Iconic Beach Cars

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As many return from overseas holidays, stay-cations and City breaks I wanted to send a “wish you were here” digital postcard – also my 300th Aestheticons post – from a wonderful visit to France’s Cote d’Azur, more particularly, the iconic French beach-side town of St Tropez with it’s simply beautiful pastel shaded port.

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Fame was assured for this picturesque coastal town when the 1950’s French actress, Brigitte Bardot, born in 1934 and still a local resident at Baie des Canebiers, featured in the 1956 Roger Vadim directed and ground breaking “And God Created Woman” (“Et Dieu Crea la Femme”). Mdme. Bardot’s impact on the region has been honored by local baker “Senequier” who in 1956 launched the delicious “La Tarte Tropezienne”, a delicate almond cream filled brioche topped with powdered icing sugar and chopped pistachio.

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Shot on location in and around St Tropez the film also provided a springboard for the world renowned beach club/restaurant “Club 55” that was founded from a dilapidated beach shack by the parents of current owner, Patrice de Colmont, who provided food for the cast and crew of filmmakers. Rumored to have recently been offered €30m for his iconic beach club M Colmont is understood to have politely turned down the offer as he preferred not to become one of his clients eating the signature dish of “Panier des Crudites” with anchoiade mayonnaise!

The town’s along this stretch of the Cote D’Azur are each rather distinct and have their own style. The beach is never far from people’s minds as they negotiate, sometimes to the frustration of the locals, the summertime traffic of fellow tourists.

Naturally in this style capital it is vital to get your beach or port transport right. For those not seeking to impress in the vast array of American muscle cars that are to be spotted in many locations, my preference is to celebrate the more quirky and classic vehicles.

Aestheticons readers will already know of my passion for the GRP bodied Citroen Mehari – see our previous post here – Citroën Méhari – A reliable French classic that is patriotically supported and really enjoyed in St Tropez and its surrounding villages.

The Mini Moke, which has the look of a vehicle that was designed for the breeze of the Cote D’Azur, is a very popular ride either to the beach or to park up alongside a visiting boat transporting provisions for a day at sea. For the the right clients it is possible to rent one of these wonderful and iconic cars for your stay. See our previous posts here – Mini Moke Goes Electric .

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Closer to the original Mini, I have seen parked in Grimaldi Village, a beach version with wicker seats and no doors, called the “Austin Mini Beach”. It was very beautiful and, I understand, extremely valuable! See our previous post here celebrating the iconic Mini – Mini – the best selling car in Britain

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The third leaf of this Fleur de Lys of wonderful beach and port transport is the Ghia designed Fiat Jolly based on the equally iconic Fiat 500 – see our previous post here – Fiat 500 – 1957-2017

Seemingly one of the most valuable of these iconic beach cars price points of $100,000 have been mentioned for these basket weave seated, frilled canopied expressions of Italian style.

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Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis is said to have had and loved his Fiat Jolly.

In 2108 this charming little car celebrated its sixtieth anniversary and to coincide the guys at Fiat commissioned Garage Italia to produce a reimagined version of the Jolly, limited to 1958 editions, and called the Fiat Spiaggina.

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Image Credits – used with grateful thanks – Hemmings Car Auctions and Garage Italia/FIAT

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Philippe Starck

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Whilst a designer cannot be defined by one of their designs, Phillipe Starck’s “Juicy Salif” is definitive of an era when form and function were not mutually incompatible but certainly pushed boundaries. It’s designer has proved to be one of the most versatile and influential on an entire generation – or two – of consumers.

As many readers will know, I used to live and work in Paris in the early 1980’s for an international law firm housed on the Champs Elysees. I was intoxicated by Paris but it was not all Pastis and Gitanes. I knew of the young Parisien designer, Phillipe Starck, who had been appointed as Art Director to the furniture business of the House of Pierre Cardin, a client of the firms, but couldn’t have anticipated his impact on my World.

Starck was born 18th January 1949, after studying at the prestigious product and interior design École Camondo on Paris’ Left Bank, he worked for Adidas and founded his own design business Starck Design/Ubik. This led to his work with Alessi – see our previous post on the power house of Italian Design  – Alessi Bollitore kettle  in 1990, Starck designed the Juicy Salif for Alessi.

It is said that the idea came to Starck whilst having lunch on the Amalfi coast. He realised that his plate of calamari hadn’t been dressed by lemon juice and had an idea. He scribbled some thoughts onto a napkin that is now preserved at the Alessi Museum. Some say that the Juicy Salif is a triumph of form over function in that it’s said it doesn’t work that well …. for Starck, he is rumoured to have said: “It’s not meant to squeeze lemons, it is meant to start conversations.”

Early projects included the refurbishment of the interior of newly elected President Mitterand’s apartment at the Elysee Palace, followed by the interior design of the iconic Cafe Costes in Paris in 1984, for brothers Jean-Louis and Gilbert Costes, a design which included the now celebrated leather and bent-wood, Costes Chair.

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By the late 1980s Starck was designing environmentally sensitive buildings in Japan including the 1989 “Nani, Nani” and in 1990 the Asahi Beer Hall in Tokyo.

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The late 1990’s into the new Millenium saw Starck heavily involved in the revitalization of the hotel sector with signature projects in New York with Ian Shrager’s “Paramount”

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The Delano in Miami and in London, The Sanderson. The latter is sympathetically based in the Grade II listed 1950’s Reginald Uren’s designed building at 50, Berners Street, London W1 that until 1992 housed the showrooms of Arthur Sanderson’s fabric business deep in London’s Rag Trade area.

Starck interest in things nautical has led to commissions to design some of the world’s most stunning yachts including two “A” motor and sailing yachts for Russian Billionaire, Andrey Melnichenko.

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Starck’s more recent work has involved designing four e-bikes in partnership with Mousthache Bikes, customized to the environment of use including snow and sand….

and the Pibal cycle for the City of Bordeaux.
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UK TV viewers may recall the 2009 BBC2 series fronted by Starck “Design For Life” reality TV show. Over a number of weeks selected Design Students were encouraged – and sometimes railed on by the Gallic Starck – to revive an English passion for design. The weakest were iliminated and the winner was given a six month placement at Starck’s Paris office. Arriving on set with his wife riding pillion on his motor bike, Starck clearly engaged with a UK audience. A fluent English speaker, you were left wondering whether his elaborate pronunciation was part of an act. Excellent TV, but it didn’t make a second series.

Would you like to add a Juicy Salif to your kitchen? If so, click on the Amazon link below the image of the Juicy Salif

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Alessi Juicy Salif Citrus Juicer

Image Credits – with grateful thanks – Starck Network, Moustache Bikes and Alessi

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Jacques-Yves Cousteau

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If you ask anyone raised in Europe or the US between the 1960’s to 1980’s to name an iconic and impactful TV programme, I can assure you that for many the under water natural history films of Jacques Cousteau would rank very high on a not very long list.

From the curious French soundtrack of slightly strident strings, to the Gallic, faltering commentary – I can never hear the French pronouciation of the name “Philippe” (one of his four children) without thinking of Capt Cousteau – this was pioneering television at its best. It left such an impact on us, a Jacques-Yves Cousteau sized hole that I suspect David Attenborough fills, but who was Cousteau?

Born 11th June 1910, Cousteau, in 1930 studied at the École Navale in Brittany (West France) after graduation he joined the French Navy. His commission was brief curtailed by a car accident where he sustained breaks to both arms. In 1937 he married Simone, the mother of his first two sons, Jean-Michel and Phillipe, who both would accompany their father on subsequent adventures.

In the late 1930’s Jacques first used diving goggles and in 1943 he received an award for the first French underwater film, filmed on a pressurized camera, entitled “Par dix-huit mètres de fond“ (“18m Deep”). The same year Cousteau’s team made “Epaves” (“Shipwrecks”) – which resulted in his commission to establish the French Navy’s Underwater Research Group based in Toulon. During filming he using pro-type aqua-lungs incorporating the recently invented demand regulator.

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The resultant freedom of the Aqua-lung allowed his team to explore the depths of the oceans of the World and document them through a myriad of films. His first films from the late 1940’s were celebrated at the Cannes Film Festival in 1951 and his early adventures were captured in his book published in 1953 “The Silent World”.

In 1956, a film of entitled “The Silent World”, made with famed director Louis Malle won the Palm d’Or at Cannes and an Academy Award for the Best Documentary in 1957. The Rolex Submariner – Rolex – The Submariner – the first divers’ watch waterproof to a depth of 100 metres with a rotatable bezel showing the diver their immersion time, was featured prominently in his film which shows Cousteau wearing a pre-launch Submariner The Silent World – The Film

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Leaving the Navy in 1949 he founded in 1950 the French Oceanographic Campaign (FOC) and leased his trusty ship Calypso from its owner, for a symbolic one franc a year, and wealthy benefactor, Thomas Loel Guinness.

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The documentaries commissioned by US TV stations, “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau ran from 1966 to 1976 followed by a second series “The Cousteau Odyssey” from 1977 to 1982. Cousteau had spent time growing up living in the US so his English was excellent but he retained his Gallic accent that added much to the authenticity of his films.

In 1979, Phillipe – Cousteau’s favourite child – was sadly killed when a sea plane he was piloting crashed in Portugal.

Following Simone’s death in 1990, in 1991 Cousteau remarried, Francine, already the mother of his two other children. Cousteau died from a heart attack on 25th June 1997 and Francine continues her husband’s work as President of the Cousteau Foundation and Cousteau Society. The Museum in Monaco – where Cousteau was a Director from 1957 to 1988 – is well worth a visit.

In the early 1970’s, like many other teenagers I enjoyed snorkeling. The clear influence of Capt. Cousteau stimulated my interest to know more that resulted in my first steps to undertake the British Sub-Aqua Club’s training course that included pool and open water diving. For quite some time, prior to me realizing my future lay not in the sciences, in response to that irritating question from a friend of my parents, “What do you want to do?” my response was always “To be a Marime Biologist” – Merci Capt. Jacques!

A lasting tribute in Cousteau’s own words: “The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.”

Join Jacques Cousteau’s on his undersea adventures – by clicking the Amazon link below the image 

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Jacques Cousteau – The Ultimate Collection [DVD] [2007]

May be for those who are not yet ready for Capt. Cousteau’s Ultimate Collection and would – how do you say – like to put a toe in the water….the Undersea World of Jacque Cousteau must the finest starting point – click the Amazon link after the image 

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The Undersea World Of JACQUES COUSTEAU 6 DVD Box Set PAL

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Image credit – with grateful thanks – Globalfirstandfacts.com, The Cousteau Foundation, The Cousteau Society, ABC, NBC, Metromedia and Fred Muller II.

Citroën Méhari

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So we are bathed in sunshine, time to go to the beach?

I am fortunate to see the beach regularly and am often joined by those who have what they call a “beach car”. This is a vehicle with a particular attribute, namely you’d happily take it to the local shops, pack it out with provisions for a day in the sun but in truth you’d risk neither your nor your family’s safety on the open road or for any real distance.

The most alluring and iconic of all these beach cars is the variant to the Citroen 2CV, the Citroën Méhari. Designed by the illustrious Count Roland de la Poype, the boss of one of Citroën’s plastics suppliers, named after a dessert dwelling but fast camel and the North African equivalent of a cavalryman. The Citroën Méhari was built for twenty years with a production run starting in 1968 and numbering over 144,000 vehicles. A very good 4×4 drive version was made from 1979 to 1983 with a total of circa 1,300 vehicles were built.

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See the amazingly dated 1975 commercial for the Citroën Méhari here Citroen Mehari advert (1975)

Fellow Aestheticons readers will attest to my guilty pleasure that is the Citroën 2CV one of which we enjoyed as a family long before we became overly conscious of the weighty demands of Heath & Safety. We ran our Plums and Custard, “Dolly” around South London complete with large protective car seats for the kids. In truth, you wouldn’t stand much chance in a motorway pile-up but rattling over the sleeping policemen of Clapham, heading no further than Sainsbury’s in Sands End (Fulham, West London) you’d be ok.

See our earlier posts here Citroën 2CV and Citroën 2CV – Rick Stein “Long Weekend”

Interestingly, in the late 1960’s in the USA the Méhari was described as a “truck” thus escaping many US safety features that bugged European car designers in the era.

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Based on the Citroën Dyane 6 (a later and less attractive incarnation of the 2CV with much the same technology including the 602cc engine), a body made of ABS plastic (which faded over time with extended exposure to sunlight) virtually the same polymer as used to make Lego bricks and a “rag” roof and sides. I have always been amused by the rubber toggles used to secure the bonnet.

An amateur car restorers dream, the Méhari like the 2 CV’s are mechanically very simple and spare parts are readily available either new or from the many Citroen specialist breakers yards to be found along the Mediterranean coasts.

In September 2016, Citroen announced that they were re-imagining the Méhari with the E-Mehari, a battery operated version with a passing resemblance to the original. It launched under several banners but one “More Than Just a Beach Car” really appeals to me. With a 200 km range and a top speed of only 100 kph, my suspicion is that the hefty €24,000 price point (that doesn’t include the battery leasing arrangement) is likely to deter even the most determined Méhari fanatics.

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To remind you to build in “Beach Days” to your heavy schedule place this die-cast model of a Citroen Mehari in your office or Person Cave and its allure will make sure you give yourself some time off! Click the Amazon link below the image

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Norev 150922 1:43 Scale “1978 Citroen Mehari” Die Cast Model

Beach decisions include the T shirt to accompany your fine pair of Vilebrequin shorts – see our earlier post here on this iconic French original icon – Vilebrequin swimshorts

My suggestion must echo your taste for the slightly alternative – it would be uncool to wear a Mehari T shirt but this Motorolics Citroen 2CV T-shirt really does the job! Click the Amazon link below the image.

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Motorholics Mens Eat Sleep Citroen 2CV T-Shirt S – 5XL (2X-Large, Yellow)

If you get lucky enough to acquire a Citroen Mehari you will need a Haynes Manual to keep it in tip top condition. Based on the Dyane, the following Haynes Manual will be invaluable to the Mehari owner – please click the Amazon link below the image

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Citroen 2CV Owner’s Workshop Manual (Haynes Service and Repair Manuals) (2013-04-30)

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Photo Credits – with grateful thanks from Citroen, Hayne’s Manuals and Coy’s of Kensington

VéloSolex moped

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Increasingly dependent on getting from A to B as quickly as possible I have noticed a rise in commuters using electrically operated bicycles and small motorized scooters. They seem to offer limited comfort and even less protection for the rider who, for an inexplicable reason, think they have the power of a large Harley, BMW or Honda at their fingertips and get themselves into precarious positions on the road causing much frustration to others.

In a far gentler era the predecessor of these street demons was VéloSoleX or more frequently referred to as a Solex which was moped – or motorised bicycle – originally produced by Solex who were based in Paris (France) and founded by engineering friends, Maurice Goudard and Marcel Mennesson.

Designed by Mennesson during World War II, the Solex was produced between 1946 and 1988 in a variety of versions largely utilising the same technology of a motor with roller resting on and driving the front wheel of the bicycle.

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Being very competitively priced and hugely economical to run, the Soles was a massive success. In total it sold in excess of 7m units. In 1947 even BP created “Solexine”, a pre-mixed  oil and petrol mix for the Solex’s two stroke engine and sold in a 2L can. By the late 1940’s Solex was selling 100 units a day rising to 1500 a day by the mid-1960’s – when it was blessed with a new maximum – though limited – speed of 30 km.

The company now makes a range of electrically powered bicycles. An early version, designed by Pininfarina, was launched in 2005 as the E-Solex.

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By 2014 the Solexity Infinity was launched, again from the pen of Pininfarina – with capacity to travel up to 80 km on one charge – at the costs of around €2,000 – keeping the brand alive!

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As French as the Beret, Brie and Baguette, the Solex, a classic French icon of the mid-20th century, has a very special place in my psyche as I explored the opportunity in the 1980’s of importing them into the UK. It was perhaps my first brush with the ever increasing dominance of the words “Health & Safety” in our national idiom.

I was required to deliver details to the Ministry of Transport who after some consideration and lots of teeth sucking, decided that the fuel tank, which was then made of a reasonable durable plastic was too feeble to withstand any front-end impact and the risks of fire were too great.

Solex also commissioned various evocative advertising posters, which in their own right are increasingly collectable.

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For our French speaking friend’s – we know who you are – the equivalent of a an Owner’s Manual for a Vélosolex is a must – Le Guide du Vélosolex click the Amazon link below the image to get yours!

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Le guide du Vélosolex

Why not pick up a classic French VeloSolex enamel sign that will look at home in your Gite in La Gironde, on the wall of your Flat in Fulham or your Man-cave in Manchester! Click the AMAZON link below the image

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FRENCH VINTAGE METAL SIGN 40x30cm RETRO AD VELOSOLEX LE VRAI BICYCLESD2C56E9B-03F2-4C9E-AF3A-13C55668EEA2

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FRENCH VINTAGE METAL SIGN 40x30cm RETRO AD VELOSOLEX REFERENDUM 2

I love VeloSolex – and all this little motor cycle represents – you can too with this iconic T Shirt! Please click the Amazon link below the image 

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Velosolex Moped T-Shirt. Gents Ladies Kids Sizes. Bike Cycling France Motorcycle:X Large – 48″

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Photo Credits – with grateful thanks – Solex SA