The Tour Auto: Racing across France in 250 classic cars
I went to see the 250 glorious cars that raced A Few weeks ago in what is basically the French Mille Miglia. Is there any better way to cross France?
Like the Mille Miglia, the Tour Auto (or Tour de France Automobile, as it was known then), was a cross-country rally that ran from 1899 to 1986 across France in the most competitive machines from their era. In the 60s and 70s you could even find cars coming straight from Le Mans like GT40s and Matra prototypes, barely modified for hundreds and hundreds of kilometers of racing on open roads. Madness.
Nowadays, it’s an historic rally, just like the Mille Miglia. It still goes across France (and a few tracks including Le Mans), offering timed and regularity stages for a variety of classes, and a wide range of cars going from Minis to GT40s, from hardcore Porsches to a Saab and a couple of Volvos.
The 250 enlisted cars have to have been built between 1951 to 1973 (with a few exceptions), and of course be of a similar model that once ran the original race.
As I said, they all meet for inspection under the glass roof of the Art Deco monument that is the Grand Palais, in the historic heart of Paris. And for a glorious day, anyone can come up close and spend some time with some of the best road and rally cars ever produced. A few hours well spent, if you ask me!
Of course, as is with every historic events nowadays, you’ll of course find dozen of classic Porsches. And I'm not complaining.
Just next to them are all the Alfa, including a personal favorite of mine, the Giulia TZ:
Then came what I thought was one of the coolest thing of the whole show: a Mercedes 350 SLC beast parked right next to its grand daddy, the 300SL. Funny to see how much Mercedes design evolved in 20 years:
A few Panteras for good measure:
Ferrari, like BMW, was a major partner of the event, and brought together a huge fleet of GTs, from too many 275 GTBs to count (which is when you know you’re in a cool place), to later Group IV cars and a couple of 250GT SWB, which I personally prefer to the 275. Not like I get to choose anyway!
If you need a break from all these massive mainstream manufacturers (if you can call Ferrari and Porsche mainstream, it’s at this place), there was a corner reserved to small and extinct French manufacturers, ranging from the famous DB Panhards to the more obscure Jidés, and even a Ligier prototype. How knackered will its occupants be after driving this beast across France?
But I hear you from here: “where are the ‘muricans? We can’t possible have gone there empty handed!” Well, fear not. Freedom was very well represented here, going from Cobras to GT40s, from Mustangs to a massive Studebaker:
The UK was not gonna be left behind either. There was a litteral sea of E-Types, because I can imagine it must be nice to race across France in one of the best GT cars ever. You could also find beautiful classic Astons.
Of course, as you probably noticed in the header pic for this post, there were a few Alpines. I wish I could bathe in them. But that probably doesn’t make any kind of sense out of my head, so never mind.
The official Peugeot historic department also brought a few gems:
To top it all off, Lancia came and filled a complete alley with Fulvias, Stratos and other magnificent rust survivors.
This is clearly one of the best thing to happen in France every year. The cars are fantastic, and the place is probably my favorite bit of historic Paris.
Also, getting 250 classic race cars in the middle of Paris is the best way to ignore the city’s autophobic policies, and that can’t hurt. It was massively crowded even late in the day too, proving once again that the French haven't lost all love for these loud and smelly dream machines.
The cars then went one to travel to the other end of France, racing along the way in a variety of conditions and with different degrees of seriousness. I bet there were a lot of smiles under the helmets, and many thumbs up on the side of the roads.
If you like that sort of events, you're in the right place! I will upload reports from many classic events, big or small, happening across France on this Tribe. You can also find more pictures I took from this event on my Flickr: