The Paris show celebrates the automobile’s role on big and little screens
Like the cherry on top of the 2016 Paris auto show, Hall 8 sits at the top of a hill just above all the new-car display areas. Hall 8 is generally filled with vintage cars staged in sometimes elaborate dioramas according to a theme. This year’s theme was “L’Automobile Fait Son Cinéma,” or the Automobile in Film, and the gathered vehicles mostly starred either in French TV shows or movies, those shot on location in France, or those filmed elsewhere that featured French cars. The vehicles collected are not necessarily the actual ones used in the productions, but they’re all dead-ringers, and they may just inspire you to some unexpected Netflix queueing.
1961 Peugeot 403 Cabriolet, Columbo
The “Detectives and Secret Agents” display featured the iconic French shlubmobile piloted by everyone’s favorite rumpled LAPD homicide detective, Frank Columbo during 69 episodes of the ground-breaking “how-catch-em” series, wherein the audience always witnessed the crime and its perpetrator in the first scene, then spent 73-98 minutes watching actor Peter Falk methodically and often apologetically reel in the bad-guy.
1985 Renault 11 Taxi, A View to a Kill
Agent 007 drove a few French cars during Roger Moore’s tenure in the role including this hapless Renault 11 taxi (aka Alliance, stateside). Bond commandeers the cab under the Eiffel Tower, giving chase to a villainous skydiver, decapitating the cab on a road barrier bar, and then losing the rear end in a T-bone collision. The fuel tank must be under the driver seat, because the plucky front-drive Renault keeps running and delivers him to the River Seine bridge, under which the boat the bad guy landed in is passing.
1980 Citroën 2CV, For Your Eyes Only
Who can forget the epic Bond chase scene wherein 007 manages to evade two carloads of baddies in powerful Peugeot 504s while piloting a lowly deux chevaux. He does this, of course, by variously barrel rolling it (and piloting it wheels down) more or less straight down a steep hillside planted in olive trees, while the Pugs mostly stick to the paved switchbacks.
1964 Citroën DS 19, Fantômas se Déchaîne (Fantômas Unleashed)
This 1965 film starred Jean Marais as arch villain Fantômas opposite Louis de Funès as the earnest but outclassed commissaire Juve and the journalist Fandor, also played by Marais. The Fantômas trilogy, starting in 1964, was France’s answer to the James Bond phenom that was sweeping the world at around that time, but with the suave, gadget-guru protagonist on the other side of the law. In this installment he makes a daring aerial getaway in his DS when it sprouts wings and a tail.
1965 Alpine M65, Michel Vaillant
Michel Vaillant started out as a character in some short stories published in the Franco-Belgian comics magazine Tintin before spinning off his own comic book franchise in 1957, which is still published today. In it, the Vaillant family runs a car and truck manufacturing business that starts up a Formula 1 racing team, with Michel serving as its star driver. In a mid-’60s TV series based on the characters, Les Aventures de Michel Vaillant, he switched racing series to drive an Alpine. The series included live racing footage from Rallye Du Nord, Magny Cours, Nürburgring, Monza, Targa Florio, Le Mans, Monaco, Rouen-Les-Essarts, Sebring and Reims.
1982 Mini 1000, Mr. Bean & 1993 Renault 4R4 Les Visiteurs (The Visitors)
Rowan Atkinson, an inveterate car guy and collector, played the bumbling and pratfall-prone Mr. Bean, who (naturally) drove a lime green Mini in the popular British TV sitcom. The French connection here comes in the 2007 film Mr. Bean’s Holiday, wherein he wins a train journey vacation to Cannes. Numerous Beanean misadventures result in his hitch-hiking the last leg of the journey, only to be picked up by an aspiring actress (coincidentally driving a Mini identical to his) on her way to the 59th Cannes Film Festival. The yellow Renault next to it featured in France’s number-one box-office hit of 1993, Les Visiteurs, a fish-out-of-water tale of a medieval knight who time-travels to the end of the 20th century.
1969 Porsche 908/2 Spyder, Le Mans
Heralded as the greatest racing film of all time, this Steve McQueen vehicle used footage filmed on the Le Mans circuit during 1970. It included the season’s actual 24 Hours of Le Mans race in mid-June. McQueen had intended to co-drive a Porsche 917 in the race with Scottish racing legend Jackie Stewart, but that car was not accepted. Instead, the movie shows him starting the race in a blue #20 Gulf-Porsche 917K. The Porsche 908/2 which McQueen co-drove to a second place finish in the 12 Hours of Sebring served as a movie camera car, capturing actual racing footage. It completed 282 laps and finished in ninth place, but without covering the requisite minimum mileage, due to stops to change film in the cameras.
1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, Ronin
Director John Frankenheimer’s finest car-chase work appeared in his 1998 film Ronin, about a band of rag-tag guerillas attempting to retrieve a mysterious case from a band of really bad guys. In an initial attempt to do this, a big, bad, brown Mercedes chases down the target caravan, along coastal roads above Nice, France, as Robert De Niro fires a rocket launcher while standing in the sunroof. It ends up pursuing the Citroën XM in which “the case” is riding, at very high speeds, through the narrow streets and alleys of Vieux Nice. Must-see movie-watching for any car-nut who hasn’t seen it.