Bought on impulse, and without test or trial from a chap from the Internet, life with my 2003 Matra-built Renault Avantime is already interesting. I’d had good vibes about the Avantime since driving it back from Scotland after buying it.
The engine – a 2.0-litre 16-valve turbo shared with various hot Clios and Méganes – is smooth, there are no undue noises from the suspension, and all the electrics work as they should. And that includes the wonderful system that allows you to open the roof and drop all the windows at the single touch of a button.
The opportunity to take the Avantime for a run to the South of France presented itself just days after picking it up – the perfect opportunity to unwind for a few days, to see how the car stacks up on a longer run, and to take it back to Espace Automobiles Matra museum, based at the factory it was originally made, in Romorantan-Lanthenay. I’d visited the place back in 2006, and promised to make a return to the Loire Valley site, armed with a car built there.
I’d hoped at the time that car might have been a Rancho or a Murena. But after a quick check-over, the Avantime’s oil and filter were still fresh, its plugs nice and new, and the belts had all recently been replaced. All that concerned me, was the air conditioning wasn’t cold. I popped in to my classic-friendly air conditioning gurus, Bee Cool, who recomissioned the system, refilled it, and had me on my way at the drop of a hat.
A day later, and we’re boarding the P&O Spirit of France, once again looking forward to a few days on France’s open roads, populated by people who understand lane discipline and overtaking. Bliss. I had originally decided to take a couple of days to get down to Puisserguier near Carcassonne, but such was the comfort and effortlessness of the Avantime – even through Central Paris – that at each point I would have normally considered stopping, I was happy to carry on. By the time I’d reached the Millau Viaduct, I knew I was going to complete my 700-mile journey down from Dover in one shot. Not bad at all.
And that included a 120-mile diversion to Seneffe in order to collect the keys to the Chateau were were staying in!
I had a couple of cameraphone moments on the autoroute, and three random comments (all favourable) from people at the services who stopped to stare. That’s more than I get with my Lancia Delta Integrale.
In the end, we spent a few days in the Languedoc in my mate Alexander’s place enjoying 20-degree days, cloudless skies, beautiful medieval villages and endless rolling vineyards. We took the Avantime to the beach at the Mediterranean, where it felt utterly at home on the Promenade with the windows down and the roof back. We also also took the opportunity to run it into Spain, where the newly-working air-conditioning came into its own. And again, while we were taking pictures at the border, a friendly looking chap came up to us, and started telling us how ‘cool’ the Avantime was. That made me smile.
During our 2000-mile week, the Avantime never missed a beat, and for the first time in a while, I came away from an extended run in one of my impulse buys telling myself it’s a keeper. How do I know? The fact that the faults I’ve picked up on are ones that I’m keen to fix.
Those problems are a clang from the glass roof whenever the car runs over a sharp ridge, and a heavy clutch, which I guess means it’s coming to the end of its life.
But the highlight of our trip was the trip to Romorantan-Lanthenay. Despite arriving during a national holiday, the museum was open, and teeming with visitors. After chatting up the lady on the front desk (who thought my accent was ‘cute’ – which I guess means ‘rubbish’), we managed to get the car right outside the front for a return-home image. That made me very happy indeed.
But what made me happier was the meeting of the French Citroën Visa and LN Club in the car park. They’d formed after being disowned by the French Citroen Car Club, and have a strong and enthusiastic membership. I was all over their Visas, LNs, Talbot Sambas and Peugeot 104s – and within seconds was being whisked around this small Loire Valley town in a two-cylinder LN.
It’s that spirit that sums up us classic car fans – we love ‘em so much, we don’t mind taking rides from strangers. Back home, and counting up the miles, I’ve done more in three weeks in the Avantime than I have in three years in my Integrale. Time for a service – let’s hope the parts supply is good.