Chromed Eyelashes And Fingernails Of Steel

Your erstwhile correspondent took a short trip to Grenoble recently and couldn’t resist making a report for your edification and delight.

Some semi-interesting things crossed my path while exploring Savoy, part of the western Alps. However, it surprised me that some I cars I expected to see did not turn up. I did my level best to keep my eyes peeled; despite my vigilance I only saw one XM, and a tatty one at that. To be fair, the large older car is scarce in Grenoble. You won’t be amazed that the only examples of such elderly vehicles wore Mercedes badges. Even BMW and Audi didn’t make the cut.

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The Vel Satis and 607 represented the last of the big French cars. The Renault proved, as ever, fiendishly hard to photograph. Did they ever sell this car in a lighter colour? They did but they are not in evidence.

Conversely, the 607s I saw were always metallic grey. It looks better as the years go by and I am becoming a stronger admirer of this vehicle. Though I did not photograph them, 406s could be seen on most streets or roving around. Given the car has been out of production for so long, this is a testament to its robustness and utility. I feel more and more certain it’s the W-123 of its era. I expect they will continue to be be in service for some considerable time.

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Only one Renault 21 showed up, this one (above) in a very sad condition. If you look inside you can see an old-school French modernist interior of considerable design integrity. The unusual single-stump mounting of the front seats makes for an additional sense of roominess inside the car. The seats don’t seem to sit on two runners but a kind of stalk. Why is that not done today?

The R21 hatchback design still looks to me like the afterthought that it was. It makes me wonder though why the first version was a saloon? Answer, because the 18 was a saloon. The R21 hatch has a whiff of the R16 – I might still prefer it to the saloon now I come to think of it.

In the world of smaller cars, Peugeot dominate Grenoble’s older car fleet. All of them were five doors versions of the Sacred Number. The Super 5 came a close second, with the red one (above) parked near the 1962 Tour Vercors, a semi-brutalist tower so advanced it looks like the architecture of the mid 1970s. The interior was beautifully fitted out, like a stylish hotel lobby but as a contribution to town planning it can only be called a disaster.

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We like Jimnys here and I present three images of them. The one with the cows is an affirmation of the car’s real world value. It is helping to move cows. It is not just out shopping. I have not seen a convertible before (that I can remember) and the beige one looked a treat in downtown Grenoble. That one probably is shopping. And why not?

This C6 is here because the car is parked between the two sets of barriers with about 5 cm at either end. It looks as if the car was pushed in sideways on a trolley rather than parallel parked. It is rather hard to estimate how long this parking operation would have taken.

What I did not see were any new Peugeot 508s. Not one. Something has gone wrong here, I think, as you’d have expected the car to be common enough by now, especially in the home market. When I got back to Denmark I noticed a new Skoda Superb on my street, looking rather imposing and opulent in gleaming black.

This is something like what I expected of a saloon like the 508 and it leads me to consider the possibility that the 508’s rather fussy design has not helped win new buyers and may have alienated those who admire Peugeot’s understatement. All in all though, Peugeot is for me a brand increasing in stature, on the strength of the durability of its older models and the quietly glamorous look of its bechromed current range.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

47 thoughts on “Chromed Eyelashes And Fingernails Of Steel”

    1. I actually like those type of challenges when parking. If there isn’t too much pressure, ie. angry motorists waiting for you to finish, I enjoy trying to get in tiny spaces. Fair enough I had a compact Honda Civic at the time but it’s all relative isn’t it ? It’s still challenging to park a small car in an almost equally small space. Once, I took my father to the doctor, dropped him off and went on to find a parking space. I parked with roughly the same amount of space left with C6 above, between 2 cars and not 2 trees, so the stakes were much higher here. I was so proud to have managed it but my dad never showed he was impressed when he came back 😦

    2. I wouldn’t think it took that long for C6 guy to park between the trees. He’s obviously someone who likes a parking challenge (or possibly desperate for parking space) and with the Honda Civic it was done in 6 or 7 maneuvers and 2 or 3 minutes top. I’am aware it sounds like bragging and you’re right, I’am.

    3. “If there isn’t too much pressure, ie. angry motorists waiting for you to finish”

      If I recognise the street correctly, it’s one of the worst places in this respect: a high-speed artery when it’s empty, chocabloc the rest of the time, with dual bus lanes and a few busy driveways connecting.

    4. Hi Jeroen,

      I won’t be testing my skills on that road then, thanks for the tip.

    5. In these rapidly changing automotive landscape its recomforting that the Espace, at least the nameplate, still exists. But for how long ?

      I like a lot of LeQuement’s work at Renault but to me, as interesting and avant-garde as the Vel Satis was, it never had the profile of a statutory saloon conveying power or luxury. Its excessive height didn’t really make for a graceful car in my opinion, it’s not like people with money are wearing top hats anymore. Doomed from the start. One thing I was enamored with were the small wooden squares on the passenger side of the dashboard. I think they were called Marqueterie or something like that.

      I agree that the 607 looks good. It’s aging quite well I think, shame it didn’t have bigger wheels.

      The 2-volume Renault 21 is a very special car for me because one of the very first car magazine I bought around 10 years old had the spyshots of this car and I was really fascinated at the transformation of the 3-volume Renault 21. This is when I learned about body-styles (2 or 3 volumes, etc…) I remember staring at a red 2-volume Renault 21 for ages every day, taking in the changes they’ve made. I already liked cars before setting my eyes on the 2-volume Renault 21 but it’s possibly the car that awoke my interest in car design, ironic when the car in question wasn’t a monument of design itself !

      A neighbour still has a red Supercing, the colour faded by succesive hot summers and scorching sun.It’s most often parked next to a gleaming red brand new Mercedes A-class and I like the way the Supercinq is still here, doing its job, unashamed.

    6. NRJ,

      PlQ deeply dislikes the Vel Satis. He and the design department fought hard for a production version of the 1995 Initiale concept car, but the board preferred the more MPV-like concept advocated by the product planning department, which eventually became the Vel Satis.

    1. I crossed the road to photograph it with bored daughter in tow. Even she was astonished at the tiny clearance between the bumpers and the metal barriers around the trees front and rear of the vehicle. I think it was not more than 5 cm. The car was positioned so it was in the middle of the gap; that means or implies the driver shuffled the car forward and back a very many times with, presumably an awful lot of steering. Eurgh.

    2. Another reading of the situation may be that the C6 has been parked there before the metal bars were installed. Chapeau to the owner (or the city of Grenoble) who still keeps it clean, it may have been boxed in there for years… (-:

    3. The « Monotrace » seats gave rise to another interesting issue.
      Given enough Gallic Grub, portly folk could, and indeed did, cause stress cracks in the platform adjacent to the runners.
      The amount of foie gras one needs to ingest gives rise to health problems before damage to ones soubaissement becomes cause for concern.
      Thanks for this post and the myriad responses. Makes me all nostalgic for the days before cars reflected the penile/puerile automotive fantasies of
      A generation weaned on The Fast and the Furious and Grand Theft Auto.
      L’ejaculation précoce en guise du design..

  1. Renault introduced their Monorail seats with the R9/11. These seats were running on one wide central runner instead of two lateral ones and were meant to provide space for rear seat passengers’ feet under the seats. They were abandoned because it was impossible to directly mount the seat belts to them which became standard industry practice for safety reasons.

    1. The R25 can only be called a masterpiece. I love that vehicle. It still retains freshness all these years later, just like the Audis of the same period. I can´t see why it did not have a bigger impact. The top spec versions balanced plush and modern very well. As I reported here some years back, they were also a pleasure to drive. The R21 seems cruder in many ways when it could have been a smaller, as nice interpretation of the same tropes.

  2. That’s a fascinating selection of vehicles, Richard, some expected, others rather less so.

    I agree that the Renault 21 hatchback isn’t quite right. The tail is too short and there’s a slight but noticeable uptick in the window line under the rear quarter window. That, the window’s rounded trailing edge, and the similarly rounded leading edge of the rear light unit where it cuts into the rear wing are all somewhat at odds with the rigidly geometric styling elsewhere. The rear quarter window and rear light treatment on the saloon was rather more harmonious:

    The driver of the C6 has demonstrated admirable skill (assuming that Richard and his daughter carefully inspected the bumpers for scars!) but I would never risk such parking between two other vehicles. You’re exposing your pride and joy to the unknowable skill and patience of the two other drivers, should they return before you!

    1. It´s the radius on the trailing corner of the sideglass that jars. The new metal is more rounded than the carry-over. The side profile you show gives the R21 an almost Audi-like clarity. In the metal they did not look so sharp but rather banal. I do the like the way the rear door´s trailing edge forms part of the wheel cut-out. Very Opel.

    2. The relatively poor job Renault made of the 21 five-door is all the more surprising given the highly accomplished and elegant design of the 25 just a few years earlier:

      That wraparound rear window might not be the most practical from a load carrying perspective, but that’s what the 21 estate was for.

    3. Hi Daniel,

      The Baccaras were quite special. I was especially fond of the 5 Baccara. That whole Havana brown atmosphere was quite something. The 25 had a leather soft suitcase underneath the hatch to stack your 1988 power suits and conquer The City, La Defense or Wall St

    4. Hi NRJ, that suitcase is a neat idea. The brown/tan interior makes such a refreshing change from the ubiquitous black and dark grey. The pale grey is not to my taste however. It puts me in mind of cheap slip-on shoes!

  3. I’m happy to see a piece about Grenoble. Though I’ve lived there for three years, I’ve got only little wisdom to share about its car landscape. The tag line is that the locals’ drives are mostly a) rugged, b) small, c) estate, often French but not overwhelmingly so.

    Clio II and Peugeot 306, 206, and 106 are still common as well as any variant of Megane I. There’s very little over that size, and almost nothing Citroen and/or saloon. (Where have all the XM, BX and CX gone?) As to more recent French cars, I think the Dacia Logan estate won the most hearts there.

    The Peugeot 508 is a rare sighting. Fair enough, saloons are generally unpopular in that part of France. But the few ones around are either opulently-specced Renault Talisman or anything German. There might be a prestige factor involved too.

    More exotic cars are found in multistory car parks in the center. I remember several Mercedes W123 and W126, a red 1990 Toyota MR2 in superb condition, Audi V8, small Japanese 4×4 and much more. Once, the very rare event of a box garage door opening revealed a Citroen Traction Avant and an H Van (the latter now ubiquitous in coastal towns).

    Finally, I should point out that the average size of parking spots in town is so small that a Citroen C6 just has to be parked in the street like that. Or, like a neighbour’s Land Rover 110, diagonally between bollards.

    1. Grenoble is cracking. I found an amazing chocolatier on the street near the rail station. They had hand-made jellies and the local nut cake. Plus nougat. It was still 1978 inside that shop. The graffiti problem is serious and sad. Nothing is spared the spray can.

    2. I know what you mean by “it was still 1978”. It’s definitely one of the charms of Grenoble. I also agree on graffiti, though some of the large-scale, council-sponsored paintings at least manage to hide some truly ugly pieces of architecture.
      Funnily enough, the aforementioned garage door sports a very glitzy paintwork as a part of a huge graffiti that straddles the whole building.

    3. The R25 can only be called a masterpiece. I love that vehicle. It still retains freshness all these years later, just like the Audis of the same period. I can´t see why it did not have a bigger impact. The top spec versions balanced plush and modern very well. As I reported here some years back, they were also a pleasure to drive. The R21 seems cruder in many ways when it could have been a smaller, as nice interpretation of the same tropes.

  4. You didn’t see a single XM but you can’t have seen many 605’s or R25’s either…

    As for the new 508, I think I only saw one last time I was in France (in September) so I guess the delivery has only just started. There are dozens of the outgoing model wherever you go.

    Finally, is Savoie really spelt ‘Savoy’ in English?

    1. No, there were zero 605s and no R25s either. I might have expected to see one or two of the Peugeot´s but expected no R25s. Yes, Savoy is the English version of the name.

  5. Thanks Richard for the atmospheric and enjoyable piece. The car that really pops for me is the Renault 5. It was such an iconic and lovely shape, I would argue close to the equal of the first Golf, but with an added dose of Gallic flair. And yet its story ended there. I think where the Germans have really nailed the French – automotively speaking – is by building incrementally on a design template and nameplate over successive generations, to the point where Polo, Golf and Passat are iconic global brands even without the VW logo.

    Imagine if the French had built on the Renault 5 or Peugeot 205 in the same reverent way the Germans did – and how much stronger their brands would be today as a result. The just launched blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Clio update looks like Renault may be giving iterative incrementalism more serious consideration. Just 30 years too late because I would like to see a 2019 interpretation of the Renault 5…

  6. The Vel Satis is a very weird car. I have been in the backseat of a top of the line model once as my old neighbors used to have one. It was a light blue Initiale 3.5 V6. Despite the engine size it was quite sluggish. The gearbox certainly didn’t help either. Also the suspension of the car was one of the worst I’ve ever encountered: unexpectedly harsh on short bumps and too floaty on the longer stuff. It wasn’t a sales success either, still they managed to shift more than the C6, which I’m rather fond of, despite it’s many shortcomings.

    I actually stumbled upon a blue 607 today. Didn’t care for it when it was new and it hasn’t grown on me I’m afraid. I took a photo, but how do I post that here?

    If I remember correctly the seatbelt buckles on the Renault 21 were a disaster. They were mounted fixed in place between the seats on a U shaped piece of metal. It looked cheap and nasty and made wearing a seatbelt extremely uncomfortable.

    I quite like the R5, 205 and AX, though. They sold by the bucketload here in the Netherlands, but I don’t see much of those anymore.

    1. Hi Freerk. To post a photo on DTW you need to use an image hosting app or website, such as Imgur. Here’s how:

      1. Download the Imgur app or go to

      2. Select the photo you want to display

      3. Post or upload the photo.

      4. Copy the URL of the posted/uploaded photo.

      5. Paste the URL into your comment

      6. When you post your comment, the photo should display within the post.

      Hope this is helpful. Let me know if you’ve any difficulties and I’ll try and help further.

    1. …..And using the ‘0’ of 607 to hide the button to open the bootlid as with other Peugeot models was nice, although I think it could have been done in a better way: when you looked closely the button was obvious inside the ‘0’.

    2. That picture is from the Pescarolo Concept car. I think it could have made a good template for a midlife restyling although I suspect the cost of such a transformation would be too high for a simple facelift. The wheel arches are the back were more pronounced, it looked more Germanic in my opinion.

    3. And I cannot resist posting again this advert for the 607 which is one of my favourite ads ever. I added a second advert where the theme of the Lion roaming the street is reprised. This time, people can feel the 607 coming and become animals themselves for a brief time (complete with animal noise)

    4. Good morning, NRJ. I hadn’t been aware of the Pescarolo 607 concept before. It really does look nicely muscular, thanks to those more voluptuous wheel arches.

      I like the TV ad too, although my all time Peugeot favourite is the one for the 406 with the M People soundtrack:

      Pure tosh, of course, but brilliant! In a similar vein, there’s this for Skoda:

      Amazing vocals, great song!

    5. Hi Daniel,

      Yes, we spoke about the 406 advert before. I didn’t know the Skoda one. It’s quite a novel concept for a car ad to have a whole song dedicated to a model or brand. The lyrics do play on the underdog image of Skoda 😀

    6. Yes, unusual, and deeply ironic: Skoda certainly was making its own kind of music back in the days of the Yeti and Roomster, but this song was used to promote the Kodiaq…

      I’m not (quite) old enough to remember the Mamas and Papas original when it was first released, but I think Paloma Faith does the song full justice.

    7. The Pescarolo was an official Peugeot concept- car, not a transformation by a tuner. I would hazard that it was commissioned to replicate to Renault’s own Safrane bi-turbo but as often with Peugeot, nothing came out of it.

    1. Nice work, Freerk. I was just about to suggest that, but you beat me to it!

      The 607 has aged well. Only the slightly too short wheelbase militates against it.

  7. There’s a guy half a mile or so away from where I live who has replaced his two Safranes with two Vel Satis, brave chap. They are both dark coloured, but I have just stumbled across this pale one for sale on Autotrader, which is pretty unusual as Richard observed. Try as hard as I might I can’t say it’s a thing of beauty in my eyes. I much prefer the 25. Let’s see if this photo posting lark works…

    1. Agreed – the VelSatis is not as obviously lovely as the R25. It is more of a car that satisfies intellectually. Most clearly it´s packaging-led, hence the odd shape. Within that framwork, I like it very much, especially the superb interior. The r25 had that base covered as well, admittedly.

    2. Noooo!!! Don’t do it, Richard. Adrian is trying to lead you astray.

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