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Retro

Top Gear’s Top 9: forgotten French luxo barges

The new DS 9 serves up the perfect excuse to revisit forgotten French fancies

  1. Renault Rambler

    The ultimate forgotten Frenchie, mainly because it was actually American. Yep, Renault needed to plug a gap at the top of its range in the 1960s and was already in a cooperation agreement with AMC, so it decided to stick its badges on a big American saloon.

    AMC Rambler Classics were shipped over to Belgium in parts and stuck back together at Renault’s Haren factory. The Rambler was on sale in Europe for five years, but was - perhaps understandably - a bit of a flop. 

    Image: RM Sotheby’s

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  2. Facel Vega Excellence

    We know you remember the Facel Vega – the glorious French coupe with a Chrysler V8 at its heart - but how often does the brilliantly-named four-door Excellence pop into your subconscious? Our guess is not very often, unless you’re really weird.

    Facel built 137 examples of the pre-facelift Excellence, which got suicide doors, a wraparound windscreen and almost 350bhp. Not bad for the late 1950s.

    Image: Bonhams

  3. Renault Safrane

    Unveiled in 1992, the Safrane was Renault’s most luxurious model until it was taken off sale in 2000. It didn’t look much different to the contemporary Laguna and sales were slow outside of France. There was a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 version with all-wheel drive, though, so it wasn’t all bad…

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  4. Peugeot 205 Gentry

    Hardly a barge, we know, but main French manufacturers have a habit of attemping luxury hatchbacks too. Think the Renault 5 Monaco, the Renault Clio Baccara and the Peugeot 205 and 206 Roland Garros editions. 

    Our favourite has to be the 205 Gentry, though. Available in either gold or green, the Gentry was given a full leather interior to go with its de-tuned 1.9 GTI engine and four-speed automatic gearbox. 

  5. DS 5

    Initially launched as the Citroen DS5, this odd crossover-cum-hatchback was supposed to be a BMW 3 Series rival. It became the DS space 5 in 2015 as Citroen sent its posh sub-brand off on a voyage of its own, but was culled just a few years later. Probably a decent second-hand bargain, if the old adage of large French cars and depreciation still rings true. 

  6. Bugatti 16C Galibier

    Does it get more luxo barge than the Galibier? We’re still seething that it never made production. What could be better than a luxury limo with four-wheel drive and a twin-supercharged version of the Veyron’s 8.0-litre W16 engine? Plus, with that aforementioned depreciation we’d probably be able to afford one in 3,984 years' time…

    And yes, for the purposes of this list at least, it is French.

  7. Renault Vel Satis

    Referred to as the inspiration for the Galibier (by absolutely nobody), the Vel Satis straddled the questionable boundary between MPV and executive saloon. It launched around the same time as the significantly more interesting two-door Avantime, but only one has since gained cult classic status. No prizes for guessing which.

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  8. Citroen XM

    Designed by Bertone and fitted with Citroen’s self-levelling, electronically controlled hydropneumatic suspension, the XM was clever but ultimately forgettable compared to its predecessors, the CX and the DS. A 1994 facelift meant it hung on until the year 2000, but sales collapsed towards the end of its life. 

  9. Renault 25 V6 Turbo

    We couldn’t finish on anything other than a front-wheel-drive saloon fitted with a turbocharged V6, could we? The 2.5-litre unit in the 25 Turbo was producing a whole 202bhp by the time it was taken off sale in 1992 as the Safrane stepped in.

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