Are these the rarest French cars on the roads of Britain?

What’s the rarest French car on the roads of Britain? It’s a question we’ve been pondering here at PetrolBlog HQ. So we took a look.

Naturally, we were only interested in cars from the 1970s, 80s and 90s, so that was the first filter placed on the findings. And we were only interested in the cars enjoying active service, so have based the results on cars that are actually registered on the road.

Over the coming days and weeks, we will be rolling out a series of features based on the figures, but in the meantime, check out our list of the rarest French cars in Britain (with a distinct PetrolBlog flavour).

We should also point out that we can only go by the results on the How Many Left? website, which as we know, isn’t always entirely accurate. For example, although the site lists the Talbot Tagora as extinct, we do know of at least one in regular use. Similarly, some of the Alpine / Renault-Alpine figures were a little suspect. So please, only take this as a guide.

Once you’ve been through the results, you’ll begin to understand why we feel the figures are there or thereabouts.

28th – Peugeot 305
Number left: 97

Peugeot 305

Two decades ago, there were more than 51,000 Peugeot 305s on the road, now there are fewer than 100. It dates from as far back as 1977, born at a time when Citroën had just been integrated into the PSA Group.

It’s a rather elegant, Pininfarina-designed car, which is likely to face a fight for survival over the coming years. Rust and a lack of interest being its two worst enemies.

27th – Citroën GS/GSA
Number left: 84

Citroen GS on track

The Citroën GS isn’t a car that suffers from a lack of interest, which hopefully means that the cars left on the road, will stay on the road.

Making its British debut at the 1971 London Motor Show, the GS was a technical masterpiece. Hydro-pneumatiuc suspension and brakes from the larger ID saloon were amongst the highlights. It also looked superb.

26th – Citroën Ami
Number left: 75

Citroen Ami and girl

Citroën claimed that the Ami – introduced in 1961 – was “the world’s most comfortable medium sized car”. It was based on the Citroën 2CV, one of many attempts to widen the scope of the 2CV platform.

It single-handily defines Citroën’s eccentricity of the time. An acquired taste, perhaps, which probably explains why the majority of press shots saw the car accompanied by a pretty French lady.

25th – Renault 12
Number left: 65

Renault 12 Gordini side profile

Although it’s sad to see numbers of the Renault 12 declining so rapidly, it does give us the chance to use another photo of the simply wonderful Renault 12 Gordini. Just look at it – c’est magnifique!

Joint 23rd – Renault 16
Number left: 63

Renault 16 on beach

The Renault 16 is another car that deserves its place in the automotive hall of fame, making it rather sad that there are only 63 on the roads of Britain today. Renault’s first large front-wheel drive car, masses of space and hatchback practicality.

It also rode superbly, encapsulating everything we love about French cars. Fortunately, numbers of the super-desirable 16TS are holding up well – 14 on the road at the last count.

Joint 23rd – Renault 15/17
Number left: 63

Renault 15

Before the Renault Fuego came the 15 and 17. The 15 – introduced in 1971 – was based on the Renault 12 and offered a choice of either a 1.3 or a 1.5-litre engine.

The 17 offered greater performance from a choice of either a 1.5 or two 1.6-litre engines. We’d take the 17 Gordini model, but sadly there are none left on the roads of Britain. The small glimmer of hope lies in the two that are apparently SORN.

22nd – Citroën SM
Number left: 58

Citroen SM in studio

By far and away the most exotic car to feature on this list – the beautiful and the sublime, Citroën SM. Maserati-engined and Citroën-styled, the 16ft long SM was another technical tour de force.

Rarity and strong values will ensure that this number is unlikely to drop much further. One for the Dream Garage?

21st – Renault 8
Number left: 52

Renault 8

The Renault 8 just creeps into PetrolBlog’s endangered list by virtue of a production life that just crept into the 1970s.

Whisper it, but sales in the UK didn’t last beyond the sixties, but it did spawn the delightful Gordini, so it’s welcome on PetrolBlog any day of the week.

20th – Renault 18
Number left: 46

Renault 18

Like the aforementioned Peugeot 305, the Renault 18 is in danger of extinction, purely because of its tendency to rust, as well as a lack of interest in the UK.

But how can you not love the Renault 18? Just look at the Turbo edition, complete with awesome 1980s decals, boot spoiler and alloy wheels.

19th – Citroën Visa
Number left: 44

Citroen Visa GTi

Around two million Citroën Visas were made, and yet there are only 44 on the roads of Britain today, with all variants – including the much-loved Visa GTi – now dropping into single figures.

Faces a real fight for survival, with tin-worm its biggest enemy. We’d take one in a heartbeat.

18th – Peugeot 404
Number left: 39

Peugeot-404

The Peugeot 404 may sit outside the realms of PetrolBlog, introduced – as it was – way back in 1960. But with production spanning two decades, it warrants a mention here.

Amazingly, the 404’s Pininfarina design drew criticism for being too Italian – perhaps a reflection of Pininfarina’s work with Fiat? Today it just looks sublime.

17th – Renault 20/30
Number left: 38

Renault 20 TS

The Renault 30 was a five-door hatchback, long before such models became the ‘in thing’. It was also powered by a silky 2.7-litre V6 engine, making it – at the time – Renault’s biggest-engined post-war car.

The 20 arrived a year later. Both are now on the critical list.

16th – Renault 10/1100
Number left: 29

Renault 10

Introduced to extend the life of the Renault 8, the Renault 10 was rear-engined and rather plush.

It was replaced by the Renault 12, but for a while the 10 was produced alongside the 12 in France.

15th – Talbot/Chrysler Alpine
Number left: 28

Chrysler Alpine

The former Car of the Year was a rather smart offering from Chrysler France. Originally badged as a Chrysler Alpine, it would later become the Talbot Alpine when Chrysler sold out to Peugeot. Confused?

Very few people care for them these days, which is a shame, because in its day it was quite a novel product.

Joint 13th – Renault Fuego
Number left: 26

1982 Renault Fuego

An original PetrolBlog classic – a 1980s hero. France’s answer to the Ford Capri, it gave us the legendary Fuego Turbo, inviting its owners to enter the ‘Turbo Zone’.

Those that did found the Fuego was somewhat lacking dynamically, but oh what a car. Yellow fog lights for the win.

Joint 13th – Talbot Samba
Number left: 26

Talbot Samba in Madrid

The Talbot Samba owes its life and its demise to Peugeot.

It was based on the Peugeot 104, but soon found itself out of favour when Peugeot realised what a runaway success the 205 would be. When it died, it took the Talbot brand with it.

There were rumours Peugeot would use the Talbot name as a budget brand. Peugeot’s answer to Renault’s Dacia. Who knows.

12th – Renault 6
Number left: 25

Renault 6

The more upmarket version of the Renault 4, using the same running gear and platform as Renault’s 2CV rival. But whilst the Renault 4 went on to sell in excess of eight million units, the 6 only amassed nearly 1.8 million.

Just 25 left now.

11th – Alpine A610
Number left: 21

Alpine A610

The facelift of the Renault GTA arrived in 1991, available in turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 form only.

Don’t be fooled by the low number of A610s left, the car never sold in huge numbers over here.

Joint 9th – Simca 1100
Number left: 19

Simca 1100

The first of three Simcas on the list, and perhaps the most PetrolBloggy of the trio. A pair of yellow fogs and a matching pair of yellow spots would help that.

Two million were sold, with buyers liking its practicality and range of engines. Rust has killed the majority of them. Shame, it’s a pretty car.

Joint 9th – Simca 1000
Number left: 19

Simca 1000

Designed in collaboration with Fiat, the Simca 1000 was rear-engined and rear-wheel drive. It’s like a French Porsche 911. Of sorts.

Production spanned the 1960s and the 1970s. Once again, rust became its biggest enemy in the UK.

Joint 7th – Peugeot 104
Number left: 15

Peugeot-104

Introduced at the 1972 Paris Motor Show, the little 104 shared much in common with 204 and 304, not least the fact that it was penned by Pininfarina.

As the number of survivors suggests, the Peugeot 104 is now all but extinct in Britain. Shame, because it was a pioneer for the modern five-door supermini.

Joint 7th – Talbot Solara
Number left: 15

The Talbot Solara

Unsurprisingly, the saloon version of the Talbot Alpine has fared much worse than its hatchback counterpart, not least because the Solara sold in fewer numbers.

Generally uninspiring, but it did sound like the name of an ice lolly.

6th – Simca 1300/1500
Number left: 12

Simca 1500

The last Simca on the list, which is kind of fitting, given that this was the last independently-designed Simca ever made.

A pretty car, rather reminiscent of the Ford Cortina.

5th – Peugeot 204
Number left: 9

Peugeot-204

We’re down to single figures now, with only nine Peugeot 204s enjoying active service on the roads of Britain.

It’s notable for being the first front-wheel drive Peugeot, a radical departure for the firm at the time. It represented a huge investment for Peugeot, and all us Brits can do is let it die a slow and painful death. Shame on you.

Joint 3rd – Renault 14
Number left: 8

Whatever happened to...the Renault 14?

And so we reach the top three, or rather – top four – as there’s a tie for the third spot. Kicking off with the Renault 14 – or ‘The Pear’ – as Renault decided to market the car as. No, really – it did.

Does anyone really love it outside of PetrolBlog circles? We do, but is that enough to save it from spiralling into oblivion?

Joint 3rd – Citroën LNA
Number left: 8

Citroen LNA by lake

We have to ask – just where did all the Citroën LNAs go? It doesn’t take a Citroën nut to work out that it was simply a reworked Peugeot 104, but that’s not a reason to let it die.

Besides, can we let the Samba and 104 outlive the Citroën?

2nd – Matra Bagheera
Number left: 6

Matra-Bagheera

Maybe it’s unsurprising to find a pair of Matras languishing at the top – or should that be, bottom – of the list. The innovative three-seater wasn’t sold in huge numbers over here, but it has aged as well as any of its contemporary rivals.

Its humble Simca underpinnings do not dampen our enthusiasm for this piece of French brilliance. But with just half a dozen left on the road, we’d need to act fast if we want one.

1st – Talbot-Matra / Matra-Simca Rancho
Number left: 4

Matra Simca Rancho

And so we reach the end. It had to be really, didn’t it? The classic, the iconic, the much-loved (if much-derided) Talbot Matra (or Matra-Simca) Rancho. The legend of PetrolBlog.

Way ahead of its time when launched in 1977, the Rancho paved the way for our modern obsession with the soft-roader. Style over substance it may have been, but Matra – once again – proved it knew a thing of two about car design. Its next project was the MK1 Renault Espace. And the rest – as they say – is history.

If you can provide more accurate data on these wonderful survivors, please get in touch.

All images © respective manufacturers, except Renault 10 © Charles01, Matra Bagheera © Scooper, Simca 1000 & 1500 © Garage de L’est, Avenger © Akinom.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

34 comments

  1. February 12, 2014
    Jeremy Clarke

    I have owned many a French car and driven many more – this is like ‘This is Your Life’. Thanks Gav, top job and many happy memories. But so few 104s left? Amazing and sad.

    Reply
    • February 12, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Don’t worry about the 104, it’s the LNA we need to worry about!

      So come on then, spill the beans. What are the highlights and lowlights of your French back catalogue?!

      Reply
    • September 13, 2016
      Jw

      No mention of the Talbot Tagora, shameful!

      Reply
      • September 13, 2016
        Gavin Big-Surname

        On the contrary:

        “We should also point out that we can only go by the results on the How Many Left? website, which as we know, isn’t always entirely accurate. For example, although the site lists the Talbot Tagora as extinct, we do know of at least one in regular use. Similarly, some of the Alpine / Renault-Alpine figures were a little suspect. So please, only take this as a guide.”

        May have to update this list, now we have access to the original data.

        Reply
  2. February 12, 2014
    Ant

    The number of forgotten Renaults is truly scary. Hard to believe they offered all those different variants across the decades yet so few are left. That Renault 18 Turbo looks great.

    On a related note, rather taken with this Renault 11 TXE I’ve spotted for sale: http://www.carandclassic.co.uk/car/C460785

    Reply
    • February 12, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      OH YES!

      Mint – cheap – rare.

      What’s stopping you, Ant?!

      Reply
  3. February 12, 2014
    alex

    The figures for the Renault 14 are incorrect; I’m afraid. We believe there are only 8 left. The Renault 14 L has been mixed up with a Renault tractor. The correct figure for the amount of registered 14s left is :8.

    Reply
    • February 12, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Thank you. Really appreciate the input.

      Although I wish your input had resulted in the number being higher.

      Out of curiosity, how did you arrive at the figure? DVLA records?

      Thanks again.

      Reply
      • February 12, 2014
        alex

        All the figures come from Howmanyleft.com

        http://www.howmanyleft.co.uk/

        Reply
        • February 12, 2014
          Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

          Gotcha. Same place as me, but I can see the issue surrounding the 14L. Thanks for that.

          Reply
  4. February 12, 2014
    spownall

    Great post! One of my first cars was a Samba. Don’t remember much about it other than the terrible torque steer, which is odd considering that so few horses were under the bonnet 🙂 Today I’d like a SM please. In dark metallic brown, naturally.

    Reply
    • February 12, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Good call on the SM!

      Torque-steer from the Samba! They clearly don’t make ’em like they used to!

      Reply
  5. February 12, 2014
    Ian

    Some of these cars would be rare when new like the SM. But There is no Renault Avantime. Are there a lot left on the UK roads? well it seems more than I would have given credit for.

    Reply
    • February 12, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      You’ll be pleased to know that there are 289 Avantimes still on the roads of Britain. More than I thought, to be honest.

      Wouldn’t expect that number to dramatically fall. Enthusiasts will keep it alive.

      I hope.

      Reply
  6. February 12, 2014
    Ben

    I thought the Peugeot 505 might make it on this list, but there is all of 150 of them according to how many left!

    If I had to pick one from this list, probably Citroen GSA.

    Reply
    • February 13, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      I was surprised by the number of 505s on the road. Pleasantly surprised.

      Reply
  7. March 9, 2014
    Desmodromic Paul

    Great post – glad to learn there’s still interest in these affordable cookers. Thought I’d had more italian than french cars during 70s-90s but now I’m not so sure…of your list I’ve had Simca 1000 (go-kart handling in true rear-engined fiat 850/R8 style) GS (Club), R16 (several, great space – apparently the first ever hatchback?), R30 (enormous space in this front wheel-drive BMW – remember the TRX tyre+wheel ‘system’?), Fuego (rust, breakdown, rust, breakdown, etc – might explain the surprisingly low numbers) and a couple of Talbots on your list (THE WORST, most tappety engines in the world – even if shared with Peugeot (dunno) Talbot managed to make theirs resemble a bag of nails on the rinse cycle.

    Best of that lot? Most interesting and therefore most engaging would be the GS – air cooled (though you wouldn’t know it), amazingly good clutchless 3 speed manual (current PSA 2-tronic semi-auto is hopeless) and height adjustable suspension.

    You’re right – we criticised the Rancho to hell for being a 2WD fake – but it was possible the first people mover and certainly softroader ‘crossover’ vehicle. Bagheera was great but fragile I tim of Maserati’s usual remember – though if that’s fragile the SM was even worse than Maserati’s usual ultra-sophisticated unusable offering.
    Why no mention of 309, and of course 205 (too many left?) or the amazing R5 Turbo (’87 for me I think – wow)

    Reply
    • March 11, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Wow. You’ve had a lot of cars on the list. I salute you, sir.

      Great to see the GS tops your list. It’s one of the cars I remember most from my youth. Dad’s GS Pallas was delightful.

      As for the 309 and 205, as you say, too many left to feature on this list. Would expect the 309 to start the spiral into oblivion soon.

      Reply
  8. March 29, 2014
    Mike

    I was in Dakhla, Western Sahara (Morocco) last year. I have never seen as many Renault 18s, in both saloon and estate form in recent years. They are a very rare sight in France now too, but in this desert city by the ocean, there are still plenty of them, some still being used as taxis. I can send pictures of couple.

    Reply
  9. April 3, 2014
    Michael Wrigley

    Looks like a list of my parents cars! I still have the Renault 20 my father bought new in 1978.

    Reply
    • April 25, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Really?!

      What kind of condition is the 20 in today?

      Reply
  10. May 31, 2014
    Michael Wrigley

    It’s had a lot of work so bodily it’s pretty decent. Mechanically it’s not quite up to scratch but MOT’d and roadworthy.

    Reply
  11. October 13, 2014
    James

    Peugeot 404 designed by Pininfarina

    Morris Oxford/Austin Cambridge designed by guess who…

    Reply
  12. January 2, 2015
    David Milloy

    The Matra Murena (or, to use its official moniker, the Talbot-Matra Murena) should probably be on that list, too. The trouble is that it’s not listed on How Many Left. Built from 1980 to 1983, the Murena was never officially sold in the UK. It’s reckoned, however, that about 250 examples of the model were privately imported over the years. The Murena is, thanks to Matra’s pioneering work with hot-dip galvanisation, a more durable car than its Bagheera and Rancho stablemates. Many Murenas have, however, made their way back to France, for the simple reason that they’re much cheaper here than in their native land. At a very rough guess (and it is just a guess), I’d reckon that no more than 50 Murenas remain in the UK.

    Reply
  13. October 28, 2015
    ian

    Talbot tagora? larger than average saloon……Chrysler horizon,talbot sunbeam,etc to name afew omissions

    Reply
    • October 28, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      Hello Ian,

      The Tagora is referenced in the opening text, as the website listed it as extinct, but we know of at least one still on the road.

      Have since sourced the original data from the DVLA, so will do some digging. Potential to update the list.

      Reply
  14. February 22, 2016
    Christy

    I’m amazed there are so few 104s left. Through the late seventies and eighties I had a couple (a four door ex rental and later a new 3 door hatch). I remember them for being indestructible. We used to barrel along the autoroute from Paris to Montpellier, wound out all the way, all day long (yes actual ground speed wasn’t that fast) every month. Nothing ever broke or came off. Couldn’t even scuff the tyres. They were tough but sharp and fun too.

    Reply
  15. February 24, 2016
    Noesph

    Funny enough I know of a Peugeot 305, a Citroen Ami, a Visa and a Renault 20 all in a 10 mile square of south London. (all at different houses / owners). The Renault looks like it hasn’t moved for years though.

    Reply
  16. April 20, 2016
    Donald Howarth

    I currently own & drive regularly a 1970 404 saloon, it has had some body restoration work, a repaint in cream, & I have repowered it with a 1970 504 2 litre engine(fully reconditioned). It pulls up hills much better now & keeps up with most modern traffic. I have also owned a 305, a 204 and restored a 104 ZS Coupe(1124cc), 1 of only 2 in New Zealand

    Reply
  17. August 20, 2016
    tony QUINN

    I have the last that i know of uk 5 door 104s in red.

    Reply
    • October 18, 2016
      Tom

      Hi Tony, great to hear you have a 104. I have 2 104s, a style z imported from France and a 77 104 ZS project car.

      Thought Id reach out as there inst many 104 owners knocking about.

      Reply
      • November 22, 2016
        john

        My gspecial is one of only 5 (we think) left on uk roads – and one of only 2 white (blanc meije) ones. I drive it about 2000 miles a year and it was on display at the nec in 2015: driven up the m40 and straight onto the stand. great and under-appreciated though the gs is, perhaps the least appreciated car on your list is the Renault 14 – so much better than the 9 & 11 that replaced it.

        Reply
      • December 2, 2016
        Jake

        I also have a 104 SR 1980 V reg in red, its only done 41k and was previously owned by a lady in berkshire for 30 years, she Kept the car in pristine condition, still has the dealer plates, tax disc holder and window sticker! its a very rare car indeed!

        Reply
        • February 14, 2017
          tOM

          Great to hear that there are 104s that have survived. Jake or Tony Quinn feel free to send me a e,mail.

          leachibob6r4@hotmail.co.uk

          Like i mentioned i have 2 104 coupes myself and its always good to make contact with other owners..

          Reply

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