Five completely weird French SUVs

Latest Cactus is by no means the first left-of-centre SUV from France.
DAVID LINKLATER/STUFF

Latest Cactus is by no means the first left-of-centre SUV from France.

The Citroen Cactus is a wonderfully quirky crossover SUV that could only have come from France.

It certainly has a track record of brilliantly weird cars. And, for that matter, brilliantly weird SUVs. Here we take a look at five of the best (worst?).

Mega Track

Aixam Mega Track combined SUV and supercar philosophies. Can't understand why it didn't catch on.
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Aixam Mega Track combined SUV and supercar philosophies. Can't understand why it didn't catch on.

Aixam is a small French manufacturer that makes weird little city cars and tiny trucks and like all good French companies it has had moments that make utterly no sense to any rational human being. The Mega Track is one of them. Mega was Aixam's "car" brand and one day it decided that it needed a supercar. Well, why not?

The Track was a thoroughly massive (almost as long as a Mercedes-Benz S-class and wide as a Hummer H1) 4WD off-road supercar that packed a 6.0-litre Mercedes V12 and had an adjustable ride height of up to 330mm. Rational? No. Awesome? Most certainly.

Citroen 2CV Sahara

Making a 4WD car is easy for Citroen: with the 2CV Sahara, it just put an engine at either end.
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Making a 4WD car is easy for Citroen: with the 2CV Sahara, it just put an engine at either end.

Four-wheel drive systems add complexity and weight to a car, not to mention all that messy development time and cost. So when Citroen decided to make a 4WD version of the iconic 2CV, it didn't bother with all that. Instead it just jammed a second engine in the boot to drive the rear axle.

A single gearstick, throttle and clutch pedal were connected to both engines; the Sahara had a top speed of 65kmh with one engine running and 105kmh with both. There was actually some logic to the twin engine set up, however - the Sahara was designed for use in the French colonies in North Africa and the second engine not only made it 4WD, but also made it far less likely you would get stranded in the desert if one motor let go on you.

Matra-Simca Rancho

Matra-Simca Racho was a very early attempt at a crossover. Looked tough, but wasn't even 4WD.
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Matra-Simca Racho was a very early attempt at a crossover. Looked tough, but wasn't even 4WD.

What do you do if you want to cash in on the SUV trend started by Range Rover in the 1970s, but don't have the technology or funds to get it? Just rope in Matra to make you something that looks like one and call it a day. Well, at least that's what you do if you are French company Simca.

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The Matra-Simca Rancho had no 4WD system whatsoever and was based on the Simca 1100 (think of a French Austin Maxi), but it did look the part, even boasting a stepped roofline a decade before the Defender appeared. In fact it could arguably be said to have been several decades ahead of the play, with its car underpinnings hidden by a raised ride height and plastic exterior cladding, much in the way modern crossovers do.

Citroen Mehari

Looks like fun, but the Citroen Mehari was also highly capable off-road thanks to its light weight.
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Looks like fun, but the Citroen Mehari was also highly capable off-road thanks to its light weight.

Based on the Citroen Dyane 6 - the successor to the 2CV - the Mehari didn't boast the twin-engine set up of its ancestor, but was actually available with a proper 4WD system. A plastic body and diminutive size meant that the Mehari was brilliant off-road, even in FWD form, and was used by the French military for a number of years.

Only around 1300 4WD Meharis were even built and it is now considered quite collectable, although transmission parts are apparently "virtually unobtainable", which could be a problem.

Peugeot 505 Break Dangel 4x4

Move over Subaru Outback: legendary Peugeot 505 Break became even more legendary in SUV guise.
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Move over Subaru Outback: legendary Peugeot 505 Break became even more legendary in SUV guise.

The Peugeot 505 is a legendary and much loved car. The Break is the wagon version. Dangel is a French company that has for many years built 4WD versions of Citroen and Peugeot vehicles. So you know where this is going.

While the likes of Subaru and Audi may play around with raised up versions of their wagons with a bit of exterior cladding slapped on and call them SUVs, Dangel went all the way with its 4WD version of the legendary Peugeot 505 wagon. The 4WD system was designed by Peugeot and Dangel for the 504 pick up (and was used in a wagon version of the 504): it packed a serious 220mm of ground clearance. It was legendarily tough and could go almost anywhere.

 - Stuff

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