A few years ago, I had already looked at the question of spotters, under the slightly provocative angle of their possible dangerousness. An unprecedented phenomenon in this year 2021 prompted me to take up my pen again to try to understand the possible consequences. For the past few months, the small world of Ile-de-France spotters has been meeting at Place Vauban, every Sunday morning. There is, however, absolutely no organization behind this rally, but it continues.
To fully understand and sweep aside the idea of a spontaneous generation, we have to go back a few years. Since 2016, the FFAC (French Federation of Citizen Motorists) has been organizing a militant rally “Les Bannies du 1er Juillet”. This event is declared in the Prefecture as it should be. The purpose of this gathering is to shed light on current and future traffic restrictions in large urban areas. To summarize the association's discourse: “the EPZs will expand, excluding a large number of vehicles from large traffic areas, will make the poorest people even more precarious, who cannot buy Crit'Air 1 and restrict their freedom. fundamental to circulate ”. Really, it's a little more than that, but it gives you a good idea.
Since 2016, the members met in the 7e arrondissement to exchange ideas, disseminate their ideas and make themselves visible. Place Vauban is a magnificent setting, a quiet area, little traffic and allows parking without inconvenience for the neighborhood. This was the occasion, of course, to come with his “banned” car. The curious were often present, with the hope of meeting a model that would be out of the ordinary. This is the first point of importance.
The Paris region is rich in beautiful collections, many enthusiasts live there, major automotive events take place there such as Retromobile or Art and Elegance. Yet few more routine gatherings have found their place. If the Cars and Coffee France was able to attempt the adventure, it is clear that the mayonnaise took little. Some editions have attracted very exclusive models. However, the location, out of the way and not very pleasing to the eye, may have put off fans over time. The gatherings ended up systematically bringing together the same people and the same cars, despite a quality organization. The Ile de France therefore does not have any major regular meetings. This is the second point of importance.
Finally, since 2020, we have been living under a somewhat particular traffic regime. If for 3 years, Place Vauban remained in a small circle of amateurs, the desire to enjoy life and its freedoms has been widely felt since. I plead guilty: my first visit was in May 2020, my second in October. If the FFAC speech can touch me, that was not the primary objective of my visits. During these visits, we were still in the original spirit. A few clues, however, could have put us and the organizers in our ears. Less vintage cars were starting to make an appearance, coming to park for a few hours around the central parterre. This is the third point of importance.
It was January 3 and especially 10, 2021 that everything changed.
On January 10, the weather was fine. France had recently emerged from second lockdown and a very special, rather gloomy end-of-year atmosphere. A week earlier, without a specific slogan having been issued, Place Vauban saw significantly more cars arrive than in the previous 4 years. These cars were also quite different from the first object, more focused on Youngtimers and Old Glories. The pistards entered town and the tuning pointed the tips of its unsightly fins. The following week, largely fueled by the social media buzz, there were many more people in Vauban.
The phenomenon has persisted, has grown. The FFAC tried through its usual media to dissociate itself, to call for restraint and to hammer home the initial meaning of this gathering, nothing helped. The machine was on. Between us, these calls struck me as a little pathetic. It would probably have been better to simply dissociate oneself from a spontaneous phenomenon. The FFAC would thus have avoided being potentially accused of acts for which it is in no way responsible while regretting having had its demonstration stolen.
The following weeks, Vauban saw dozens of cars and hundreds of curious people in a rather indescribable bazaar. We come back to my point in the article cited in the introduction: we were far from a respectful atmosphere. The cars parked in triplicate, the public crossed forgetting to be on a traffic lane, creating traffic jams and fears. The nuisances were obvious, especially for the neighborhood. Beyond the crowd, some drivers were there above all to parade in a total lack of taste. Between accelerations in the middle of the young people and breakers galore, we were quite far from the passion for cars as I see it but rather in that which is practiced in the Leclerc car park at the end of the night.
The police initially ended up evacuating all these little people several times. Then, in a much more organized way, she chose to arrive early and prevent any parking outside the regular parking spaces. Since then, the parade continues but in a completely different atmosphere.
Vauban, “good” or “good but”?
First evidence, we are in a state of health emergency, gatherings of more than 6 people on public roads are prohibited. Second evidence, gatherings on public roads must be declared at the prefecture. Third evidence, residents are not obliged to suffer from noise pollution every Sunday morning.
Vauban is a spontaneous movement, emerging from an organization that did not ask for anything and is in no way responsible for its development. The FFAC has widely called not to come, of which act. We have to believe that the Parisians needed this space to enjoy their passion. Many got out of the car and then went for a ride in the Chevreuse valley, the temple of the Ile-de-France ballad. Some have noticed several merchants who have come for small tours with their stock, gaining additional visibility for their activity. We have seen very rare and beautiful cars, the highlight having been the passage of the very young instagramer fanchracing with his McLaren F1 and Chiron Pur Sport. A real treat.
Unfortunately, we have also seen many, but really many, young enthusiasts whose first instinct was to point their smartphone in portrait mode to broadcast Reels or Story as quickly as possible on the networks. Crowd movements, in defiance of all reason, were dangerous. Too many drivers have been seen parading their far too modified cars, believing that exhaust noise is the alpha and omega of the automobile.
So Vauban, that's good, but in a format it is about keeping. Since the police reign in the square, some of the participants have disappeared. Most of the tuning merguez found their garage and part of the public followed them. The traffic is fluid, the groups are smaller and more disciplined and the owners are always there. Vauban has transformed himself into a simple crossing point for the Sunday morning walk. Some stop in the adjacent streets for a few moments. Others make several passes while most of them are driving quietly, being admired by the spotters present. Finished the big one
To conclude, I think Vauban has found a certain balance. However, this balance is precarious and depends on several factors. The first and most important is the behavior of everyone who goes to see cars. My main fear is here. The second will be weariness. In the absence of a precise objective, it is quite likely that the owners will end up getting tired of making a detour through the 7th arrondissement. The flow could dry up and let the FFAC set up its demonstration, still suspended.
It is clear that to this day, the phenomenon still holds and I am delighted. In a city whose politics exude contempt for motorists and even more so for those who love the automobile, it is refreshing to see that spontaneity can create something positive.
Credit photos: myself