Wheels, Wheels and More Wheels

photo: le bouquet, sunday

'My' local café yesterday, getting ready
for reopening today.

Plus Other Stuff - Like Scooters

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 14. February 2000:- For mid February, the weather is still pretty good. One day it rains and the next day it is an average sunny day. By 'average,' I mean it is not brilliant, but is acceptable for Paris.

The daily temperatures are nudging 10 C and you can get by without wearing gloves unless you've come to France to go skiing with everybody else except for those who are photophobic.

This is Metropole's big Rétromobile issue so it is full of wheels. But since this is France, the necessary exception is sketched out in an article about the Champs-Elysées, in which I claim it is not the 'Most Beautiful Avenue In the World' every day. If it were, people would skip their trips to the Alps.

Mostly, what I remember about Rétromobile, is Michelin's skimpy breakfast for the pressphoto: original lenoir people. For almost the first time, I got up in the middle of the night on Friday morning and left the apartment, looking forward to a free breakfast.

Uncredited photo of the Lenoir, the oldest car - identical to the car at Rétromobile.

Oh, cruel deception! Myth or truth, most Parisians do not eat breakfast because they are saving up swallowing power for lunch. Since I seldom know whether or when I will have lunch, I fortify myself before expeditions.

Last Friday, the skimpy freebie breakfast - there are never any free lunches - forced me to return home early for reinforcements. After I recovered, I found I had come away with two Rétromobile items that don't fit into the feature for it.

In other words, I was so weak and lightheaded, that I forgot them.

The Berliet Foundation

After the so-called breakfast, I was grumbling around the old car exhibition, when I came upon a large crowd of press people listening to a speech in order to get another free breakfast.

The crowd seemed to be listening more attentively than is necessary for a free breakfast and this roused my curiosity. In all my life I have never heard of the Fondation Berliet, and I have apparently managed to not notice it at previous editions of Rétromobile.

In the early years of the last century Marius Berliet was building cars and trucks in the Lyon area. For Rétromobile, Berliet has a 1911 Berliet 'Torpedo' touring car and a 1919 Aries truck on their stand.

These two items symbolize the purpose of the Foundation: to create an historical archive concerning French trucks, and to do the same thing for car manufacturers in the Rhône-Alps region - where Lyon is located.

The Foundation was set up in 1982 by the Berliet family together with Renault Industrial Vehicles. Lyon and its region had 180 manufacturers of cars and trucks, and trucks made there were well-known for being sturdy enough for the mountain roads in the area.

In France, there were about 150 makers of industrial vehicles. A spokesman for the foundationposter: camions francaises told me it has no purpose other than enhancing and maintaining its historical archives - which amount to 250,000 documents with references to about 200 makes.

Its various garages of early cars and trucks - 140 restored, about 100 awaiting restoration - are not open to the public. The collection represents 27 makes from 1886 to 1984 and all of them are French.

Copy of the 'Automobilia' issue of 15. August 1920. A restored 'Aries'' truck is on the Berliet stand.

Several items from the foundation's collection have been declared national monuments. But basically, the foundation's purpose is conserving history - for the future.

This is not a deep-pockets foundation - its staff is small, and volunteers do a lot of the work. Donations - of old vehicles, of money - are accepted and they are tax-deductible. The foundation's 'public window' is its participation in car shows like Rétromobile.

No museum, nothing to sell the public, no Web site - just a dedication to remind us of the machinery that helped bring us to where we are today. Info. Fax.: 33 4 72 33 20 25.

Rallye des Princesses

The first rallye fo lady drivers rolled out of Paris in 1929 and followed a route through Vichy and Hyères, to finish up at Saint-Raphaël. With many well-known ladies, the rallyes continued until the war and then resumed again in 1951.

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