Our Favorite French Cars: Window Shop with Car and Driver

When it comes to cars, the only thing stranger than French exterior design is French intake runners. That’s what the crew found out this week with a challenge to find something from the land of brie for la somme généreuse of $50,000. They went everywhere but France to do it.

Road & Track senior editor John Pearley Huffman headed to Belgium for a chunk of French history: a Panhard Dyna Z rarer than a truffle and no more pleasant to look at. Panhard was an innovator, creating some of the earliest clutch pedals and steering wheels, building the first series production car, and inventing us the Panhard Rod. This Dyna Z was avant garde all over until it opened its hood. Then it was a Hungry Hungry Hippo, a look that has no French translation.

Senior editor Joey Capparella, who used this show to reveal he has a degree in French, opted for beauty and another hemisphere over innovation. His Peugeot 406 Coupé located in Argentina could be considered the least French car of the lot, designed as it was by Pininfarina without a weird line on it. It could also be considered the most French car of the lot in that it’s gorgeous, comfortable, and underpowered.

Contributor Jonathon Ramsey alighted on a Peugeot 505 Turbo sedan pulled out of a barn in Vermont. The 505 was the standard bearer of Peugeot’s misadventure in North America, but panelists were more interested in peculiarities like the hub bolt pattern, the umbrella in the back seat, and the startling fact that Pug set up assembly operations in 14 countries.

Executive editor K.C. Colwell went to that most French of American cities, Phoenix, Arizona, to cruise the boulevards in a Paris icon, the Citroen XM Berline. A set of anonymous 1990 aftermarket wheels couldn’t hide the ultimate Frenchness of Syd Mead sci-fi lines, a pneumatic suspension, and an ashtray half as large as the radio. The manual transmission might make it tough to enjoy a café au lait on the morning commute through Scottsdale, though.

Editor-in-chief Tony Quiroga swung by Portugal for a French legend, the Peugeot 205. The rally maestro was almost everything you’d want from a hot hatch named “GTI,” including a (more) reasonable price. Shame about the ride quality, but Quiroga set a new benchmark for accessory shopping to allay that.

Cue up the latest weekly episode for diversions into Michelin, European versus U.S. headlights, Capparella’s French translations, and how long it takes air in a 205 engine to travel from the intake to the manifold. No Le Cars were hurt in the making of this video. Although they were insulted.

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