The fact that Classic Car Weekly ran a buying guide for the Avantime has no bearing on my decision to buy one of these bonkers millennial ‘coupes’ to serve as my main classic transport in the coming months. Well, okay, it might have egged me on a little, but the truth is that after months of looking, I’ve found a car that ticks all of my boxes, both for the grinding commute to Peterborough, and for hauling my beloved black Labrador, Tia, around in style and comfort.
And I guess that’s why when I started looking for a roomy wagon to replace the short-lived BMW 528i Touring, the modern classic Avantime popped up on my radar, and stubbornly remained there, bypassing all those rational Volvo and Mercedes-Benz shaped alternatives.
But really – why an Avantime? I’ve loved these cars since the moment I first clapped eyes on the concept at the Paris Motor Show back in 1999, and although the idea of a two-door, four-seat multi-purpose vehicle with pillarless doors and a sliding roof might seem completely illogical, I couldn’t help but find myself wanting one.
I’m also a massive fan of the innovative vehicle manufacturer, Matra, with the Baheera, Murena and Rancho especially, appearing on my desert island list of cars I need in my life.
Currently, unless I go for a MkIII Renault Espace, the easiest way into a Romorantin-Lanthenay-built car here in the UK is to buy an Avantime.
In a way, this magnificent vehicle is tinged with sadness for me, because although it was a groundbreaking design – a prototype crossover before they started making them – sales were disastrous, and it ended up being the final car made by Matra. And that’s because although the first three generations of Renault Espace were built by Matra (did you know the original Espace replaced the Rancho?) they’ve not survived too well – and, er, I don’t need a people carrier.
The most interesting part of my journey into Avantime ownership for me is how I bought the car – a perfect example of ‘do as I say and not what I do’. I spotted the car in an online advert, and messaged the owner, Glenn Chalmers, who lives in Troon, Scotland. The pictures of the car looked good, and I just wanted to see if the owner stacked up – so a quick search of his activity online soon had me find that he’s an ex-Rover SD1 owner, and a proper petrolhead.
One of us, then.
I dropped him another line, asking him to take a deposit, and that I’d collect the car – with the balance of cash – at the weekend following. I figured that as an SD1 and Avantime owner, living in one of my favourite parts of the world, the car was going to be fine. And that’s why, in the shadows of a setting sun at the end of a long, but lovely October day, I found myself shaking hands and exchanging documents with Glenn on a car that I’d yet to even sit behind the wheel of. On top of that, I now had a 400-mile drive home in a car, whose history I knew nothing about – heaven.
As it happened, other than having two near-illegal front tyres, and a rev counter that won’t light up, there was nothing to complain about on the journey down – and no faults to worry about. The 2.0-litre turbo four-pulled this lumpy ‘coupé’ along reasonably briskly and in near silence. And the long overnight drive down the M74 and M6 passed by dreamily quickly – by the time I arrived on my doorstep, some five-or-so hours later, I knew for sure that the oddball Matra and I are going to be very happy together. Fingers crossed.
Whether I’d feel like that in the cold light of day after a night’s sleep is open to debate.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.