Recently I came across a lovely camper van parked up at the side of the road at Fressin in the Pas-de-Calais. I took a picture as I was so impressed with its retro lines and style and then I put it on Facebook. I said I know its a bit anorak of me (geeky!) but I really like it even though I have no idea what it is. For some reason this van seems to touch a chord with lots of people – several hundred people looked at it and there were lots of comments – all in favour.
A French icon
As to what type of van it is – back came the answer from a knowleadgeable French man called Frédéric. “Its a Renault Estafette and it used to be a Gendarmes car in the ’60’s”. Well that was it, I had to check this out because it doesn’t look like any cop car I’ve ever seen before and it seems I have stumbled onto a French icon!
Launched in June 1959 the new van was to be called the Estafette from the Italian word Staffetta – Courier or Messenger. It was also known as Le Cheval – the horse. It was Renault’s first front wheel drive van – in its day a technical revolution. There were different types of Estafette including a minibus version with removable seats that could convert to a camper van and a chassis-cab version. Renault produced the van in glossy vibrant colours – orange, yellow, blue. It was eye catching and versatile and became a bit hit.
A van for all seasons
It was immensely popular in the 1950’2/60’s. People used them as a mobile shop for deliveries and at markets. Its other big draw was the fact that a man could stand inside. Unusual in those days in a smaller van like this… And my French friend on Facebook was right. The gendarmerie did use this handsome little van in the ‘60’s. In fact they were used by the 1963 Tour de France French National Gendarmerie security team and followed the race!
Eventually production moved on to the next model and the Estafette was replaced by the Renault Traffic.
The Renault Estafette seems to have never lost its popularity and there are plenty of fan clubs dedicated to it. Apparently 530,000 were built between 1959 and 1980. Although many Estafettes have disappeared over the years fans keep those that are left going with great care and love. It’s easy to see why – as one Facebook friend said these little vans are so cool!A bientôt Janine