Bastille Day on 14th July is a national holiday in France, celebrating the overthrow of the monarchy and the release of prisoners as France took its first steps towards becoming a republic.
To commemorate the seismic historical event, here are ten of the best French-produced cars which found favour with the public or were just so unique that they demanded inclusion on this list.
The automobiles featured here are in alphabetical order by company and are as French as the Bastille Day Parade and celebrations themselves.
One of the most iconic cars to parade along the Champs Elysée is the Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic. Originally designed by Jean Bugatti, the son of Italian founder Ettore Bugatti, this model is considered to be one of the most beautiful cars ever constructed. Built in the Alsace town of Molsheim, 710 models of the vehicle were produced between 1933 and 1940.
Perceived as a touring model, the car has a 3.3 litre engine producing 135 brake horse power which allows the car to build up to a top speed of 95 miles per hour. Body parts of the car were constructed using both magnesium alloys and aluminium alloys and the car was made deliberately tall, flying in the face of fashion at the time.
Produced between 1955-75, the Citroen DS was created as the car of the future, offering the very best in steering, braking and an advanced self-levelling suspension system. Similar to the Bugatti, the model has a distinct Italian influence thanks to part of its styling being carried out by sculptor and designer Flaminio Bertoni.
Constructed in Paris, the car had a variety of engines throughout its production run and had a conventional gearbox and clutch set up. It was fairly unique in the fact that it had directional headlights which swivelled up to 80 degrees, thus letting the motorist see exactly where they were looking, not just directly in front of them.
Possibly the oldest motoring contraption to have been driven along the Champs Elysée was the Darracq which was first manufactured at the turn of the twentieth century by Alexandre Darracq’s Automobiles Darracq company. Although Darracq sold out to British interests, the car firm lasted until 1935 before the Rootes Group took ownership of the company.
The motor vehicle became most famous in Britain when a 1904 model was chosen for the lead part in a 1953 film called Genevieve, however 45 years earlier the car had gained a reputation as a record breaker. It claimed the title of ‘King of Speed’ in 1906 after an event at Daytona Beach in America and set a new land speed record two years later in the Belgian port of Oostend.
Although it only had a limited production time, the Delahaye 175 served French purposes extremely well, being as it was part of the ‘Plan Pons’ for the regeneration and reconstruction of French industry following the end of the Second World War, which had seen the French exposed by a more powerful and industrious Germany.
Only 51 Delahaye 175s were ever constructed at the end of the 1940s as the aim of the French Government was to build luxury cars. These were to be transported and sold abroad in order to raise much needed foreign currency for the bankrupt state. The car’s aesthetically pleasing body was custom made but placed so much pressure on the chassis that the specially designed Dubonnet suspensions ended up collapsing. It was also temperamental to drive in wet weather, possibly caused by the limited time and money spent on the car’s development.
In 1958 the Facel Vega HK500 arrived on the market, a two door coupé claimed by the Facel Vega company to be the fastest produced car in the world. Under the car’s bonnet was the 6.3 Chrysler V8 engine, which allowed the motor vehicle to reach a top speed of 147 miles per hour and pass the 60 miles per hour mark in 8.5 seconds.
For all intensive purposes the HK500 was an upgraded and renamed FVS model which had rolled off the production line in 1956. Less than 500 cars were produced until the car was replaced by a newer model, the Facel II. Disc brakes were originally an optional extra but were fitted as standard from 1960.
Despite it being founded in Spain in 1898, Hispano-Suiza (literally Spanish-Swiss) found greater success across the Pyrenees border in France. The flagship model constructed and built in France was the K6 whose lifespan ran across the mid-1930s.
It was the last car model to be made in France by the firm as they concentrated primarily on breaking into the aerospace industry post World War Two. The K6 was fitted with a three gear manual transmission, had a 5,200cc engine and had four wheel drum brakes. The car could race to a top speed of 87 miles per hour and was built in a Paris factory.
A Formula One car is the next vehicle to arrive on the list as the Equipe Ligier JS F1 makes an appearance. Ligier participated in the motor racing event from 1976 until 1996, making history after claiming the first ever all-French victory in a 1977 Grand Prix race. The JS05 might have been the first model to race in the 1976 series but it was the JS11 car which took the plaudits.
Guy Ligier had experience of constructing Formula One cars following his past career as a racing driver and was shrewd enough to realise what was required for the car to win races. The JS in the name of the car stood for Jo Schlesser who died in a Formula One crash in 1968.
The Peugeot 504 had one of the longest manufacturing lives of any French car with its original manufacturing starting in 1968 and continuing until 1983, although production was still licensed by Peugeot until 2006. The car came in a variety of styles and had an engine range from 1.8 to 2.7 litre.
As well as being a favourite with the French, the car also has fans in higher places. In 2010, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated his Peugeot 504 was to auctioned off to raise money for the Mehr Housing Project which was being built to aid disadvantaged families.
Renault’s response to the Volkswagen Beetle, the British Mini and the Fiat 500 was the Dauphine, a rear engine economy small family car which accounted for more than two million sales between 1956 or 1967. Originally called ‘Project 109′, the car was sold in markets as diverse as South America, Israel, New Zealand, Japan and Italy (where it was labelled as an Alfa Romeo).
The Dauphine was designed in response to surveys carried out by the firm on the French public. Powered by a Ventoux engine, the Dauphine could accelerate to more than 60 miles per hour in just over 30 seconds. An interesting fact picked up from the survey was that French women appeared more interested in the colour of the car than they were the design specifications.
Finally on the list is the Venturi Atlantique, a fibre-glass bodied French sporting model produced during the last decade of the twentieth century. The car itself was well received but the sales were slow leading to the company regularly heading into administration before its production was finally ended in 2000.
Two Atlantique models were made, the 260 and the 300. The 260 was able to reach a top speed of 167 miles per hour and could accelerate to 60 miles per hour from standing in 5.2 seconds. Atlantique’s second model, the 300, was launched in time for the 1994 Paris Motor Show and after modifications could reach a top speed of 171 miles per hour, allowing it to race from 0-60 miles per hour in 4.9 seconds.