Paradise On Rubber

photo: mercedes stand

Gawkers on the uphill Mercedes stand block the view

Mondial de l'Automobile 2000

Paris:- Saturday, 30. September 2000:- After Paris' recent flop of a 'no-cars' day, it doesn't make perfect sense to go to the 'World's Car Salon' when I should use some of the weekend to go to Montmartre's annual grape party or the Prix de l'Arc at Longchamps instead.

The car show is only every other year. Even this is no reason for going. Radio news and the newspapers say it will get zillions of visitors; about as many as Paris' annual cow show.

Let's say the reason for my visit today is because it is opening day. I skipped the day for the press yesterday, and missed seeing President Chirac - who spent a whole hour at the salon - ask how many 'litres per hundred' - in reference to gas milage.

It is an important question. Especially right after our 'gas strike' andphoto: wierd car or van the sky-high cost of it and the taxes on it. The president also asked about the top speed of Renault's 'Super Clio' and was reported to have winced when told it was over 220 kph or some such number.

This is an 'idea' car - or van? Can it be signed 'Citroën?'

Unlike the aftermath of the 'oil shocko' in the '70's, no car manufacturers talk about 'lightweight' or streamlining much, and do not boast about how their new cars nearly run on air alone.

It is 'business as usual,' and the main business of this car show is to display everything French manufacturers have to offer, and to try and sell as much of it as possible during the three-weekend duration of the salon.

Professionals are certainly present, but with opening day on Saturday, it is Monsieur and Madame Potential Car Buyer who are the main visitors today.

It is also 'dream' time for all those too young to have driver's licenses. Under watchful eyes - leave those 'souvenir' parts attached! - the kids can get in and fiddle with the gear-shift levers and slam the doors. Moms and pops are a bit more hesitant to do this. I look carefully but I see nobody kicking tires.

In the big Hall One - during the cow show it is the main barn - the first 'new thing' I notice is that it has been filled with landscape.

Yes! Renault's layout is like one of those - ultra giant - skateboard troughs, so it has two high sides; from which it is possible to look downhill.

Peugeot, or Citroën, has - fake? real? grass - hills withphoto: ford think amphithreatre-like shelves, from which it is possible to gaze down at Citroën's new 'C5' - which is forgettable because it looks too much like other nondescript cars.

Ford has been having trouble thinking up names too. This is their 'Think.'

Citroën started this unusual - for it - trend with its 'Xsara,' and this new car is supposed to be between it and the yet-to-come overdue replacement for its aging luxo XM model.

If I saw Renault's new middle-class model - the Laguna II - which is making its world debut here, it is as memorable as its 'new' name but perfectly in tune with Renault's unexciting philosophy.

Renault's Clio V6, which upset the president, is really a vastly ballooned R-5 with a big motor. I imagine enough of them are scheduled to be built, so that it can take to Europe's winding roads as a production rallye car.

Apparently one problem for the salon's organizers are the mergers going on in the worldwide auto industry. Key manufacturers want to have all their brands together at the salon.

For example, this means that Ford, wants to have its European marques such as Jaguar - and Volvo too? - and now Fiat - and all of Fiat's sub-names such as Lancia and Alfa Romeo - and its far eastern partners such as Mazda, all in onephoto: fat mini place. This 'one place' takes up about a quarter of Hall One.

This seems to involve more space than France's Renault with its new partner, Nissan. Mercedes wants to have Chrysler close by, and Saab is near General Motors' Opel, with Chevrolet and Cadillac as neighbors.

This new Mini may be 'Maxi' but it looks plain fat to me.

BMW has quite a large stand for itself - one of these tower things - and it overlooks Land Rover and Mini, which I think it may have divorced. Then with Ferrari and Maserati appearing to be in the Ford camp, the hall is full and if you want to see Volkswagen you have to trudge a couple of kilometres to Hall Four.

And if you want to see Bertone and Bugatti, you will find them clustered with some smaller European speed merchants, like they are an island surrounded by the Japanese Sea in Hall Three.

Once I get used to tramping up and down hills I pass through Renault's gully without noticing anything in particular, pass Peugeot and Citroën with the same result, but spot a new Alfa Romeo from quite a distance.

Alfa is sticking with its numbers so the one I see for the first time is the neat '147' which replaces the not-so-neat '146.' Alfa has taken the giant design step of reintroducing its front grille from the '50's, while letting the rest of the small car resemble a classier type of '2000' styling, like its earlier '156' and '166' models.

Pininfarina's only new car is the Ferrari 550 Barchetta, which I'm sure will be welcomed in Hollywood if red cars are still legal in California. Frankly, it looks more like a Ferrari than a styling break-through for Pininfarina - whose best car on display is still the Peugeot Coupé from the last salon, two years ago.

Most Porsches are so semi-ugly that it hard to tell if their Carrera GT is really new or not, but according to the text it is.

Because of the hills and towers I probably miss some really terrific new cars. But I think, officially, therephoto: hydrogen motor, bmw are only two other new ones left to mention - the new Mini and Chrysler's PT Cruiser.

Let's take the Mini first. First, it is not as 'mini' as it used to be. It is like what happened to the R5; it got to be the Supercinq and then the Clio, which is professionally speaking, a museum-grade, fat R5.

A BMW V12 motor, 'powered by hydrogen' is somewhat ignored.

Anyhow, I guess it was while Mini was under the control of BMW that it got these illegal steroids. The British are clever when it comes to sloganeering, so the signs say it is a 'Maxi-Mini,' when it merely looks fat. It should have about as much success as all the other forgettable Mini-derivatives.

Now, from the same people or from the same place - California! - that brought us the resurrected 'Beetle' - also a fat version - we have Chrysler's PT Cruiser.

If the original Beetle rolled out in the late '30's, this is also the inspiration for the PT Cruiser - which, except for its out-of-proportion grille - looks quite a lot like a three-quarter sized 1938 Dodge sedan.

According to a salon dolly, this car is having its official European debut today; but it has been on sale in the US for some unknown length of time. For sharp-eyed Metropole readers, you saw this car for the first time in Europe one week ago, in the Café column's lead photo.

This car follows the European mono-space trend, but breaks new styling ground by looking like a car instead of a van. It has all the standard California customizing tweaks - nearly no chrome - but lacks a classic, chromed spring-steel, bumper.

Instead it has a huge, black-rubber-looking, moustache. Ford made this mistake too when it brought out its neat little Ka, by having its bumpers in crummy, non-shiny black plastic. These are now done in smooth body colors, and the car looks whole.

The PT Cruiser has a two-litre motor of some sort, with a respectable euro-hp rating of 141. Its weight is unknown, so it is hard to judge if its gas consumption is high or low; but in any case it will be higher than the imaginative numbers given by its brochure.

In case anybody important is reading this at Peugeot, I should mention that their 'new thing' is a retractable hardtop for its 206 model. If I remember correctly, Ford had a model like this about 1957, which I guess I shouldn't mention.

After a final glance at all the glittering schrott I ride the escalator up to the bridge to Hall Two. Car designs decorate the bridge, so since I get lost anyway, I see the display of the designs done by students from many of the world's top car design schools.

Instead of thinking of '38 Dodges, they seem to have fixated on NASA's Mars Explorer. There are either 'spider' cars or hulky desert tractors. None seem to have their eye of a job at Pininfarina, which would seem to be skyhigh but is on earth and in Italy no less.

This year's crop of ultra-mini cars seems to have lacked much progression since the last salon; if they haven't actually gone backwards a bit.

Minor constructors are still trying to fill the slot left by the demise of the 2CV - but the best of these this year seem to be tending towards 'beach' models, rather than ones for urban use.

I know this has all been kind of boring. I've been saving the best for the last. It concerns fuel economy, which is probably on the minds of many readers, if you have to buy the stuff.

On BMW's stand, while everybody was gawking at the latest M3 with four exhaust pipes, standing right besidephoto: bugatti it was an older sedan - I'm not sure, either a '5'-series or a '7' - and it had the word 'hydrogen' painted on its side just behind the rear door.

Italian extravagance at this salon is spelled 'Bugatti.'

The steel motor hood had been replaced with a clear plexiglass one, and it had been sprayed in body color - to leave a sort of cloudy 'window' clear - to show the top of the motor. Beside the BMW logo, the words 'Hydrogen-Powered' were on the motor-top.

I last heard about this at the time of the '70's oil-shocko; fuel made from hydrogen. Gas-gauge a little low? Just stop by a handy lake and fill 'er up. Runs on H2O; no emissions, except maybe a bit of vapor. The greenies will love it - running at 230 kph on 'H.'

In Metropole Paris
Latest Issue
2008 Issues
2007 | 2006 | 2005
2004 | 2003 | 2002
2001 | 2000 | 1999
1998 | 1997 | 1996
In Metropole Paris
About Metropole
About the Café Club
Links | Search Site
The Lodging Page
Paris Museums List
Metropole's 1996 Tours
Metropole's 2003 Tours
Support Metropole
Metropole's Books
Shop with Metropole
Metropole's Wine
metropole paris goodblogweek button
Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
Metropole Midi © 2014
– unless stated otherwise.
logo, metropole sml midi logo No matter how good it tastes,
there is no such thing
as a free lunch.
Waldo Bini