Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My Favourite Road.

A car fan may spend lots of time in their garage, but to truly appreciate their car they need to hit the road too. I consider myself very lucky, as I have a super road not too far from my house.
The 'Departmental Road 6' runs from Blérancourt to Soissons, in the north of France, starting in the Oise department (equivalent of a small province or state) and finishing in the Aisne department. It is a lazy, meandering 2-lane country road that crosses through a dozen villages and towns along its 40 km path. A good part of the countryside is relatively flat farmers fields, though it rises up a first time to cross one plateau and then back down into the Aisne valley before climbing up over a second plateau and then going back down one more time at the city of Soissons.
While I rarely have any real reason to head that way, I'm not against taking a drive out that way just for fun. Any time I am looking to purchase a new car I make a point of testing it out on that road. With lots of good curves and hairpin turns and long straight stretches, it really is a great way to put a new ride to the test. When you're as much of a car geek as me, it's nice to have a road that you know very well when trying out a different car. It lets you get a feel for any differences or problems. And while one must always fall all rules and laws in the name of safety, a road like this can be rather entertaining.

Not only is the road itself enjoyable to drive, but the scenery is quite lovely. This time of year it is especially nice, as the yellow canola flowers in the fields really catch your eye. The small towns offer lots of traditional stone houses, some well maintained and others falling apart, to add to the visual enjoyment of the drive.
For those that consider driving a chore this may sound like crazy talk, but I think that most of the dedicated cars fans like me out there would understand, and probably have their own favourite road.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

My Father Would Be Proud.

Turns out dad was right. I spent most of my teen years trying to win the GM versus Ford fight. I was on the GM side, a fan of cars like the Firebird, Fiero, and Corvette. My father was in the Ford camp, having owned a Mustang, Thunderbird, and F-150. My first Ford was a Tempo, which, as those who know it can imagine, didn't go far in swaying my opinion.

A few years back I caved again and bought a 2009 Ford Ka, more on price than anything else. I have been very happy with this car, and as a result will definitely consider Ford for my next purchase. If my dad were around I know that he would be happy, and certainly a bit smug.
And a photo of a Ford jump-starting a GM product? I guarantee you this photo would have made it onto the mantel above the fireplace.


Friday, July 26, 2013

I Love Lamp.

Another automotive-related garage sale find! This time it's something functional: a lamp. This headlight-shaped lamp caught my attention at the last garage sale I visited. From a distance I thought that it might be plastic, but it turns out that it is steel. I quite like the off-white finish and contrasting bright-red cord. And the lens is real glass, not a plastic copy.
I didn't particularly need a new lamp, but I obviously couldn't turn this down. Now I just have to find some automotive artwork to hang on the wall and light up with my new lamp!


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

European Hair Dryer.

After a very slow start to the summer, it has arrived and is in full swing. We have had several weeks of hot weather and, more importantly sunny days. What better way to enjoy it then pop the top on your Fiat 500 convertible! 
Not a full convertible, the original Fiat 500 still did offer a large opening canvas sunroof. In such a small car, it really opens up the cabin and gives the occupants the feeling of being right out there in the summer weather. And while the 500 was always a fun, nimble car to drive, it is not the fastest car out there, so the driver is encouraged to take the slow roads and enjoy the scenery.

The 500 is still a popular car in Europe, even though it has been out of production since 1975. Production started in 1957, and as there were over 3,800,000 units sold, it remains a fairly common sight. In my travels the 500 is certainly more common than the Beetle, though less common than the Mini. Even if it's not a rare car to see, it always turns my head. If you think that the current, modern Fiat 500 is small, you really need to see one parked next to the original. Only then can you appreciate how small this vintage car is!

If I was picking a little classic to bomb around the European countryside this summer, a 500 with the folding roof would definitely be near the top of the list.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Haunted by Trabant.

Just when I thought that I had forgotten about the little Trabant I was interested in, a friend stumbled across one and sent me some pictures, rekindling the desire for this tiny polymer-bodied Eastern-European wonder.

This particular 601 (the same model as the one I wrote about a few weeks back) was apparently on display in a D-Day beach museum on the Normandy coast in the north-east of France. A friend was thoughtful (or is that devious?) enough to grab a few shots, knowing full well that it would get me thinking about the one for sale near my house.
From what I can see this model is in very nice shape. While it would appear that the paint is missing some shine, this is the case with all Trabants. The rough finish of the low-tech polymer panels (a mix of resin and assorted scraps of old clothes and cotten, according to legend!) didn't lend itself to a smooth, mirror finish, even when the cars rolled off the assembly line decades ago.
As a bonus, I also was sent a picture of the specifications of the car, including engine type and displacement (2 cylinder, 596 cm3), power (26 horsepower), weight (680 kg)... and even the percentage of oil in the gas-oil mix for the 2-cycle engine (2%). This is the kind of data that a car guy loves.

It is a good thing that it is late right now, otherwise I don't know how I could have resisted calling to see if the local one is still looking for a new home...


Monday, July 22, 2013

My Inbox Overfloweth.

I think that my friends have me figured out. Not a week goes by that one doesn't send me a car-related picture. Sometimes it's a bright new sports car, sometimes it's a beautiful old collectible, and sometimes it's a beat-up rustbucket. Other times it is a shot of an old garage or gas station or advertisement. 

While it is not always easy to find time to blog about all of them, I always file them away in my automotive attic to pull out at a later date. Many of the pictures I get are from cars I don't know much about, so it is a great opportunity to do some research and learn more about other interesting vehicles.
Just a few of the pictures I received this week...
So feel free to send away! Who knows, maybe one of you will send along a picture of a car I have never even heard of, and will be able to add to my "Want" list...


Sunday, July 14, 2013

How Useful.

The name 'utilitaire' is used in French to denote any type of utility vehicle, like a van or station wagon or small enclosed truck. The term comes from the word 'utile', which means 'useful', a fitting name for this type of vehicle. Some of these utilitaires are purpose-built to be used for contractors and professionals and businesses: large boxy vans with large hinged doors in the back and usually one or more side sliding doors. These are similar to big Express and Econoline vans used in North America.

Europeans also have smaller classes of utilitaires, sometimes these are specifically built for work use, but other times they are based on regular passenger vehicles. One example that is now available in North America is the Ford Transit Connect. Most versions only have seats in the front, and the rear is a large unfinished cargo space. Family versions also exist with seats in the back and carpeting and trim, basically a regular car for everday use.

But some take it further. Not content with this 'midsize' class of utilitaires, many European automakers have for years been converting, well, just about anything into a cargo-hauling machine! One of my favourites is the Peugeot 205 Multi. The 205 is a legendary small Peugeot 2-door hatchback from the 1980s and 1990s, and the Multi was a tiny utilitaire spin-off of the regular car. It added a taller roof and squared off rear hatch area that significantly increased not only the shape but the usefuleness of the cargo area. Some might question the point of such a small 'work' vehicle, but in small European cities where parking space is at a premium and fuel prices are high, it often makes sense for small businesses to have a small utilitaire.
This one I stumbled across the other day has seen better days, but at least we can tell that it was properly used as a work vehicle throughout its life, as intended. No one will say that it's an attractive design, but when it comes to utilitaires, it's all about how it works, not how it looks.

Looks like my 'Cars I Want' list just got a bit longer...!


Saturday, July 13, 2013


I have a coworker who is unfaithful. Everyone knows it; she doesn't even try to hide it. It's so blatant that one can't help but see it. And I'm reminded of it every morning in the parking lot. Yes, she's that brash... in front of everyone, for all to see.

And the worst part? Her husband (another coworker) not only knows, but approves of it. He actually encourages it! This week I overheard him telling someone that he likes to help choose the objects of his wifes indiscretions, that he has come to know what she likes!

While I don't like to pry into peoples personal lives, I can't help but comment on this persons habits: she's an unfaithful car buyer. It all started around four years ago when a shiny white Nissan Qashqai crossover showed up in the parking lot. A tall, attractive vehicle, it really stood out in a sea of Renault and Peugeot and Citroen small cars that populated the parking lot.
Then about two years ago the Qashqai was no longer to be seen. It had been replaced by a newer, younger Kia Sportage. Still a crossover, still a midsize 5-door, still a diesel... it seemed that Mrs. had a 'type', but wasn't particularly faithful to one particular brand. Many people have a favourite brand, and when it's time to trade in their old car they go back to the same brand for their newest model. I asked the person in question and she said that, while she had been very happy with the Nissan, this new Kia had really caught her attention.
Two times doesn't make a pattern, so I had kind of forgotten about this until I saw Mrs. climb out of her newest vehicle the other day... this time, a brand new Chevrolet Captiva. Once again we could see that she definitely had a preference for roomy white 5-door crossovers...
My curiosity got the better of me; I had to ask. Had she had a bad experience with the Kia? Did it turn out to be a lemon? No, she had quite enjoyed it, but when it was time to swap, she just didn't feel a particular attraction to any specific brand, and fell for the handsome looks of the Captiva.

Perhaps being 'faihtful' to a brand is a thing of the past. I know that in my father's generation a young boy often had a favourite car, and tended to stick with that brand for life. In my father's case it was Ford, and so when it came time for me to pick my favourite brand, it was obvious: anything BUT Ford! I was a Pontiac fan from as earlier as I can remember. In that era, a Chrysler guy was a Chrysler guy. A Plymouth fan loved Plymouth for life. Someone who rooted for team Buick did so without fail.

I have owned many different brands in my lifetime, so I suppose I'm as unfaithful as my coworker. But I know that if I was looking for another brand new car, I would be inclined to stay with Ford, as I have been very satisfied with my current one. To each their own; people should drive what they like. But I am going to keep my eyes peeled over the next few years for any new shiny white 5-door crossovers in the parking lot, because I'm on to my coworker, and am curious to see where her wandering eyes will fall next time...


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I Don't Deserve My Car.

I don't know if the equivalent of 'Child Services' for cars exists, but if they do, I should call them and turn myself in. My poor old car has been sitting for almost two months, alone and forgotten in the yard. Covered in dust, it even has cobwebs growing on it.

To be fair, I haven't been home much over the past little while, but I know that's just an excuse to make me feel better. I parked my 1983 Opel Corsa TR back in May and haven't touched it since. It may not be a collectors car, but the TR is quite rare. While 1980's Corsa hatchbacks are a dime a dozen here, my two-door model with a proper trunk was never sold in France. In fact, I have never even seen another one.
With the nice weather here I am excited to get get back to work. The most urgent task is to replace the master cylinder, as the last time I drove the Corsa the brakes were getting quite spongy, which is never a good sign! After that, the car really needs a good paint job. The faded brown paint has lost all shine, and not even a wax job can bring it back.
With luck I will be able to redeem myself, and my baby will forgive me for the months of neglect. I think I'll spring for a tank of high-octane gas if I can ever get her started! It's the least I can do, right? Though that might not be enough... maybe I can spring for one of those pine-tree air fresheners too...

Monday, July 8, 2013

Anti Aerodynamic.

Forget a sleek, air-cheating design, this Citroen Type H van ('fourgon') was the automotive equivalent of a brick wall. There was no question that the name of the game was utility with this corrugated steel vehicle.
Apparently the idea of these vans started during the Second World War, but it had to be designed in secret during the occupation of France. After the war the designs were quickly finalized, and the Type H would become the choice for many businesses and services (police, fire, ambulance) due to its very rugged and robust construction and huge interior volume. Almost 500,000 examples would be produced between 1948 and 1981.

Today you still occasionally seem them around, and quite often they are used as moving billboards, like this example I stumbled across the other day (with an ad for a café). The very strange design stands out next to all the other cars in the street, especially with the corrugated body panels. While it is understandable that today automotive designers aim to make vehicles as aerodynamic as possible so that they use less fuel, it is fun to see squared-off relics like this that are 100% function over form.

Didn't I say the other day that I was looking for a tiny ice cream van? Maybe I should think bigger...

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Old-Fashioned Car Care.

This morning I bought a neat old tin at a community garage sale in the neighborhood. I wasn't looking for anything in particular, but this old metal can caught my attention. Why you might ask? Because there was a picture of a car on it! Yes, I know, I'm pretty predictable, but I really like the look of beat up old tins like this, and the fact that it used to house a car-cleaning product made it all the more interesting.
For the reasonable sum of 4 euros I am the proud owner of the little red 'Coppac Paris' brand 'Sog' tin. It was a product for car cleaning and polishing. 'Ouate' translates to 'wadding', which is nothing more than a soft cotton polishing cloth. The tin was most likely filled with a polishing paste and came with the cloth. According to the advertisements on the container, it worked on chrome, nickel, aluminum and paint. It would clean, polish and shine, all this with the guarantee of an acid-free formulation.

I thought that it made a neat little decoration for my tool-bench, but it also got me thinking about something else. While car-care products still do exist, and some people of course do take good care of their cars, I get the feeling that it's not the same as back in the day when this product was sold.

For most people today a car is a tool to get from place to place. A car used to be something to aspire to, to dream about; nowadays, car ownership is at the reach of many many people, and I don't think that we take the same enjoyment in maintaining our vehicles as people did decades ago. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Not everyone has the time or energy or desire to spend hours in their garage washing and scrubbing and polishing and waxing their car, nor should they. But there certainly was an era where having a bright and shiny car was a source of pride.

I certainly won't show you any pictures of my car as it sits today, it hasn't been washed in ages. It could really use a good work-over with some 'Sog Ouate Eclair'! I probably should have tried to find a tin that wasn't empty...


Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Really Mini Minivan.

Need minivan room but have extra-mini place to park it? There's a funky little Subaru van for you! I stumbled across this green one in the street the other day:
This particular version of the Subaru Sambar was produced between 1990 and 1998. What is amazing that such a small vehicle offered seating for up to seven passengers! You may not fit seven full-sized adults, mind you, but you could probably squeeze a bunch of kids in the rear benches.

It looks like quite a practical little van, with large hinged front doors, a sliding door on each side, and a swing-up rear hatch. With the engine under the rear compartment floor, the entire front of the vehicle is available for leg room, which looked rather impressive for something so small.

This model benefited from a large sunroof covering over half of the cockpit, which would certainly make it feel larger inside. After all, it IS under 3 meters (less than 10 feet) long... for comparison, not only is it shorter than the current Mini Cooper... it's also shorter than the original Mini! Yes, it's THAT small!

To go with the small size is the small engine... several versions existed over the years, typically putting out less than 60 hp. Suffice it to say that loading this Sambar up with mom and dad and the kids and grandma and the dog and a few suitcases would turn the vacation road-trip into a real adventure! Unless the destination is downhill from the starting point, I could see it being a long, slow sightseeing tour. Once again, that huge sunroof is a big plus!
While few would think of purchasing one of these to replace a seven-seater Dodge Grand Caravan, I think that choice is great. A van like this is certainly a welcome option to city-dwellers who need something affordable and economical that does not take up much space.

As if I didn't have a hard enough time trying to pick out another new toy... looks like the list just got a bit longer...

Friday, July 5, 2013

Let Me Know What You Think!

Just wanted to take a minute to encourage anyone reading along to feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think about the stories I post. As I mentioned in the first post in this blog, I have a head jammed full of car-related memories and fantasies, and every day I create new ones. A blog seemed liked a great place to get them written down and organized, and also to share. Maybe you have similar stories to share, or have your own idea for a project car. Maybe you have totally different tastes than me (which most people do!) when it comes to what catches your eye. Maybe you just see an automobile as a way to get from Point A to Point B, and don't understand the fascination someone like I can have over these machines...
So please, leave your comments and share your own thoughts! Do you stop and stare when you see a certain old car in the street? Is it the new shiny ones that catch your attention? Do you like to get your hands dirty repairing your ride? Do you prefer to trust it to the hands of a professional? I am certainly not the only one out there who is that much of a car fanatic, so I'd be glad to hear from others who share this enjoyable addiction!


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Wedding Getaway Car.

Some couples show up in long limousines, others rent massive Hummers, while still others use fancy luxury automobiles to make their grand entrance and getaway on the day of their wedding. Last summer I saw what I would consider to be one of the loveliest modes of transportation for a bride and groom: a Citroen 2CV Charleston.
The Charleston edition of the 2CV was produced from 1980 to 1990, but was inspired by vehicles from the 1920s and 1930s. The two-tone paint job really highlights the natural curves and creases of the 2CV design, and makes what is already a stand-out car stand-out even more.
Obviously no car can overshadow newlyweds on their big day, though the 2CV Charleston makes for a lovely backdrop for wedding pictures. Imagine a white wedding gown and sharp suit contrasted against the deep burgundy and black paint job. Decked out with a white ribbon and a bouquet of flowers, I think that this old car did a great job serving as the 'Best Machine' for this very special day!

To Trabant or Not to Trabant.

Last year I stumbled across a true automotive oddity, a 1970 Trabant 601. It was for sale on a website that I consult regularly; it is where I have purchased most of my old cars. The second I saw the picture I knew that I was interested. I remember very well that it was a Sunday morning, and when I saw that the car was only 15 minutes away from where I lived, I called and set up to see it that very afternoon.
I knew nothing about the Trabant brand, so I spent the morning researching it online. Trabant was the name of four different cars produced between 1957 until 1990 (the Trabant 500, the Trabant 600, the Trabant 601, and the Trabant 1.1) by the East German company (get ready for it, the name's a mouthful!) VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau. Most would simply call the car 'The Trabant', or more affectionately, 'Trabbi', with the 601 model being the most popular, and the face of the brand.

This is this model that I went to see. The owner was a very friendly gentleman who was more than happy to spend an hour of his time showing me his car. He had purchased it several years earlier, and while he had done a significant amount of work to restore it, he had lost interest and let it sit for two years. It was apparently his wife who was sick of seeing it sit in the garden that told him he had to sell it!

(Unfortunately the above photo is the only original photo of the car that I have, though I will include several of a nearly identical model I photographed in Hungary several years back.)
Along with the car were boxes and boxes of spare parts. Most common parts (inner tubes, headlights, steering wheels, wheels, seats, brake pads) were in double, if not triple. The seats had been re-upholstered, brand new chrome trim rings for the headlight were still in their boxes, and all of the brake lines had been replaced. This was clearly a project car that was begging for someone to help it cross the finish line.
As an aside, it turns out this man could be forgiven for abandoning this project, as he had a huge garage with more than a twenty beautifully restored old cars, including a Citroen Ami8, a Matra 530, Citroen DS, Renault Fuego, and two very rare (in Europe) American cars, a 1970s Cadillac convertible, and a pristine 1978 Lincoln 'Cartier Edition' Mark V. I spent another hour admiring these beauties, though that is the story for another day...

Alas, there was a hiccup. The price was reasonable, and there was even room for negotiation. It clearly helped that I was so visibly excited over such a rare and unique find (I really need to work on my poker face!). The owner liked the idea of his Trabbi going to someone who truly appreciated it. The problem was that when he had imported the car from the Czech Republic years earlier, he had not bothered to register the car in France and put the ownership in his name. While all of the paperwork from the original owner was available, after a bit of research I discovered that not only is it becoming more and more difficult to import an old car from a foreign country, but the fact that the current owner had not transferred it made it nearly impossible for a new owner to put it in his name.

For weeks the little 601 haunted me. There was so much potential. The Trabant body was made from a material called 'Duroplast', a sort of plastic-like mix of cotton and resin, so the outer body panels were not rusty, and never would be. The frame was indeed steel, but in this example I could see that it was in excellent shape and required no patching. The motor had not run for a few years, but such a simple machine (the 600 cc two-stroke, two-cylinder has more in common with your lawn mower than your car; you even have to mix the oil in with the gas!) could easily have been made to run again.
Occasionally I allow myself to be realistic, and I decided against buying the car. I had nearly forgotten about it, until I saw it pop up on the same website this past week!

EDIT: link no longer active, apparently the car has been sold

The price has dropped slightly, and I hear the Trabant calling my name again. I see so many possibilities. It could be turned into a mini '57 Chevy wannabe. It could be easily converted into a retro electric car. Though of course I think that the best option is to return it to original condition.

So that's where it sits today. Part of me knows that it would take a miracle to transfer the ownership, but another part of me wants to throw caution to the wind and snap it up before someone else does. My left-shoulder angel and right-shoulder demon are locked in a fierce battle right now... I'll let you know what the outcome is...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Straight Line.

Europe is full of small cars, and after a while they all start to look more or less alike. One that always stands out to my eyes is the Citroen C2. No longer produced, it was available from 2003 until 2009. It is a small three-door city car (two side doors plus a rear hatch) that seats four people.

Built off of the platform that was the basis for the much more popular C3, a larger five-door, it still managed to sell over 600,000 copies in its seven years on the market. As with almost all small cars in Europe, gasoline and diesel engine were offered, along with manual or automatic transmissions.

What makes this litte car stand out, even four years after production ended, is the side window profile, and specifically the broken, crooked beltline:

The profile and design of the car may not be groundbreaking, but the kink to the side rear window really adds some character to the C2. It visually suggests that the car is leaning forward, ready to pounce, which is extra fitting on this bright-red VTS sport version that I saw in the street this morning.

With more and more cars looking alike these days, I applaud even small efforts like this one to differentiate from the crowd.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My Father's Garage.

I'm not sure where I took my first steps as a baby, but I like to think that they were in my father's body shop. While I doubt that I was allowed to wander around as an infant amongst the cars and tools and oil and grease and paint, I have so many fond childhood memories in that place that I want it to be where I finally got properly mobile. Because it was from there that I learned to ride a bike, and then use my pedal car, before graduating to a go-kart and finally to driving a real car. And this, of course, was my destiny.
Growing up in a house on the edge of a lake in a small town is a fantastic way to spend ones childhood, and I certainly am thankful that I did, but having my father's business, a car repair shop, just a couple hundred meters away from the house was just as exciting to me. All of my spare time was spent there. As an adult I realize that I was certainly more of a hassle then a help when I was little, but it never felt that way. My father was always willing to take the time to explain things to me, to show me what he was doing. This is without question where my passion for cars comes from.

The building was a rather strange construction, on three levels. We called it simply 'The Shop'. The main floor was a mostly rectangular shape with two large bay doors, a paint booth, a pit, a hoist, and space for at least six cars. Over the years the old traditional frame-pulling machine was joined by a more modern unibody unit as cars moved away from traditional full-frame construction, though my father never got rid of anything. His customers knew that he could easily fix a modern front-wheel-drive econobox, but was much happier banging away on an old rusty rear-wheel-drive monster.
A small semi-circular office was stuck off the front, and it was in here that my father and his coworkers and customers and friends discussed politics and theology and economy, shared the occasional beer, told jokes of questionable taste... and discussed automotive repairs, when they had the time. They were all experts on all topics, and over the years I realised that when they got into that office, they all turned back into schoolyard boys at recess. The tales were tall and the claims grew bigger over the years; it was a place where legends were created out of thin air. And this is part of what made 'The Shop' such a wonderful place to be.
The lower level was another smaller garage with a bay door. During most of my childhood a used car salesman used this space to prepare his cars before putting them for sale on the front lot. Out the back of this part of the garage was a large yard that, up until the end of the 1980's, housed a massive pile of wrecked cars. It was a teetering, towering pile of old rusted carcasses. While I knew that I was not allowed to climb amongst them at the risk of being crushed under a falling Buick or Chrysler or Lincoln, in perfect child logic I figured that if my father was going to present me with such an amazing jungle gym, I was going to use it. I recall climbing to the top of the pile, rocking back and forth in the old cars, hearing them creak and groan, oblivious to the risks I was taking.
Environnemental concerns forced my father to dismantle this pile as I reached my teenage years, which actually worked in my favor. This left plently of space to set up my own test drive track, and from the age of 13 on I was parallel parking and reversing with the best of them. By the time I hit driving age, at 16, I was already considered myself a seasoned driver. My 'first car' was a 1985 Chevrolet Celebrity with a 2.5 litre 4-cylinder engine and a 3-speed automatic transmission... a nasty connecting rod rattle kept it off the roads, but didn't stop me from honing my skills as a racecar pilot.

While I do not have a picture of the actual car I learned to drive on, I have included a nearly identical example so that you can all see that for a young gearhead, love is blind, and even something as homely as a Celebrity can be the car of a young mans dreams.
The roof over the upper level was an odd, sort of modified quonset hut-type construction. This huge open space was an Ali Baba's cave of old car parts. The only access was up a crooked metal ladder, and when I was finally old enough (and brave enough) to climb up, I was in heaven. I spent hours and hours of my summer holidays and weekends up there, sorting through old car seats and dashboards and wheels and radios, and countless other assorted car bits and pieces. I was convinced that there were enough parts up there to build a full car, if not several. I tidied up one corner of the loft and set up some old car seats as chairs and an old center console as a table; I had taillights and headlights as lamps and an old record player for entertainment. This was my space, and while I occasionally allowed my cousins to visit, my sisters were not allowed. No need for a 'No Girls Allowed' sign, anyways, they were all too scared to climb the twisted ladder...

I don't have any pictures of this part, and  think that it's better that way. My father fixed his last car in his shop in 2003, and it has since been sold. I can't remember the last time I climbed up that ladder into my own private automotive refuge, but it has been at least 15 years, if not closer to 20. It was probably smaller and dustier and darker than I recall, but I would rather remember it through the eyes of a kid, master of his domain, losing track of time and sorting through decades of old car parts, imaging his future...

Happy Canada Day!

No, Canada Day has nothing to do with automobiles, but as a proud Canadian, I figured I could slide in just ONE off-topic post in honor of Canada Day! I took a little tour around Paris with a friend today, and thought I would share some of the best pictures of the afternoon...
 We started out with a visit to the cash machine...
We wanted to take a bike ride, but one of us couldn't reach the pedals...

First stop, Sacré Coeur cathedral...

 Not the classiest of tourist souvenirs...

 Then a short walk to Moulin Rouge...

It was hot out, so we took the métro...

Perfect fit at the Arc de Triomphe...

I think his blood-syrup level was over the legal limit...

Not sure who these guys are, but they apparently have Canadian ancestors...

Little stroll along the river Seine to watch the tour boats...

After the scooter incident there was no way we were touching a Porsche...

And the best for last, the Eiffel Tower!

Happy Canada Day to everyone back home!!!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Renting Twizy is Ezy.

In previous posts I've given my impressions of the Renault Twizy, that oddball electric 2-seater that looks like nothing else on the road. I have my doubts that it will be a massive hit, as there are some negative points that will keep it from appealing to everyone. Still, it WILL find a few fans, and it really is quite well suited to rental-car duty, as evidenced by the TwizyWay program.

It is nothing like a traditional rental car agency, where you have to go to a counter, sign the rental agreement, and pick up the keys. The process has been greatly simplified for the Twizy in the city of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, southwest of France. To create an account, you can sign up online, or drop straight into the boutique, where you must go in either case to pick up your swipe card. A credit card is linked to your account, for automatic payment of your usage, and in case of damage to the car. There is no need for a separate insurance policy, or even 'filling up' the batteries, as all is covered under the rental cost.
At first I was curious why they wouldn't mail the card, but I realized upon my first visit that it is a good idea to have people drop by in person, because it is important to go through the demonstration of the car. A few of the controls are a bit different than in a typical car, and the representative at TwizyWay did a great job of explaining how to reserve and take possession of your car.

The process is quite simple. Using a smartphone or computer, you can localize and reserve a car. This blocks the car for 15 minutes; after that time, the car is free for someone else to rent. Once you physically show up to the car you have reserved, you swipe your badge over the windshield sensor. A series of blinking lights confirms that your card has been accepted and the car is yours. An automated voice recording asks you to take a walk around the vehicle to make sure that there is no damage, and if everything is okay, you confirm by pushing a green button on the ceiling. If ever there's a problem, pushing the red button puts you in live contact with an operator so that you can explain what is wrong.

From there, you hope in, buckle your seatbelt, turn the key (which is built into the ignition) and you're off. In much less time than you would spend at a traditional rental car desk, you're off whizzing about in your little electric wonder. Those familiar with bicycle rentals available in many large cities will feel very familiar. If you happen to wander by a TwizyWay Twizy in the street (you can't miss them, there are signs plastered all over each one!), you can flash the QR Smartcode on the windshield and reserve it instantly.

Obviously everyone is wondering how much this all costs. The initial one-time cost of the swipe card is 15 euros. After that, you will either pay 0.29 euros per minute, or 11.90 euros per hour. One big benefit with these Twizy rental is the fact that if you stop for a short period of time, you pay a reduced rate (0.10 euros), and don't risk having your car picked up by anyone else. The prices seem quite reasonable, especially when you consider that many people will use them for short trips in the city. The price is certainly less than a city taxi.

This pilot program has apparently been successful, and Renault is looking to expand it to other cities. I heartily applaud this move; I think that this is the best use for a vehicle like Twizy. It is going to have a hard time finding many individual owners, I fear, but it is truly well suited as a short-term run-about rental for the city. Its narrow width and ease of driving make it a great choice for scooting in and out of traffic, and its short length allows you to park it almost anywhere.
One last big plus with the TwizyWay program, and a very smart idea, is that you are allowed to park it in any legal public parking space without having to pay. The company has a deal with the city, and to encourage people to use the Twizy, parking is free. It ensures that Twizys are available all over the city, and not just in specific, dedicated parking lots.

Renault has gone out of their way to make renting a Twizy a simple and easy experience, for both local people and tourists, and I really expect to see this program to spread to many other European cities quickly. For anyone planning a trip to the Paris area in the near future, know that you now have a new and interesting transportation option!