Buy a Renault, drive to Retromobile in Paris and drive back again, seems simple, right? Classic Car Buyer’s staff writer Matt Bell discusses part one of the journey…

Several months ago an opportunity arose to purchase an ultra-low mileage Renault 21 Symphony that we simply couldn’t resist. I mean, how many genuine 12,000-mile cars from the ‘80s crop up at reasonable prices? Not very often is the answer. It being the Symphony added that extra touch of exclusivity, too, and seeing as it was also an ex-Renault press car, we thought it rather fitting to join the fleet.

It just so happened that while we were thinking about what to do with the Renault, our Managing Director, Phil Weeden, suggested that we should visit Retromobile in Paris. Is there a better car to take to France to cover such a distinctly ‘French’ event? We didn’t think so. Hotels and ferry booked, it was time to hit the road on an early Tuesday morning (6:30am…) on our way to Dover with Classic Car Buyer’s news editor Jeff Ruggles behind the wheel.

Setting off from the Kelsey offices in Peterborough with all fingers crossed we don’t hit any problems.

Peterborough to Dover

“How is there this much traffic at this time?” became a reoccurring theme as we headed down the A1 towards Dartford. We’d be lying if we didn’t think we’d run into some problems with the Renault during the road trip. Given it had covered just over 12,000 miles and not moved much during our initial tenure with it raised some alarm bells with the two of us.

Heavier traffic than usual halted progress to Dover, inevitably making us slightly late for the boat.

Sure enough we did, slightly earlier than expected though… on our approach to Dover the car starts decelerating. With the music on, I didn’t know what was happening so asked Jeff why he was slowing down, at which point the cars alarm was blaring out and we were coasting to a standstill. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the immobiliser had starting to play up as the car’s electrics were fine, yet it wouldn’t start. Quickly locking and unlocking fixed the problem initially, but given we were running late for the ferry already, this was far from ideal. In the hope of it not happening again, we pressed on and reached the boat in time. After a phone call back to HQ it seems that the remote central locking is temperamental, yet if you use a physical key the issue is resolved – perhaps something we should fix when we get back…

Calais to Paris

If there’s a journey of this leg that I perhaps didn’t want to do it would be ending in Paris around 5pm, yet here I am behind the wheel. Leaving Calais is an easy affair. You can’t go wrong entering into France – big signs that tell you to drive on the right, empty roads because France’s road network is so vast and surprisingly good weather. With the sun shining, the music on, it was time to eat up the kilometres in our humble 21. Plodding along at 70mph and we both look at each other and, rather confused, ask what that weird tapping noise was. At first we suspected the radio, it’d already been making some funny noises so we tried to drown it out with music.

As the noise persisted, I started to get a bit more concerned considering I was driving. Everything appeared to be fine, hence the confusion; temperatures spot on, wheel driving straight, no lumps in acceleration and the braking was good. I elected to pull over to be on the safe side and to hopefully not cause anymore damage. After a mooch around the engine bay and discovering nothing I noticed something hanging from the rear door; low and behold it was as simple as a bag strap hanging slightly out of the door and knocking against the body. Another quick fix.

Anyone who has driven on French toll roads will know what I’m saying when I comment about how boring this drive was; “continue on route for 250km” aren’t the most inspiring words you can hear. The process of straight roads, minimal traffic and a Renault 21 sitting at 4000rpm at 80mph isn’t my idea of fun. The one thing I will say is that the French do like to travel at speed, with a few Porsche/Audi SUVs passing by at well over 100mph. My urge to follow suit was curtailed by not only my passenger’s concerns, but also the fact that I wasn’t too convinced in the cars ability to withstand the hassle. Oh, and the speed limit is roughly 80mph, too!

Thankfully a local (News Editor Jeff Ruggles) elected to clean the windows at a fuel station…

Skip a few hours and we join the Périphérique, the ring road surrounding Paris. Low and behold, we hit it at around 4pm, with traffic building up nicely. The French are not the friendliest motorists in the world and you have to employ the ‘dive into a gap’ approach. If you are tentative you’ll be sat waiting forever to join the ring road. Once joined, you’ll be peppered with scooters and motorbikes driving at at least 50mph in between cars, but not to worry, they have their hazards on so it’s OK… Honestly, the speed at which riders on bikes drive at beggars belief and if you aren’t careful you will inevitably knock one off, or be screamed at by an angry Frenchman for not allowing space for motorcyclists like a poor British driver did a few cars back from us in the standstill traffic.

It was at this point, though, that I realised my colleague was somewhat tired when left turns became right turns and we ended up traveling back where we’d come from with no turn-off for 30 minutes. OK, a slight problem with Google Maps didn’t help either, considering we were, at one point, directly outside of the hotel but couldn’t find the car park.

In Paris safe and sound despite Jeff’s best efforts to send us to another town…

With traffic in full swing, I’ll admit that the drive out of Paris and back in helped ease the traffic and we arrived at the hotel, and more importantly, the underground car park in a relaxed state. Now, where’s the bar?

Check back for part two where we discuss the return leg with an unusual detour…