On the 11th February 2005, I was most honoured to be invited along to the launch of Stephen Vokins’ new book “Weird Cars” at the British Embassy in Paris. Naturally being Valentines weekend, I just had to visit Paris with my girlfriend (Sue) and so we stayed for a few days and also visited the Retromobile Show. The Beaulieu Motor Museum also had a stand at the show and so this is where Sue and I first met up with Stephen Vokins. After saying hello, I was delighted to notice that they had two 3-wheelers on their stand and so it was time to reach for the camera. The first 3-wheeler was the result of combining both a Monbar 146 speedboat and a 1968 Reliant Regal. Using a speedboat body and the running gear of a Reliant Regal it makes a very strange vehicle indeed ... and as a result was the ideal vehicle to promote Stephen Vokins new book and indeed the Weird Cars exhibition starting at Beaulieu Motor Museum on March 21st 2005.
On the same stand and parked just behind a rather fascinating vintage steam car was a tiny 1964 Peel P50. I have never seen one of these in real life before and my are they tiny little cars. As I was busy taking photos an American chap wandered by and gazed at the tiny motorised tripod. “What’s that?” I heard him ask, his eyes staring in amazement. Stephen explained that it was a 3-wheeler made to exploit the fact that at the time 3-wheelers could be driven on a motorcycle licence. The American chap howled and asked, “Just how do you get in, gee, I’d just love to see some one get in there”. Refusing the invitation to try it out (which was probably just as well given the gentleman’s portly stature) Stephen clambered in as the little thing rocked from side to side. With knees up to his chest the American chap laughed once more convinced that this surely wasn’t a real car. The amusement for him however was not over as once in the car, so began the aerobatics involved in escaping from it.
After leaving the Beaulieu stand, Sue and I wandered around the rest of the show and chaps I have to tell you now that Sue isn’t like many ladies. She loves looking around cars, enjoys watching me dissect them in the garden and further more ... and hold on to your seats for this one ... she loves watching Rugby and Football. Now I bet you think I’ve made that all up but honest she does ... and before you ask, sorry she has no sisters. Turning the corner (of which there were many) we found a stand full of prototype vehicles and a huge smile appeared across my face as I spotted a 1946 Mathis 333. I wasn’t sure that these things actually existed anymore but there it stood, its design all the more unique when you contemplate it’s 60 years old. Now is it just me or can any body else see a slight resemblance to the Corbin Sparrow that was introduced a few years back? I wanted to take a photo inside but there was no one around to ask. Sue said, “Just get in, someone will soon come then.” I said, “Yes and we will probably both be deported out on the next slow boat to China.”
After walking backwards and forwards for what seemed to be several miles we stopped for a bite to eat and had a strange tuna toasty thing. Feet now rested and belly full we continued looking around and found a 1955 Isetta closely followed by a 1934 Morgan that was actually on a stand of one of my favourite web sites prewarcar.com. I then mused at the idea of having a 3-wheelers.com stand at next years Retromobile show, complete with my Regal and a couple of 3-wheeled classics. I guess such stands cost a fair bit though but it may be interesting to enquire. With an exhibition so heavily boasting 4-wheelers it would be good to have a little corner and say, 3-wheelers came first.
The last 3-wheeler that we could find wasn’t actually a 3-wheeler. (I know: it’s a bit like saying when is a door, not a door? When its ajar!) It was a 1941 Peugeot VLV (Vehicule Leger de Ville) which I have seen data about here and there on the Internet and was convinced it was a 3-wheeler. It’s actually a 4-wheeler as it has two rear wheels set closely apart and so at first glance it does appear to be a 3-wheeler. Sue asked, “So why did they do that then?”. I scratched my head and tried to give a really intelligent answer worthy of a 3-wheeled web site web master and said, “I’m not sure - maybe they had no where to put the spare?”.
After leaving the show we returned back to the hotel and had a quick snack and changed before heading off to the British Embassy. This sounded very posh and so I had to make sure I had clean socks on and everything. Arriving on an amazingly efficient Metro system, we reached the Embassy but our names were not on the guest list and the gate keeper hardly seemed amused when I tried to explain I was Elvis. Thankfully after a quick phone call we were rescued and led into the party. There were lots of people and all had cameras with lens much bigger and so Sue and I discreetly stood in the corner watching folks whilst drinking a glass of champagne. On a table in front of us was Stephen Vokins signing his book along with Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and John Haynes from Haynes Publishing. I went up and they all kindly signed a book for me, but better still was a short while later when Stephen called Sue over and gave her a book that everyone had signed as well. After a speech by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu announcing the book, the signing continued and Sue and I not only took in the event but also the splendour of the building around us.
As we left we said thank you to Stephen for inviting us and then book clutched under our arm we headed towards two giant doors that led to the outside world. Last time I saw doors like these they were black and white and King Kong was the other side waving some unfortunate blonde woman about in his hand. As Sue and I tried to fathom how they opened we looked towards a guard who just pointed to the door. We fiddled with a giant cast iron lock when suddenly Sue spotted a small switch mounted onto the frame and pressed it. Hey Presto, the doors swung open and we were back outside. Heading into Paris we stopped at a restaurant for dinner and after nearly ordering a cow head in jelly (I think it was cow) for my main course, I instantly realised that I need to seriously improve my French!