Vincennes welcomes classic throng for epic Paris tour

| 9 Jan 2018

A mesmerising selection of historic machinery swarmed into the French capital for the 18th winter Paris crossing on Sunday. La Traversée, organised by Vincennes en Anciennes – the country’s biggest multimarque club – attracted more than 750 classics, spanning everything from bicycles and mopeds to supercars and even antique tractors. The only criterion is that they have to be at least 30 years old: this year’s earliest of 602 cars was a 1919 Rochet-Schneider, while the oldest tractor (from 18 taking part) was a 1948 Allgaier R22.

Each year the vast turnout gathers at the magnificent Château de Vincennes to the east of the city in time for an 8am start. For 2018, the route highlighted the city’s finest Art Deco landmarks, including Palais de Chaillot at the Trocadéro – opposite the statue of WW1 Supreme Allied Commander Maréchal Ferdinand Foch – and the nearby Palais de Tokyo.

The highlight for many was the climb up the evocative narrow streets of Montmartre to the magnificent Basilica of Sacré-Coeur, venue of ‘the meeting’ in Claude Lelouche’s legendary film C’était un rendez-vous.

Iconic squares provided impromptu stopping points along the way, with the busiest being Place de la Concorde. Both sides of Rue Maréchal Galliéri towards Les Invalides were lined with classics, too – the entry plaque allowing people to park (almost) anywhere – while the roundabout at the end was home to an ever-changing display of vehicles.

Jean-Jacques Dieumegard from Courbevoie has been attending for about 15 years, this time in the fabulous 1971 Jensen Interceptor that he bought in 2001. “I’ve not had to do that much to it,” he explained, “but it has been painted and I had to make it reliable. There were problems with starting when I got it, but it has been pretty much spot-on for the past 10 years. I also have a Peerless and a six-wheel-drive Range Rover. I love British cars.”

British Traversée regulars were well-represented, too. The Maidstone Historic Vehicle Club contingent included Hugh and Anne Thompson with the lovely 1955 Bentley R-type that they purchased about four years ago. “I also have a Traction Avant,” said Hugh, “but that to me would seem like taking coals to Newcastle, and the Bentley is so well received here anyway.” David Wraith, meanwhile, was in his distinctive Lavender Jaguar E-type V12 fixed-head, although he has done the Paris tour with his Ford Model T in the past.

 “I was spoilt for choice this year,” enthused Chris Salter. “I was hoping to have brought my Simca, but it wasn’t ready. And my GSA was on the button, but I decided to give my DS a run out instead.” He’d come over with fellow Citroën Car Club stalwart and serial car restorer John Bradshaw “We’ve brought our Saab 900 Turbo convertible this year,” said Mike Egan, “because it has just become eligible, but we’ve done the event four or five times before with our 1971 Citroën Dyane, which always gets a good reception.”

If you were into French classics, there was something for all tastes, from vintage tourers to ’50s saloons, such as a charming Panhard Dyna alongside an exquisite Facel Vega FV. Lots of ’70s models, now virtually extinct in the UK – such as Peugeot 604s and Renault 15s – could also be spotted along the route.

Retired taxis also featured, such an immaculate G7 Traction Avant in the distinctive livery of the Paris-based firm set up 1905 and still going strong well over a century later. The Citroën features an external meter mounted on the driver’s side. 

There’s a massive following for American cars in France, with dozens of Mustangs including photographer Antoine Dellenbach’s stunning burgundy ’69 Mach 1 351 (photo at Les Invalides), as well as earlier and later examples.

Classic & Sports Car was there, too, on my third Traversée with the GSA, which raised plenty of smiles – “Conduite à droite!” – and prompted lots of happy memories. If only my French was better…

There’s also a summer Traversée: find out more about the event and the organiser here