High prices take all the fun out of 'fun' cars

| 30 Jul 2012

Just back from a couple of idyllic weeks in Corsica, staying in a gorgeous fishing village about an hour’s electrifying drive across the mountains from the capital Ajaccio. Well, I say fishing village, but today the millionaires’ megayachts and oligarchs’ frigate-sized cruisers far outnumber the fishing boats in the picturesque harbour (perhaps 'marina' would be a more appropriate term nowadays).

I love Corsica, not just for its rich history, scenic beauty and mesmerising driving roads – often nullified by terror-inducing Corsican driving, see last year’s post-holiday blog – and feel very privileged to go every year with my family, thanks to my wife’s French Corsican origins.

There is always a good number of classics to be spotted, too, ranging from a regular-use Citroën Traction Avant, an original Fiat Topolino and a first-generation Renault 4CV to a host of Renault 4s – including a few crude chop-jobs – many of the latter clearly still viewed just as cars rather than classics by their owners.

One of the delights, though, is the squadron of Citroën Méharis dotted around Propriano. I have always been a sucker for this entire genre of car. The very concept of taking something cheap and mass-produced and making it into something more leftfield appeals, whether it be a Moke, Jolly, The Thing, lesser-spotted Renault Rodeo, Beach Buggy or a wealth of others.

My problem with them, however, has become the stupidly disproportionate prices that they have been accruing in recent years, catapulting cars that were conceived as a bit of occasional, frugal fun for the masses into the 'strictly a plaything for playboys' league. That’s especially true of the little Fiat 500 or 600-based models, for which recent astronomical auction results have been rather less Jolly than they have been laugh-out-loud.

I guess the Méhari still tugged at the heart-strings because it has been immune from this rapid price escalation. Or so I thought.

After all, with nearly 150,000 built over a 20-year period, the Dyane 6-based, plastic-bodied lightweights were surely too commonplace to ever become valued that far beyond their humble origins?

So, while sitting on the balcony one evening, sipping a rather pleasant chilled rosé and gazing down upon a nicely beaten-up Orange Kirghiz number, I idly started browsing the internet for them. Yes, I know I was on holiday, but the classic car thing in my head simply doesn’t seem to acknowledge that it makes any odds.

When the search results came up, I needed something rather stronger than the Domaine Fiumicicoli. Even the cheapest Méhari was nudging £10k and the prices went right up to £22,500, admittedly for one of the rarer 4x4 versions. I know that the UK market isn’t exactly flooded with them, but, well just but…

After a few moments of disbelief, the cynic in me decided to repeat the quest but checking out the French rather than British classifieds.

What a difference! On one site alone I found more than 50 of the colourful beasts, and not one of them asking for more than €2500. That’s more like it.

So here’s the plan. I need 50 or so volunteers that I can dispatch across France via a budget airline like some WW2 behind-enemy-lines raid. I’ll pay for your fuel, accommodation, plus food and drink. You’ll have a couple of days (or more) of driving across France enjoying the roads, weather, food and hotels and I’ll still clear 10 grand a car.

Or, putting the greed aside (difficult but necessary), between us we can flood the UK market with reasonably priced cars and return some sanity to it, giving the people's cars back to the people in the process.