Simca V8s have been dropped, and almost all French cars except the little 1000 mentioned above were powered by the familiar four-cylinder 1,290 c.c. engine, which in 1960
received two more main bearings to make it smoother and more robust. An alternative 1,090 c.c. unit was available in France only. There was a large variety of types - saloons with two and four doors, an estate/wagon, two-door coupes and convertibles. In addition the French could buy the Ariane Miramas which had a larger body to hold six at a pinch. Power outputs extended from the Aronde Etoile's 52 bhp gross to 70 bhp for the Montihery saloon and Monaco hardtop. For the sporting motorist there was the dashing Plein Ciel and Oceane hardtop and convertible two-seaters.
The Montlhery had a power output of 60 bhp, a mean top speed of 82 mph, and fuel consumption of 29.3 mpg. Simcas from this era were completely conventional in design, robustly made, and enjoyable to drive. They were trimmed rather jazzily for some tastes, and the quality of the detail fittings was not seem quite in keeping with their known mechanical worth. Yet even with import duty the fast Montlhery costs no more to purchase in the UK that a Singer Vogue.
The Brilliant Peugeot 403
One of the more expensive of the medium sized French cars was the Peugeot 403
. But the extra asking price bought you a solid family car, able to carry five if need be, although it wasn't quite as fast (on paper) as some of the other 1500s. But on the straight it could be held indefinitely at or near its maximum speed, and on twisty roads its handling
and road-holding and wonderfully precise steering
made for exceptionally high average speeds. Although the engine had only three main bearings it was so smooth that few could put hand on heart and claim that it needed any more. Like the rest of the car, it would not start to rattle after 100,000 miles - something that could not be said of many other makes of car from this time.
The Peugeot 403B estate car had a longer wheelbase than the saloon and half-elliptic rear springs in place of coils. The front seats collapsed into beds creating a not-all-that-comfortable overnighter that was at least better than sleeping on the ground on a rainy night. For its modest engine capacity the Peugeot 403 Wagon was a huge vehicle, yet could exceed 80 mph. Most road testers from the time made special praise for its excellent handling
whatever the load carried, and for sure-footed security on slippery roads. A family version of this had fixed and folding seats to carry up to eight. For any of the 403 range there was an efficient diesel engine as a more costly but cheaper-to-run alternative.
The Peugeot 404
A later design, the Peugeot 404
had a larger engine (1,618 c.c.), steeply inclined from the vertical to permit a low bonnet line. Except for its front suspension
, which was the strut-type closely akin to that on Fords, it did no have much in common with the 403
. But it was quieter, nearly 10 mph. faster, and had a larger window area. In France 404s were trimmed in bright, comfortable cloth of excellent quality; those exported were instead finished in a rather depressing plastic trim out of keeping with their character and price. Two more specialized versions were a luxury saloon with leather trim and a two-seat convertible by Pininfarina
Flaunting Convention - The Citroen DS
Flaunting convention in more respects than any other production car, the Citroen DS
received some significent innovations in the body during the 1961
model years, once again setting a precedent for others to follow. Added was window demisting, not only for the windows in the front doors, but also for the back window. In fact, the rear passengers had their own independent heating system. A pity that something was not done at the same time about increasing the area swept by the screenwipers. Both the DS and cheaper, simpler Citroen ID
were wonderful cars for long-distance touring in great comfort. They were just as roomy and level-riding in the back as the front, and had huge luggage boots despite very little overhang.
Self-levelling pneumatic suspension was, of course, a special feature. Very high-geared and therefore really economical on petrol, they could go nearly as fast in third as top, but the four-cylinder engine lacked refinement. A five-bearing crankshaft, as fitted to some 1962 model Simcas, Renaults and the Facellia, would have improved this; and many believed with some justification that six or more cylinders would have made a better match for the rest of its character. The DS could comfortably exceed 90 m,p.h. In France you could buy the DS in soft-top guise with four seats, although with less space behind than the sedan.
The Facel-Vega Facellia
One of the world's most elegant small cars was the Facel-Vega
Facellia, junior stablemate of the better known Facel II. Its relatively brief existence was dogged by development troubles, which unfortunately at the time received more than their fair share of publicity - which was not helpful to a company already in financial difficulty. Trying to steady the ship, and to Facel-Vega's credit, they did drastically reorganize their operation, a lot of attention being given to the Facellia's engine. Extensive modifications brought it into line with then current practice and made it much more reliable. This engine was a 1,647 c.c., high-efficiency, four-cylinder unit with twin overhead camshafts, which in standard form produced 115 bhp (gross).
There was also a sports version with twin double-choke Webers, giving a remarkable 126 bhp; claimed maximum speeds were 115 and 120 mph. respectively. It had a semi-integral body and chassis structure, a four-speed all-synchromesh gearbox and a rigid back axle carried in the orthodox manner on half-elliptic leaf springs. A variety of stylish, well-equipped bodies included a G.T. convertible and hardtop coupes with two and four seats. The Facellia was the French answer to Italy's Alfa-Romeo Giulietta and Fiat 1500 G.T. convertible, and to the UK's Sunbeam Alpine
- except that it was much more expensive.
For The French Upper Class
With an engine more than three times larger than any other French car, the big Facel-Vega
was France's only high-speed prestige vehicle. Thus in its own country it had to compete directly only with imported products. Most Facel-Vegas were exported, where their prices were swelled by customs duties, freight charges and local purchase taxes. There were two versions, the two-door Facel II and the four-door Excellence, both of which were revised considerably before the 1961 Paris Salon. The Facel II was considerably lower in build, had a much greater window area and could carry more luggage. Although it had token seats at the back, for practical purposes it was considered a two-seater.
The 6-2-litre V8 engine, common to both, was linked to either of two transmissions
; the cheaper was Torque-Flite automatic
, a four-speed Pont-a-Mousson manual box being the alternative. The engine was fed either by a single four-choke carburettor (355 gross bhp) or by two such instruments (390 bhp). With the less powerful engine and automatic transmission
the Facel IIs top speed was just over 130 mph. It was fitted with Dunlop disc brakes, but for the Excellence drums were still specified. Power steering was an option. The chassis specification was conventional with, for instance, a live rear axle on half-elliptic leaf spring. There was scarcely a square inch of plastic trim in a Facel - it was almost all English hide.