1980s / 1990s / BMW / Citroen / French / German / Honda / Japanese / Peugeot / Renault

Racing: Hot-rodded economy cars duke it out in the Alps

Economy cars normally lead miserable lives. Most are quickly shunned by motorists in the market for a used car because they’re too basic, unappealingly outdated, or both, and they’re often rejected by image-conscious collectors. They’re on the front lines whenever a government official decides a round of cash-for-clunkers is in order, and the ones that survive get gradually driven into the ground by owners number six through eight. These cars are mass produced and mass destroyed. It ain’t pretty.

But, a handful of the luckier ones leave the hustle and bustle of daily commuting to become semi-professional athletes. You won’t see these cars on television, exploited as pawns on a broader economic chessboard. They’re owned, maintained, and raced by enthusiasts who compete as a hobby. They’re in it for the thrills, not for the money, and a Peugeot 205 is a helluvalot cheaper to race in than a Porsche 911 GT3. To be fair, most of the ones racing started life as high-zoot models; GTi, Williams, VTS, and 16s are common emblems on the hill climb circuit.

Small, regional hill climb events and rallies are common throughout most of Europe. While I’m not dedicated enough to hit each date on the calendar, I always make it a point to attend the Barcelonnette hill climb held annually in the lower part of the French Alps. It’s close to my house, it’s in a gorgeous part of the country, and there is always a wide variety of cars to check out. Hatchbacks from the 1980s and the 1990s are a dime a dozen, but some racers line up on the starting grid in older BMW E36s, heavily modified Simca 1000s that have been racing for decades, and near-stock vintage cars. Check out some of the cars from this year’s race below.

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