A look at the characteristics of different countries' cars and drivers. A six-day tour of France begins in rainy Paris where Paul gets stuck in traffic in a Citroen DS.
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I'm Paul Hollywood. I'm sort of a baker and part-time racing driver.
I love getting in cars, I love racing.
When I did that for the first time, honestly,
I've never been so excited in my life.
I've been into cars for as long as I can remember.
When I was a little boy, that was my favourite car.
The DB5, James Bond car.
That started my passion in cars.
They are more than just transport from A to B,
they are a thing of enjoyment,
they are a thing for me that I use to de-stress.
What really fascinates me is what cars say about their owners
and about the people who made them.
Come on! Go for it! Give it welly!
In fact, I reckon you can learn a lot about a country
by looking at the cars it produces. CAR HORN BEEPS
What?! It's a train!
And by driving on its roads.
We're driving this beautiful car
and we have the Italian Alps in front of us.
So, I'm off on a European road trip,
visiting some of our most car-obsessed neighbours.
Check it out. The history, the culture, the people
and what makes the country very special when it comes to cars.
This time I'm visiting our nearest neighbours.
So, we're going on a six-day road trip around central France.
Just over 1,000 miles, in some of the nation's most iconic, cleverest
and cutest cars.
Oh, my God! Slow down!
Day one, we're starting in Paris.
From Paris, we head a little bit north-west to Poissy.
From Poissy, south-west down to Chartres.
From Chartres, we head south-west again to Le Mans.
And from Le Mans, we had south all the way down...
Then on my final day, I'll be racing at Magny-Cours.
What a view!
It's going to be a giggle.
Along the way I want to learn a little bit more about this country
through its cars.
What is that?
Are the French eccentric?
Do they actually like cars?
Honestly, I don't care. Really? Yeah.
And do they even have a highway code?
It's crazy, I know. How does this work? Don't be polite.
Joining me will be some slim people,
they'll teach me about France's relationship with cars.
Having a flashy car would be an accoutrement of
While their cars teach me I could lose a few pounds!
This could be a slight issue with the aerodynamics.
This being France, there'll also be a fair amount of shrugging.
A chef repeatedly saying, "Oh-la-la."
And some very fresh ingredients.
Oh, this is a nightmare!
Six days and 1,000 miles for me to learn how to drive like the French.
My road trip begins in the county's capital.
Paris is the most densely populated city in Europe,
with over 20,000 Parisians squeezed into each square kilometre.
Not surprising, then,
that it has some of the world's worst traffic jams.
In fact, France holds the record for
the world's longest-ever traffic jam.
It happened in 1980, between Lyon and Paris,
and it was a staggering 109 miles long.
To help me find my way through the inevitable Paris traffic,
I've recruited a local resident.
Philippe Lellouche is the host of Top Gear France,
so he's French and he knows a lot about cars.
Bonjour! Top Gear!
We met up in a place guaranteed to get Philippe's car-loving,
Gallic blood pumping.
This is the Citroen Conservatoire,
a private collection of pretty much every car Citroen have ever built.
Founded in 1919, Citroen has always been the avant-garde carmaker,
and there's no better place than this
to see just how left-field French design can be.
Although Philippe doesn't appear to be a big fan of
Citroen concept cars.
It's a kind of ugly buggy.
Why? The yellow, green inside.
It's ugly. Oh, my God!
Where would you use this car? Where?
I'm not a big fan of this kind of car.
Do we really have to talk about it?
You never know that Citroen built a helicopter?
The problem is that this helicopter never flies.
It's really ridiculous.
I do actually like that. That's a nice car.
Yeah, if you take drugs.
The Mehari. You know, I still love this car.
A miracle, a car Philippe likes.
They are trying now obviously to build this car again.
Yeah? But with the new concept.
It's BLEEP ugly!
Now, you're going to teach me how to drive
like a Frenchman around Paris.
Yeah, it's going to be a mess. It's going to be a mess, Paul.
It could get messy. Now, which car do you think we should use?
If we have the choice, definitely the DS.
I would have to agree.
It's true that Citroen have created some real pigs,
but then they also created this...
The sublime DS.
Philosopher Roland Barthes said that
the DS looked as if it had fallen from the sky. I know what he means.
Unfortunately for us,
out on the road, all that's falling from the sky is a lot of rain.
And our DS is leaking.
A good car. Old car. It looks like you've peed yourself.
It's dripping here now as well. You too? Yeah. Oh, good.
Nicknamed the "goddess" the DS was launched in 1955,
and nobody had seen anything like it before.
When this car came out, it was very different,
and the French just embraced it, didn't they?
Oh, yeah. They loved it. It was really original because of the look.
This car was really specific and new.
This is what the French do in so many areas of life,
whether it be art, movies, food or indeed cars -
they don't follow the crowd.
They're revolutionary, left-field, innovative,
and when they get it right we get something as beautiful as this.
It became a very popular car because
I know when it went to the Paris Motor Show
and they showed it off for the first time,
12,000 orders were placed straightaway, which is incredible.
It's probably the most comfortable car I've ever driven.
In Top Gear in France, we have these seats on the stage. Really?
Yeah. It is like driving whilst sitting on a sofa.
It's good, huh?
Predictably, after a whole five minutes of zipping along,
we hit Paris traffic.
So, how do I drive in Paris, tell me, how do the French drive?
Forget all about your British relationship with each other.
You know? You have to think about yourself. OK. Be the first.
No rules. That's crazy. That's crazy.
While their do things differently,
"I know best" attitude of the French is good,
when it comes to creating cars like the DS,
it has a less positive effect on their driving.
Whoa! What's this guy's problem?
If you don't move he's going to... Look at him!
Oh, come on!
That's the way of French driving.
Look, look, look. This guy.
Jeez! That's the way.
Be aggressive? It was so British.
You have to... Oh! HORNS HONK
Listen to that. They're all kicking off.
Parisian traffic jams are a major contributor to
the city's high pollution levels,
which, on some days, are worse than Beijing.
Something needs to change, but remember, this is France.
I know they're trying to limit certain cars going into
the centre of Paris on certain times of the week.
Has that worked, or...? A little bit. Of course,
Parisian people said, "BLEEP you, I want to use my car
"and I don't want to take Metros and bus and everything,"
so we live in a mess.
They've also tried banning all vehicles built before 1997.
Nobody understood that. Oh, really?
I can't explain you, I didn't understand still now.
It's a mess. OK, so people ignore it anyway?
That's very French, though, isn't it?
In France, they all want to become the president
and no-one wants to obey, you know?
So, it's a mess every time.
Well, at least we're moving now, Philippe.
It's lunchtime. Ah, so all the roads are deserted?
Being lunchtime, we are getting hungry.
Despite some onboard snacks, we need to park and grab a bite.
But parking in Paris is not easy.
I've noticed that there's a lot of cars with bumps and scrapes
and bumpers hanging off.
When they park, they don't care about touching you.
Philippe decides I need a Parisian parking lesson,
but not in the precious DS.
Kindly, our fixer lends us her ten-year-old Vauxhall,
which is sort of French now that Peugeot has bought that company.
Forget your eyes, just... You're not... ..trust your ears.
You're not serious?
The space is just three inches longer than the car.
So, just a little bump, not a big bump. Just a little bump.
OK. A bit more.
This really isn't a city where you drive a valuable car.
I'm trying here.
It's OK. It's perfect.
Time for lunch.
On the road again,
it's still raining and we're heading for trouble -
the roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe.
It's very frightening, but you have to do it. Go on.
Go, go, go. Don't worry about it.
OK, I'm... I know, it's really strange.
People come like bombs.
It's crazy. How does this work?
12 roads converge at this point
without a single road marking to help drivers out.
Apparently, you should give way to the right.
Look at them, look at them.
But it seems no-one's told the French.
He doesn't care!
Don't be polite. Don't be British.
Just be a rude guy. OK.
Whoa! He's going to kill somebody.
CAR HORN BLARES
This junction is so bad that normal car insurance rules do not apply.
Any crash here means a straight 50-50 split in responsibility
and costs, every time.
That's not fair, though.
If you're driving along and someone hits you up the arse,
you've got to get charged half and half? Yes.
And it comes from... It's crazy. It's crazy, yes.
Thankfully, we escape with all panels intact,
It's funny, huh? This is where the DS comes into its own.
Cobbled streets, a few potholes
and the car just glides over the top of them. Yeah.
The DS has the most comfortable ride of any car I've ever driven.
And that's because it possesses a revolutionary
Luckily, this isn't a science show,
so I don't need to try and explain how the suspension works.
It's complicated and revolutionary - like the French.
And in 1962, it saved a president's life.
General De Gaulle, he was victim of an assassination attempt.
They put the bullet on the back wheel.
This DS drives exactly like she didn't have
a bullet in the back wheel because of the hydraulic system.
Ah, because of the suspension, so they punctured the tyre...
Exactly. ..and because it was set, it wouldn't go down,
so they could still carry on? Yes.
The assassination attempt was accurately recreated
in this famous scene from
the classic 1973 film The Day Of The Jackal.
At least 14 bullets hit De Gaulle's DS,
but thanks to its suspension,
the driver stayed in control and escaped.
From that point on,
De Gaulle always insisted on travelling in a Citroen DS.
And suddenly the DS was the best car all over the world. Yeah.
Now, I've heard that this suspension is so clever,
the car can jack itself up and down when you change a wheel.
That's pretty high, isn't it? It's very high.
And Philippe agrees to help me test it out,
although I'm not sure in what way he feels he's helping.
So, when I let it down, you tell me, OK?
Up. There you go.
You all right there, Philippe?
I'm a little bit tired, but I'm good.
Hey, you're good.
Now, you should be able to drive the DS around on three wheels,
but we borrowed this car from Citroen
and we don't want to risk breaking it,
so we'll just put the wheel back on again. Well, I say "we"...
I have to leave you, Paul.
I'll sort this out, then.
No, I don't care about your business.
This is your road trip, it's not mine.
Thanks, mate. You know, it's a mess. My God! Bye, Paul.
Sometime later, it's raining again
and I'm picking up my next, less presidential, wheels.
Due to the congestion and the lack of parking and the pollution,
Paris has become a world leader in car sharing.
This is quite a cool car, actually, this is one of the electric cars.
It's called Autolib'
and you can pick them up from over 1,000 stations in and around Paris.
There are 4,000 of these and they've actually displaced 40,000 cars
that were coming into Paris.
People are now using these cars.
Autolib' is just one of the many car share schemes in Paris,
with more than 350,000 subscribers in total.
That's almost a third of the city's drivers.
All you do is swipe your card, pick your car
and then drop it off at a designated parking area,
and they just take the money from your account. It's brilliant.
And it's actually helped pollution in Paris.
I think this is the future and the way that we're going to drive
in the city centres all around the world.
And it's fun to drive, and cheap.
Car share is now a global phenomena,
but Parisians have embraced it on a whole new, different level,
clocking up over 60 million miles last year in these things.
These things are purely from getting A to B.
They treat it like anything practical.
It's used, abused, and that's what they are there for.
You can hire a car share vehicle any time, day or night.
No wonder so many Parisians feel that owning your own car is a bit...
My second day, and guess what?
It's pouring with rain again.
And it's ruining things now.
Here I am in a Peugeot 205 GTi,
the car that is wildly recognised as the greatest hot hatch of all time
and I'm hardly moving.
All dressed up and nowhere to go -
that's what it feels like, driving this car
because I'm stuck be behind a tracking vehicle that's in front
that's doing 20mph, and I can't move.
I'm in a little hot hatch that wants to go.
If we go any faster the cameraman gets water all over his lens,
can't see a thing and sulks.
Move! It's only a bit of water.
Now, this is how you drive a 205 GTi.
It was just over six grand when launched in 1983.
It had killer performance and fantastic handling.
But however hard they worked in their adverts to make
the car look flashy, it wasn't.
It didn't shout, "Look at me!"
It was subtle and understated, unlike this advert.
And, you know, I'm starting to realise that this car
says an awful lot about the French. Let me explain.
I'm now in Poissy, about 20 miles north-west of Paris,
where the French build a lot of cars.
That is the Peugeot factory.
Worldwide French manufacturers produce around five million cars
every year, and they all have one thing in common.
You have Peugeot, you have Renault, you have Citroen, the big three.
They make over 36 models, they make saloons, they make estates,
they make SUVs, MPVs.
But not one of those models is flashy.
They just don't make flashy, "look at me," cars.
Name me one French supercar.
Yeah? Got one?
You're thinking Bugatti Veyron or Chiron, aren't you?
Well, they're not French.
Ettore Bugatti, who started the company in 1909,
was born in Milan, Italy.
Bugatti built his factory in Germany, and only ended up in France
when they moved the border after the Great War.
And the Bugatti name is now owned by Volkswagen.
The Veyron and Chiron are really VWs with a sexier badge on the front.
They're not French.
The French don't do supercars, or any other flashy cars.
Why is it? There's nothing wrong with them...
or is it a French thing?
Well, yes. You see,
the French are very patriotic when it comes to buying cars.
The majority of cars bought in France are still French,
and I think the French just don't want flashy cars.
This is a posh French golf club just outside Poissy,
full of posh French people doing golf.
I'm here to meet a man who could easily afford whatever car he wants.
Thibault owns a string of language schools and is pretty well heeled.
Listen, I'll prove it.
What sort of house do you live in?
It's a castle. A family castle.
A chateau? Yes, it's a family castle from about one century now,
a bit more. I imagine your house is probably bigger than this.
Slightly, yes. Wow! OK.
It's actually this place,
sitting in 200 hectares of land comprising woods, fields and lakes.
So, he could afford a flash motor... Well, a few flashy motors.
But his only car is this - an old Renault Clio.
So, tell me, how long have you had this car?
For seven years now. Seven years? From new?
Actually, I took it over from my mother, who bought a new one.
You got this off your mum? Yeah, she bought it second-hand.
She bought it second-hand? Life is a question of priorities.
And I know, for you in the UK,
the vision of successful means a nice car.
For me, it's enough. I'm very happy with it.
Really? Yeah. We're in quite an exclusive golf club,
I've looked around the car park here,
there's nothing really interesting there.
If it was a colour, it would be beige.
I expect to see Jaguars, Mercedes, Range Rovers.
You need to pose a little bit, surely?
It depends on what you're here for.
If it's to show your car, then you should be in England,
but if it's to play golf, then it's enough.
Is that important to you, to be understated?
It's more in the sense that for many people
the wealth that you show is not your real wealth.
It's not that important.
When you are young, you want to have a small car to park in the city.
When they are older, they have a family,
they want a big car to bring them to holidays.
Most of the people want to be efficient.
I guess you are more into cars, I would say?
Well, I do like cars, yeah.
But for me, it's not the point.
I don't mean I don't care but, honestly, I don't care.
I think this shows that people of your stature that live in France,
the people that live in the village who work every day
and go out to the fields, everybody's the same.
It's just your houses are slightly different.
Slightly. Brilliant. Thank you very much.
I'm finally leaving Paris behind me today, and it's stopped raining.
Today is all about the French relationship between cars and food,
so I get to do two things I enjoy a lot -
eating and driving.
And I get to hang out with multiple Michelin-starred chef
Bonjour, madam. Bonjour.
PAUL SPEAKS FRENCH
Merci. Are you having anything?
Can I have, please...? No, say...
You say it in French, go on. I can't tell the difference.
How do you say that? I'll tell you what I would like.
JEAN SPEAKS FRENCH
Merci. Merci, madame.
Having grabbed some bread-based breakfast,
the next challenge is getting into a small car.
Jump in the little car. Of course.
Look at you!
Yeah, I'm officially in now.
Well, this is snug.
This is the Alpine A110.
Yes, the French did once make sexy sports cars.
I want to change gear, it looks like I'm stroking your leg.
That's only when I go from third to fourth, though, it's a slight rub,
but don't worry about that.
I think this gorgeous little sports car was created in much
the same way as the finest French cuisine.
They have basic ingredients
and come up with something that is truly fantastic.
The A110 is made from basic parts, mostly from this, the Renault 8,
but using simple ingredients, Alpine cooked up something delicious,
so delicious, in fact,
in rally guise the A110 won the very first World Rally Championship.
I mean, look at it, the styling is incredible.
For a country that doesn't now produce sports cars,
this is a pretty sporty-looking car.
As a Frenchman, what do you think of this car? Do you like the colour?
Obviously, the colour reflects what the car was used for.
Obviously, it was discerned for the gendarmes.
Was it? Yeah, that's right, yeah. Are you kidding me? Yeah, yeah.
So, the police used this as an interceptor? That's right.
Where did you put that bread?
Do you want some? Yeah, grab me a baguette traditional.
It looks good, doesn't it? Oh, yeah.
Look at the structure on that. That is fantastic.
So, tell me, is that something the French do when they drive?
No. The French don't eat in cars. Really? Why? I think it's an insult.
To what? The baguette?
I think it's an insult to take food outside your house.
It seems rude because you're not taking your time and relaxing?
Yeah, you have no class.
You basically have no class. OK, that's me.
I've got no class at all.
You can't say that. No, I haven't.
There is a more important reason to avoid eating at the wheel in France.
It's illegal. That's 75 euro fine.
Is it? Just doing this, yeah.
Why, because it's against the law? Distractions.
Put simply, scoffing a tuna sandwich and a bag of salt and vinegar at
the wheel in France is both illegal and common.
And it seems, potentially, life-threatening.
Sorry. I'm just choking on a baguette.
If you want to eat, you stop
and take it seriously.
I always find that the picnic areas on the autoroutes are beautiful.
Yeah. And they encourage families to stop.
A picnic is more than a sandwich.
You actually put a towel, or a cloth on the floor,
you will have your little rice salad and your wine, you know?
Your marmalade and so on.
And you are there for at least two hours, and you eat slowly.
It's very rare you see a Frenchman standing up and eating.
It's a culture.
As it's still raining, we decide against a picnic
and plump for the French equivalent of a trucker's caff.
A Les Routiers.
500 of these are dotted around France,
and you won't find a sausage sarnie in any of them.
First established in the 1930s,
the Les Routiers is the food guide for the French truckers.
In the early days, volunteer truckers even acted as
the guide's inspectors.
To get into the guide, restaurants need to offer a good reception,
irreproachable quality, and affordable prices.
And today, a three course meal in a Les Routiers
would typically costs just 13 euros.
Want some more? I would, yeah. Thank you.
So, I mean, we've just turned up at this place,
but this is the quality of the food.
It's fresh, it looks great.
It's what people expect.
You have a good glass of wine, proper water, excellent bread,
even some good butter. Yeah.
And it's cheap, it's value for money.
Yeah, I know. Why? Because those people probably
have been passed on the business, generation to generation.
It's so much different to what we get in the UK.
Why? What is it about the French? I think it's the culture.
It's expectations of your customers, there's the sense of competition
because they are one of many in the next 100km.
I often feel sorry for some of the French truckers
that when they get to Britain, and they go to our service stations,
and they go, "What is this?"
It goes back to the distributions.
That was lovely, yeah?
It was nice. Fantastic. You're going to be driving, yeah?
We're not going in that, mate. Not this one?
We're going in this one. This? In this box?
Yeah. You're driving.
I'm driving? Oh, my God!
This is the Aixam Crossline Evo.
A sexy, cool, racy name,
which could hardly be less appropriate for a car packing
just one horsepower.
Yes, one whole horsepower.
Are you actually putting your foot down, by the way? I am, I am.
You can't be. That's flat to the floor?
That's absolutely flat, look. I feel a little bit ashamed.
Is this some kind of a punishment or...?
Or is it some kind of humiliation? I think it's both.
The maximum speed this will go is 28mph. Oh, my God!
So, don't worry, we're not going to break any speed limits with this.
Look at all these cars piling up behind us.
It's embarrassing. It is actually embarrassing.
It is, I hope people don't see us in this.
This is what's known as voiture sans permis microcar.
I think the handbrake's on. No, it's not. No, it's not.
Basically, a car for which you don't need a driving licence,
and they are proving very popular in France at the moment.
The whole idea was you can drive
this if you have, say, a scooter licence,
so 14-year-old kids can drive this.
They are popular with 14-year-old kids and old French people...
who just need something to pop to the blanchisserie in.
Look at the queue! Look, how embarrassing is that?
But there is a more sinister side to these microcar's popularity.
What's been happening is,
people are using it when they've lost their license through drink.
It's no secret that the French enjoy a tipple with their food,
and for those who've had a few too many tipples,
the microcar provides a convenient loophole.
It doesn't need a licence in the first place,
so losing your licence doesn't necessarily preclude you
from driving one.
I mean, welcome to France, you know.
You can actually feel that in here.
It nearly blew us over into the field. Yeah.
After a very small glass of wine with lunch,
us two are nowhere near the limit,
so I can think of no reason at all to stay in here.
I feel slightly emasculated just being in this car with you.
In fact, to be honest, see this little junction here?
Yeah. Just pull over here on the right.
Just pull over here. Pull over here a second.
Are you going to be driving? No, just pull over here.
Sure. You going to throw up? I can't deal with this, mate.
Honestly. I can't deal with it.
I'm going to walk back to the pub.
Are you serious? Yeah, absolutely. Sorry, mate. Oh-la-la!
Oh, my God!
Paul! Come on!
No, mate, just go. Don't talk to me.
No, I can't. You go. Come on. You go, mate.
Having abandoned the Aixam...
Oh! Oh, here we go.
..we are back in a proper car
and starting to think about dinner.
Luckily, the French have something to help with that -
the Michelin Guide.
So, tell me, JC, how did the Michelin Guide actually start?
I think, mainly, what we're trying to do is trying to influence
the French people to buy more cars
and to go about.
In 1900, when the guide was first published,
there were only 3,000 cars in France.
To grow their tyre business,
the Michelin brothers needed to make the French buy more cars.
The answer was, of course, to appeal to their stomachs.
Now, I know for sure that every single new car will have had this
given free of charge.
The first Michelin Guide listed the best restaurants
right across France. It was an instant success.
I mean, it worked. The Michelin Guide now is phenomenal.
So, we're heading towards Chartres.
OK. See if there's anything in the guide,
anywhere we can go and eat tonight.
It's funny because I notice in Chartres,
there is Le Grand Monarque hotel.
It happens to be there from the beginning,
therefore it's still standing up.
So, it's there now? That's right. Right, you're buying.
Can I just change gear again, from third to fourth?
You can. I love you, JC.
Some driving later, we arrive at the Grand Monarque,
complete with its Michelin-starred restaurant.
What do you think, JC...it takes...
to get a Michelin star? How do you do it?
What you need is...
You need about two or three 50 quid notes...
..and when the inspector turns up... You shake his hand.
..you do, "Achoo, achoo," then you drop the money on the floor.
And then you get a star!
Yeah, I'm not sure it works like that.
I think Michelin is like a magnet
because you know when you go to that restaurant it will be good.
Mm-hm. It is the pinnacle of your career, isn't it?
That's it, "I've done it.
"I've been recognised by the best tyre manufacturer
"that I am a great chef."
Are you serious or not?
You're winding me up?
It's bloody Michelin tyres.
I'm now driving in the rain again,
75 miles south-west to a motor racing Mmecca - Le Mans.
Home of the most famous race on Earth.
The Le Mans 24-hour endurance race started in 1923.
Typically, it was the French being different.
At a time when Grand Prix racing dominated motorsport,
Le Mans presented a new challenge for manufacturers to build
sporty yet reliable cars capable of racing at speed
for a whole day and night.
These days, the top cars cover over 3,000 miles
at similar speeds to an F1 car.
But how come this place and this race are in France, a country that
we've already established isn't keen on sexy, flashy cars?
I mean, look at that one, that's really sexy,
and it flies.
Well, it's in which country motor racing started.
Yes, the first-ever organised car race took place between Paris
and Rouen in 1894.
OK, being French,
they did have a 90-minute lunch break in the middle of the race,
but they had invented motorsport.
Then they went on to give us the Paris Dakar Rally, Renault F1,
the FIA, Alain Prost, Citroen and Peugeot WRC teams,
the phrase, "Grand Prix," and, of course, Le Mans.
Today, I'm meeting up with one of the greatest French racing drivers
of all time in his favourite cafe right on the Le Mans circuit.
This is Henri Pescarolo and his wife Madie.
Hello, Henri. Hello. Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you.
Henri won Le Mans four times.
He is the most successful Frenchman ever at France's greatest race.
For me, what you did in Le Mans was incredible.
It was something for every driver, you know,
the target was to be in Le Mans.
I raced 33 times, and I won four times, so that's a...
big part of my life, Le Mans is, you know.
The 24 hours of Le Mans is one of the oldest race in the world,
and it's very dangerous, of course.
Le Mans saw the most devastating crash in motorsport history.
French driver Pierre Levegh lost control
and crashed into the main stand.
He died along with 83 spectators.
Le Mans was always a very dangerous race.
Every year, there was five, six or seven drivers killed in racing,
Formula 1, you know. That was normal.
Racing was dangerous,
especially Le Mans because safety was not important, you know.
In practice for the 1969 race, Le Mans almost claimed Henri's life.
At over 150mph on the 7km-long Mulsanne Straight,
his car took off.
I had the most terrific crash that could happen because
I was inside my car and it burns, you know.
And you knew, that time, that after 15 seconds, you will not survive.
Despite terrible burns, Henri survived,
and, just two months later, he was back in a race car.
The first race I had after my crash was on
the most difficult track in the world,
it was the Nurburgring, you know. Formula 1 Grand Prix.
And I won. How did it feel, as a driver at Le Mans,
that every week leading up to Le Mans
you knew someone was going to be injured or die,
how do you deal with that in your head?
You know, if you start to think...
what could happen to you, you are not able to drive
because I don't know if we are different from other people,
you know. You are! But it's something which we accept, you know.
Everybody here will die one day, you know,
and we don't think of that.
If you start to think when that will happen and how it will happen,
you are not able to go out of the restaurant.
So, for a racing driver, the same,
you know that could happen, but that's normal.
Henri's laissez faire attitude to
the dangers of motorsport maybe explains why
the French are so damn good at this racing stuff.
Thank you very much. It's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you. Merci.
Next, I have a mammoth 4.5 hour drive from Le Mans all the way south
And my car is the first-ever people carrier, the Renault Espace.
A perfect example of that French tendency to be radical
and practical at the same time.
To demonstrate the Espace's multiperson capacity,
the crew have decided to travel with me this afternoon.
OK. This is the Renault Espace.
This particular model has five seats.
This is the entry-level Espace.
But we wanted to show you what it was like with seven seats,
the two people sitting on the floor have actually got harnesses on.
Has everyone got loads of space in the back?
Jake's sitting on my foot.
When the car was launched in 1984, it was truly revolutionary,
but sales weren't good.
Initially, because everyone in the general public thought,
"What is it? What is it trying to do? What's its purpose?"
They sold nine in the first month.
However, by the time the Mark 1 was retired in 1991,
Renault had shifted 200,000 of them.
Five versions later, it's still in production today.
Actually, the gearbox in this is fantastic.
Five gears, it's smooth...
Paul, do you want some cheese? ..it drives beautifully...
Will you shut up, I'm trying to talk!
And it drives beautifully.
It is a proper car, but you can take massive family with it,
or an annoying crew.
Can someone chuck that cheese out the window?
It stinks, and it's steaming up the windows.
You know, you can do a steady 70mph.
The engine's not even labouring. It's great on fuel.
I understand why people bought these in the numbers that they did.
Has someone farted?
No! I need a wee. I need a wee. Oh!
Ben's not here. Where's Ben? Here he comes.
What does "Espace" mean in English?
What's your favourite cake, Paul?
Shall we all play favourite cakes?
Yeah. Mine's apple cake. Mine's pork pie.
French ingenuity did invent a whole new category of cars,
the MPV as we call it these days. And last year,
six and a half million new MPVs were bought worldwide.
Very fertile parents and Uber drivers everywhere
can now benefit from the Gallic belief that they know best.
Today starts brilliantly because it's not raining.
I'm just south of Clermont-Ferrand at the town hall of Lempdes
because this used to be the home of Pierre Boulanger,
the man who developed the Frenchest car ever.
It was known as the deux chevaux-vapeur,
which in English means two steam horses.
But you and I know it better as the 2CV.
Heroically, I will now drive a 2CV from Lempdes to Lyon,
which is over 100 miles.
Alongside me is British comedian Alexis Dubus.
Here we go. Life on the road, yeah?
Alexis has studied the French in depth,
and even went to clown school in Paris
to create his on-stage persona - Marcel Lucont.
FRENCH ACCENT: Thank you to those who actually cheered.
It's known as etiquette.
A little thing that we invented.
You are welcome.
Alexis also has previous with the 2CV.
Genuinely what I learned to drive in. Are you serious? Yes.
My mum had one. My mum had a 2CV6 Special, plums and custard one.
Nice. So, it was her way of making sure I didn't become a boy racer,
So, the girlfriends that you went out with...
They were very forgiving.
I'm not in gear here. Oh, for...!
The 2CV was developed in the 1930s to replace the horse and cart...
Come on! OK, I think I'm in!
..which at that time was still
the main form of transport in rural France.
Look at the roll on it around the corner. I know.
That's a cracking start.
Design requirements were simple -
the car should be able to carry 50kg of farm goods to market...
and drive a basket of eggs across a field without breaking them.
It shows the sort of hierarchy, doesn't it?
Food, let's get food to Marseille.
During the 1930s, Citroen built and tested 47 prototypes of the 2CV.
But before they could launch it, war broke out.
Throughout the war, the Nazis tried to get hold of the 2CV.
But Boulanger refused to cooperate.
Working with the resistance, he hid his prototypes all over France.
Three of the 47 originals were recently discovered
still hidden in a barn near Paris.
The Germans never got their mitts on the 2CV,
and it was eventually launched properly in 1948.
The most French car ever built stayed in production for 42 years
and almost four million were sold worldwide.
Its quirky, practical and not showy.
It's very French. Yeah, I think it is very French.
I mean, it's not very responsive, you know.
It's like meeting a Frenchman for the first time, isn't it?
Just... Just a shrug.
The French love things that are made for the French.
So, how did they react when you know a British guy comes on holiday,
turns up in their village in his flashy car...?
Having a flashy car would be an accoutrement of the bourgeoisie.
Yeah. Maybe that's a sign of, like, a squandered existence,
kind of thing, that you've worked and worked and worked
to get your flashy car when you could have just been having
a succession of nice meals and wines.
I think they measure prestige in other things. Yeah.
So, to them, if they say, "What do you want,
"do you want a Jaguar or do you want a crate of the best wine?"
They'll go, "Wine." Yeah.
"Do you want a Lamborghini or a nice lamb shank?"
I think the English, the Germans, the Italians
are more interested in aesthetics.
Yeah. I don't think the French are. I think this thing here proves it.
Yeah. It's just a way of getting to the next meal. Yeah!
We're building up a head of steam here.
We're going downhill now, so we should be all right.
They're taking the car.
That's only because the car is being transported. Yeah, that's true.
Peage. Peage. Oh, here we go.
"Peage" is of course French for toll booth.
Second. Nicely done.
And peage plays a big part in making the French motorway system
as good as it is.
While all 7,383 miles of autoroute are owned by the French state,
most of the ones with tolls are looked after by private companies,
and they are brilliant.
Clear, well maintained, drivers behave
and there is a rest stop every 15km.
Sounding good. Yeah, I think I started in second.
I don't know what gear I'm in now. If I push that forward...
Oh, that's second. OK, that's third.
And then fourth is over to the right.
There you go. Now we're cruising.
Oh, no, it's the coppers. Here's the rozzers. Really?
We're not going to get done for speeding.
Definitely not going to get done for speeding.
Bonjour. He's just stuck two fingers up at me!
He's literally just stuck two fingers up!
Cheeky...! CAMERA CLICK
Yeah, that's what it is.
It was definitely a mark of respect.
I think it was.
THEY IMITATE FRENCH ACCENT
Now, remember, the 2CV was created to replace the horse and cart
and carry French goods across a field.
The big question that I'm not sure anyone has ever attempted
to answer is, was it better?
Well, the best way to find out is, of course, a race.
The first team to pick up 50kg of produce
and bring it all back to the start line undamaged wins.
Oh, here we go!
We've got to try and get this back out. Yeah, right.
Come on. Just throw it. Yeah.
Get the stuff!
Get the stuff in, quick.
Get the chicken!
This is a nightmare.
How's that working out?
So, what did that race teach us?
Well, traditional French farm transport is outstanding in a field,
and I shouldn't have turned my engine off when we stopped.
My final day in France and, yes, it's raining again.
I've driven back north a bit to the magnificent Magny-Cours circuit,
home of the French F1 Grand Prix for 17 years.
This morning, this is my ride.
It's an H125B3 Squirrel,
and its single engine produces around 950 horsepower.
Now, there's a reason why we've come to Magny-Cours.
It's down on the track at the moment.
This car is the RS 01,
that is the first turbocharged Formula 1 Grand Prix car ever.
In 1977, F1 rules changed and allowed teams to use turbocharges,
a device which very simply forces more air into
an engine's combustion chamber, creating more power.
It was a relatively new technology for cars,
and Renault were the only team to try harnessing it.
They picked up the ball and ran with it.
Well, more like ran with the ball for a few yards
before tripping over and dropping it.
By doing the French thing and being different, Renault took a big risk.
And to begin with, that risk didn't pay off.
The RS 01 had a single big turbo,
which required high engine revs before it kicked in,
and the engine overheated all the time.
The car broke down in its first eight races,
earning the nickname the Yellow Teapot
because it spent most of its time standing still
with steam coming out of it.
Yellow Teapot, yeah, right.
After the first year, they changed the turbo to two smaller turbos,
and that prevented that lag...
Wow! Look at that, the back end just stepped out.
..and it worked beautifully.
In fact, in 1979, two years after its initial hit onto the track,
turbo won its first race.
Where did it happen?
At the French Grand Prix in 1979.
The driver was a 36-year-old Jean-Pierre Jabouille.
Jean-Pierre is now 74...
Oh, and he's driving that Formula 1 car right below me.
Now, you might be thinking,
"That car doesn't look like it's going very fast,"
and you'd be right. It's the bloody rain's fault again.
It's a bit wet today. He's tiptoeing around.
You can see the spray coming off the back.
Remember, this is the original single turbo car.
Despite pretty much blocking the car's intake with gaffer tape,
in these conditions, Jean-Pierre just can't get
the engine hot enough to make the turbo kick in properly.
He's trying to get the engine up to temperature. It's crazy.
There he is, just going into the pit.
What makes the rain even more hateful is that JP had said
I could drive this car if it was dry.
Careful with this. I will.
Although the rain may not be the only thing stopping me from driving.
That's about as low as I'm going to get in this car.
Yeah, this is comfortable. I can see everything.
This could be a slight issue with aerodynamics.
is a foot too wide.
It's comfortable for you?
It is, yeah.
Is there any chance we can start the engine? Yeah.
ENGINE DROWNS OUT SOUND: Wow!
HE SPEAKS FRENCH
That is incredible.
So, an F1 car that's going a bit slow, and that I can't drive.
Potentially, a rubbish end to my road trip.
I think I've finally found a way to make the rain work to my advantage
and make a boyhood dream come true.
I'm going to race against an F1 car.
Standing start, one lap of Magny-Cours.
Jean-Pierre Jabouille will of course be driving the turbo F1 car.
And I'll be driving this, Renault's latest sporty turbo,
the Renault Sport Clio.
220 brake horsepower.
Normally, on a dry and warm circuit,
the F1 car would be lapping me in the Clio.
But today things may be a little different.
Just sitting on the start line next to the F1 car, I can feel
the vibrations coming through the engine.
"Excited" doesn't really cover it.
Come on, come on, come on!
He easily burned me off at the start line,
and that was him just being careful.
But, you know, that was absolutely fine, because right here,
chasing an F1 car, that was such a buzz.
Out of the third bend, I actually floored it and, yes,
I overtook an F1 car. Amazing.
Not so amazing on this bend, though!
It was so wet, JP lost it, too.
Remember, though, he's 74, and driving an F1 car in anger.
How he kept it on the track was just incredible.
That track was a river.
I got that little bit of grip, I took him again.
I absolutely loved it.
This is awesome!
This is what it's all about. Come on!
Back at the pits, I can't quite believe what's just happened.
Right, Paul, be gracious.
I know you're happy, but don't be obvious.
OK. You laughed. Definitely stop celebrating now.
Oh, Paul, all right, just go and shake JP's hand.
To listen to you come past, with the sound of this engine,
it's just fantastic, absolutely fantastic.
Jean-Pierre just couldn't put the power down onto the track,
unfortunately, but this thing could, but if we'd had a dry, warm day,
that car would have spanked me.
I'd be doing one lap, he'd be doing three. It's a given.
Did I mention I love the rain?
So, yesterday I lost to a horse, but today, I beat a Formula 1 car.
C'est la vie.
And what I learned on my six days crossing this country,
the French are very, very...
And, yes, they make fabulous bread.
Look at the structure on that.
Yes, their cheese can be very smelly.
But their attitude to cars is different
to every other country I've ever been to. It's ugly.
It's embarrassing. I don't care.
France is a nation where originality and thinking in revolutionary ways
has always been celebrated,
especially if everyone benefits from your ingenuity.
The French are pragmatic dreamers.
They get behind a car, it has to be different.
The French people demand quirkiness.
They demand to be different from the rest of the world.
That's the French, really.
Subtitles by Ericsson
In this episode, Paul Hollywood visits France to find out what makes the country tick when it comes to cars. How do the cars they make and the way they drive reflect the character of France and its people? On his trip, Paul drives some of the most innovative, strange and quirky cars ever built in France, and is joined by a few travelling companions who provide an insight into French culture and explain what the French really think of cars.
Paul's six-day road trip begins in the capital, Paris. Joining him for the day is the host of French Top Gear, Phillipe Lellouche. In a classic Citroen DS, they set off through the rain and experience the joys of Parisian traffic jams, Paris 'touch' parking and the mayhem which is the roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe. They then discover how the DS's revolutionary suspension saved a president's life and put it to the test themselves in a slightly less violent manner. Having said goodbye to Phillipe, Paul takes advantage of Paris's most successful car share scheme - grabbing himself a nippy little electric car in which he escapes the city centre.
Day two begins badly - while Paul has got his hands on the best hot hatch ever built, he can't enjoy it as the rain continues to pour and he is confined to city streets. Today he has a question to answer though: why don't the French build any flashy cars? At a posh golf club, he hooks up with a very rich Frenchman who, despite his wealth, has no interest in flashy wheels... Do they actually like cars?
Day three and Paul is heading south towards Chartres. His passenger for the day is multi-Michelin-star-winning chef Jean Christophe Novelli. After picking up breakfast at an artisanal bakery, they start their journey in a cute little classic - the Alpine A110. Today is all about the French relationship between cars and food - and that is a big subject to cover. Do the French eat in their cars? Why do they take picnics so seriously? Are their truck stops really better than a lot of British restaurants? And how come a tyre manufacturer was responsible for starting the world's most respected food guide? Along the way, of course, they manage to fit in a few very good meals and drive a new phenomenon in France; the 'voiture sans permit' - a 1hp car which 14-year-olds can drive as it does not require a licence. Paul does not enjoy that bit at all.
Day four starts with a drive down to the home of the most famous motor race on earth: Le Mans. Here Paul meets up with one of the greatest French racing drivers of all time, Henri Pescarolo, who won the Le Mans 24 hour race four times. They discuss the race's history and its dangers, and why drivers are prepared to risk their lives repeatedly in this extraordinary event. Then Paul's off on a four-and-a-half-hour drive to Clermont Ferrand, and for this he's chosen to drive one of the most revolutionary French cars of all time, the Renault Espace. Unfortunately for him, the crew have decided to join him in the Espace for this drive - just to prove how roomy the first people carrier was. Paul does not enjoy this journey!
Paul's penultimate day in France starts at the town hall of Lempdes, just south of Clermont Ferrand, because this used to be the home of the man who invented the most French cars ever - the 2CV. Today Paul is joined by British comedian Alexis Dubus, whose onstage alter ego is the louche Frenchman Marcel Lucont. On their drive to Lyon, they discuss the extraordinary history of the 2CV and try to get to grips with its idiosyncratic gears. They discuss what Paul has learned about the French character and then finish their day with a race across a field - 2CV versus horse and cart (the transport it was specifically designed to replace).
Paul's final day sees him travel to Magny Cours racing circuit - for 17 years the home of the French Grand Prix. He is here to meet two F1 legends - the first ever F1 turbo car and Jean Pierre Jabouille, the man who drove it. To get a proper look at the car on track, Paul first takes to a helicopter, chasing the car just feet above it. As the rain has continued all week, JP just can't get the car up to the speeds he'd hoped, and the turbo barely gets going. Having tried to squeeze into its driving seat, though, Paul has an idea to finally make the rain work to his advantage. He sets up his first F1 race - well, he will be in the latest Renaultsport Clio hot hatch, but he'll be competing against JP in the F1 car - standing start, one lap. What better way to end a road trip.