In my childhood, I was lucky enough to experience a decent variety of family cars. We seemed to change them quite regularly having cars including the VW Golf Mk2, Jaguar XJ6, Mercedes E230, BMW 318i, Range Rover, Land Rover Discovery and much more. However, these examples of British and German engineering didn't catch my attention and steal my heart as much as the French cars we had.
We didn't have an abundance of French cars, but the Peugeot 405 estate, Citroën Xantia and Citroën ZX were, by far and away, my favourites.
Driving pleasure is not all about speed, handling and balance. There are other traits that aren't measurable. One that French manufacturers nearly always get right. I'm talking about character. The cars can be pretty awful, but if they have character, I can forgive them all their sins.
Here is my argument on why I think French cars are the coolest of them all.
In the modern era, French cars don't have the level of innovation they once had. They used to be the front runners in the industry, introducing the likes of disc brakes, hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension and direction headlights. How is that cool, I hear you ask? They put them into the Citroën DS which you can see below.
Even John Prescott could look cool driving one of these. They may not be the main innovators anymore, but the heritage is there, and when there is heritage, there is cool.
PEtite cars and Hot hatches
Italy does have some very cool small cars, but I think France might just pip them to the post. There are some fantastic little cars produced in France, which may be slow and a bit cumbersome, but in terms of cool, they are second to none.
The Renault 4 is a prime example of a slow car that is fun to drive. You have to be thinking about your actions constantly. Will you make it up the next hill with this speed? Probably not. The fun never stops!
If you are looking to get somewhere fast, then France has you covered too. Hot hatches are always cool, and France does them best.
The Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9 is the perfect B-road attack dog. It has the perfect amount of power for the chassis and has the thrills of lift-off oversteer.
France also produced the often-overlooked Renault Clio Williams. If you place gold rims on most cars, they would look tacky. However, the with Clio Williams it just works.
What's that? How can a family car be cool? Let me convince you with three examples.
Usually, you would associate family cars with the Vauxhall Zafira or some soulless box. However, the car to launch them all was the Renault Espace, and it was, and still is cool today. Then for no conceivable reason, Renault decided to celebrate the anniversary of the Espace by shoving a V10 Formula one engine in it. This could do 0-62 in 2.8 seconds.
Renault also produced the Avantime which absolutely bombed in terms of sales. That doesn't make it uncool though. Just look at it.
I'll admit French cars aren't the most reliable bunch in the world, but they have produced some gems.
If you go to pretty much any country in Africa, you will most likely see a Peugeot 504 still going strong. They had simple mechanics and can be easily modified.
My family had a Peugeot 405 estate for a number of years and by the time we came to sell it, it had over 200,000 miles on the clock. We sold it to a farmer to use as a workhorse. Bulletproof.
What's the easiest way to get your car brand some easy cool points? That's right, send them racing.
Rally is the coolest motorsport, no question, and French manufacturers have a rich history. From the T16 models to Sébastien Loeb's Citroën C4, French cars often do well.
One of the greatest drives of all time, Ari Vatenen's pikes peak performance is legendary, and it was done in the wonderful Peugeot 405 T16.
Renault have also had some iconic involvement in Formula 1 over the years, including the Fernando Alonso title win in 2005. They have been the engine supplier to many Championship winning cars.
The French manufacturers bloody love a ridiculous concept car. Even though we will later find out that the Peugeot Onyx, seen below, will be the inspiration for the new Peugeot 1007 or some shit, it still doesn't stop hem being unbelievably cool.
I'll admit that when I was younger I assumed Bugatti was an Italian manufacturer. Now I know I was doing a massive disservice to France.
The Veyron and Chiron are amazing machines, but whether they are cool or not is harder to tell. But when you look at their pre-war cars they were undeniably cool. The Bugatti Type 57 SC, pictured above, is one of the most sought after cars in the world.
I'm not saying that French cars are the best in the world, far from it. The fact that when my sister crashed our Citroën ZX 1.9 TD and it had to be written off as the £150 damage was worth more than the car, should demonstrate that.
It's all about the character. Maybe some modern French cars have lost their way a bit, but the legacy is more than enough to uphold the level of cool earned from years of innovation and 'fuck it' attitude.
If I haven't convinced you of how cool French cars are by now, below is the Citroën Traction Avant. The car of choice for the gangsters of the 30's and 40's. I have nothing left after that...
If France doesn't produce the coolest cars in the world, tell me who does in the comments below.