Our culture is ripe with inappropriately used adjectives. Marketers toss the word “turbo” around with reckless abandon, even though most applications of the Latin root have little to do with air, much less forcing air into an internal combustion engine.
Likewise, the word French gets quite a workout as a prefix and modifier, and is often used to describe things that have little or nothing to do with France.
Among the things incorrectly labeled French are fries, cuffs, curls, curves, and that God-awful orange salad dressing. This young lady has a few things to say about stuff wrongly ascribed as being somehow French:
French cars are another story, however. Sure, as products of French companies, French cars are obviously and actually French. That said, French cars are also very French in terms of style, character, and, historically, reliability.
In Consumer Guide’s Auto ’77 magazine, our editors called Peugeot “The French Mercedes,” which was high praise coming from CG at the time. In context, the compliment was a reference to road manners and cabin fit and finish, and not to reliability.
Sadly, this author has spent precious little time behind the wheel of French cars, other than test driving a Renault Alliance back in the day and piloting the occasional Peugeot around the service station I worked at back in the Eighties.
Friends and journalists who have more seat time in French rides than I do share tales of quirky control layouts, nicely appointed cabins, and extraordinary ride comfort—especially in Peugeots.
French automakers never spent much effort tailoring their products to the U.S. market, so their share of the sales here were always trivial. And as regulatory compliance became more difficult, French companies simply backed away from our shores, leaving Americans with more mainstream (if less entertaining) vehicles to choose from.
Collected here are ten classic French car ads—all for vehicles sold here in the U.S. As always, if you recall spending time in any of the depicted rides, we ask that you tell us about it. We’d love to hear your French-car story.