Living With a Z3 - in France! (BMWCC Mag)

Discussions on better road driving, advanced courses and the like

Moderator: Gazza

Post Reply


Living With a Z3 - in France! (BMWCC Mag)

Post by Guest » Fri 09 Nov, 2007 17:17

Although we do not have a 'Touring' forum, I thought people may be interested in my experiences of living in France with the Red Zed - this was originally published in the BMW Car Club magazine.


When we decided to live in France, most people expressed surprise that we planned to take our right-hand drive cars with us. As long-term Francophiles we had thirty-five years’ experience of driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, and knew that even in overtaking situations there were few problems. So it was that our well-loved cars – Heather’s AMD-modified Golf TDI and my 2.8 litre Z3 – found themselves in the Dordogne valley.

Registering the cars in France posed no real problems, being a matter of fitting RH dip headlamps and assembling the requisite paperwork. As UK-registered vehicles they were not liable to French TVA (VAT), and their EU Type Approval was of course accepted. The Contrôle Technique (French MoT test) was passed easily, and a Numero d’ Immatriculation allocated. The French do not have such a thing as ‘Cherished’ numbers – one takes what one is given.

Insurance was a problem for both of us, although the basic premiums were about the same. The French grant a no claims bonus of 5% per year, and one must supply documentary evidence proving 13 consecutive years of claim-free driving for the maximum of 65% . Otherwise, one can only have a NCB appropriate to one’s current insurer. Unlike the British, most French drivers stay with the same insurer throughout their driving career, making this very easy.

If insurance cost us more, at least we compensated for it by not having to pay any form of annual vehicle tax. Such tax was introduced in about 1950, the revenue being used to fund allowances for those injured or widowed etc. during the war. With the advent of the EU it was realised that to raise money for one purpose, while using it for another, was contrary to the Treaty of Rome, and Vehicle Tax was abolished. Now you know why the UK’s Road Fund Tax was hastily renamed as Vehicle Excise Duty!

Fuel, of course, is cheaper than in the UK, and even now (August 2006) a litre of Super Unleaded costs about 1.33 Euro, or 88 p, while diesel works out at 1.10 Euro, or 72 p. True, prices sometimes go up, but they also come down again.

France is not, of course, as large a market for BMW as the UK, and dealers are more widely spread. One must therefore obtain any necessary parts before starting work, bearing in mind that our ‘local’ dealer is some fifty miles away in Perigeaux, and that there are no German & Swedish agents. I therefore buy many items during visits the UK, or via the German & Swedish on-line shop.

France has an ‘Official’ BMW Club, le BMW Club de France, which strangely enough for an ‘Official’ club, restricts membership to those whose cars are over twenty-five years old! This discriminatory attitude has produced several unofficial clubs, with some, such as le Z Club de France, and le Z3 Club de France, competing for members. That BMW Club Europa permits such discrimination by an ‘Official’ club is amazing.

The French government seems to have the refreshing attitude that cars are a social necessity, not an evil. Although the government does not have a large income from motorists, the quality of roads has continued to improve – except in 50 kph (30 mph) zones, where often-hideous surfaces are used as a form of speed limiting!

When driving across France on minor roads in the Z3 it is not unusual to be stopped every few days by the Gendarmerie for what purports to be a ‘Your papers please’ check – it is compulsory to carry your licence, registration document, insurance and Contrôle Technique certificates. While examining my documents, the Gendarmes slowly walk around the car, and are actually looking for signs of a laser/radar detector or a laser jamming device, possession of either resulting in a large fine and confiscation.

So what is it like to drive throughout the year in southern France? In a word – fun! Here in the heart of the Dordogne, even a trip to our local supermarket is an enjoyable drive over usually deserted roads. Compared to the UK, driving in France still gives me a feeling of liberation, with sensible speed limits, interesting roads, and freedom from the institutional obsession with speeding, represented by signs, cameras, speed humps, and policemen giving one the evil eye from a lay-by.

Many people are concerned about the risks of overtaking while seated on the ‘wrong’ side of the car, but such risks can be considerably reduced by simply keeping plenty of space between your car and the next vehicle. This improves forward vision to the left, and also permits use of the right-hand driving position to often gain a good view up the inside of the vehicle in front.

Driving on the right-hand-side of the road means that most traffic approaches from the left, such as at roundabouts. The standard BMW rear view mirror is not only over-large, but is suspended directly in the driver’s line of sight to the left, producing a real hazard when driving a UK car on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.

I therefore made a new interior mirror for the Z3, mounted high on the screen frame, so improving the view through the screen (particularly to the left) and also to the rear over the top of the roll-over bars. It is based on a convex ‘clip on’ interior mirror, which provides a continuous view past the driver’s left ear to the right-hand kerb, into the distance behind, and around the car up to the rear of the passenger door.

Even so, one can never overtake at the drop of hat as do many of the French, but few sensible drivers would wish to! Before the road clears, the driver behind will often pull out, trying to box you in, but with anticipation, a powerful car, and a sensibly large gap to the next vehicle – one can always ‘beat them to the draw.’

The other drivers are usually quick and competent, even if of advanced years, but can sometimes decide to overtake in – well – odd places! Perception of risks is an unknown art, but in potentially dangerous circumstances the level of co-operation and lack of drama is something UK drivers should try to emulate. Strangely enough, when on the road the British – traditionally famed for good manners – are far more emotional and aggressive than the French.

One bad habit exhibited by the motoring French is ‘le tailgating’ which is now a serious offence. In a country where driving licences last for life, I suspect that many drivers are very short-sighted, such as the elderly gentleman who stayed glued to the tail of the Z3, refusing all opportunities to overtake. Tiring of his presence, I indicated and pulled into a lay-by. He also pulled in, and stopped behind me, then leant on the horn in objection to my stopping! When I pointed to the ‘P’ for parking sign I had the distinct impression that he could not see it!

While driving one meets a wide range of vehicles, ranging from the very latest to the oldest, for while winters in the Dordogne are severe, salting of our roads is almost unknown. We therefore often meet sound but ancient models of Renault 4 and Citröen 2CV etc, which are usually driven until worn out, rather than being corroded from within as in the UK. We even see good examples of the Metro . . .

During the warmer months the screen rapidly becomes obstructed by dead insects, some of which are quite massive. I always carry a Tupperware box, filled with a mixture of water and ‘Squeegee Off’ window cleaning gel (from B&Q stores) which I have found to be the best answer to this problem. A thorough clean every couple of hours gets one out of the car, although it is always comfortable. Even after a 600-mile day we can spring from the Z3’s pimply leather seats without stiffness.

Another aid to our summer well-being is the use of air conditioning when the roof is down, providing us with protection against summer temperatures of 40°C or more, and also helping to keep our supply of mineral water cool for the next stop. Regular rehydration is essential when driving an open car in such conditions, as is the use of a hat and a loose, long-sleeved shirt to ward off sunburn.

If driving in France is a pleasure, doing so in the Z3 provides a bonus, for it is viewed with admiration, as an unusual car which – if fitted with a diesel engine – many younger people would aspire to. Perhaps BMW will one day have the courage to introduce such a model.

The reaction of other drivers to the Z3 is either respectful hesitation, or a demonic urge to overtake it – anywhere – in order to prove the superiority of their old Renault Clio etc. There are few dull moments, particularly on downhill mountain roads, where most drivers seem to think they are competing in the Monte Carlo Rally!

Long runs across France in the Red Zed are always fun, and by using a mixture of autoroute and ‘D’ roads we are seldom trapped in the weary convoys which are now such a part of the UK motoring scene. When one does meet a column of cars, there is no problem in overtaking them one or two at a time, for unlike the UK, it is regarded as normal practice, and does not result in gaps being closed and the general attitude that overtaking is some kind of mortal sin.

Most of les autoroutes are toll roads, but driving on them is a pleasure, while those of Britain are so bad that the government should pay us to use them! Driving solo in a right-hand drive car can be a problem on the Peage sections of the autoroute system, but it is not a major concern. While getting out to collect one’s ticket at the beginning of each section causes a delay, one’s situation is clear to the other drivers, and a cheery wave helps matters.

I always pay by le plastique, and have a secret weapon to smooth my way through the toll booths, in the form of a long stick with a bulldog clip fixed to its end. This clip holds my credit card and the current peage ticket, it then only being necessary to poke it towards the toll booth, where it invariably provokes some laughter, but works well. When the roof is up, as it emerges from the window it must look like some type of artificial arm . . .

Do I miss the UK? Not really – as one who enjoys driving there is no contest, not to mention the many other advantages of living in France, such as the ability to leave the roof down throughout the summer. In fact, the only problem I encounter after living in France is that as soon as I leave the ferry at Dover I want to go back!
You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.
Last edited by Guest on Sat 10 Nov, 2007 16:15, edited 4 times in total.

User avatar
Joined: Mon 01 Jan, 2007 21:25
Posts: 485

  Z3 roadster 1.9
Location: Ceredigion

Post by icarus » Fri 09 Nov, 2007 18:31

A really great read Mike. Enjoyable and entertaining. I can't wait to try it out for myself.

Thanks for taking the time and trouble.


User avatar
Joined: Thu 19 Aug, 2004 17:50
Posts: 4032

  M roadster S50

Post by c_w » Fri 09 Nov, 2007 19:17

lol @ the artficial arm :D have you tried a "helping hand" designed for elderly people?

I have a lot of memories of driving through France camping when I was younger with my parents in the 80s, one of the clearet memories is that at that time it seemed about 99% of all the cars were French (Renault 4s, 2CVs, CXs everywhere) but when I've breifly visited France more recently it seems there's a lot more German and italian cars on the roads.




Post by Guest » Sat 10 Nov, 2007 15:08

French motorists had a dalliance with the Japanese during the 'seventies, but they were obviously found wanting (in spite of having a cheap radio as standard!) and soon vanished. The French are more demanding than British drivers.

VW and Volvo are not unusual, and Alfas are rare down here, most cars now being home-grown by Renault, Citroen, and Peugot. On the heavy truck side, Renault are the truck of favour, with a few Mercedes.

One aspect of French motoring I forgot to mention is that of the odd little cars which beetle along at 30 mph, and are obviously powered by a recycled single-cylinder diesel from an old cement mixer! Due to their low speed, a driving licence is not required, so they are very popular with those who have lost their licences due to drunken driving etc! Needless to say, avoid these cars like le plague!

User avatar
Joined: Sat 26 Feb, 2005 15:13
Posts: 674

  Z3 roadster 2.8 supe
Location: Pays de la Loire

Post by topfuelking » Sun 30 Mar, 2008 21:46

just what i needed mike looks like i will take the z to live in france then
looking for a carp fishing hoilday we can help


1. You get excited when it's cold outside.
2. You fill up every three days.
3. The size of your grin is directly proportional to the amount of boost you’re on.

Joined: Sat 01 Sep, 2007 19:03
Posts: 148

  Z3 roadster 1.9
Location: south staffs

Post by srvz3 » Mon 31 Mar, 2008 12:43

hi mike
nice article, it concurrs with my experience of touring france for the last two years, great roads, fun to drive, when you get off the ferry in dover for your return trip it really hits you how overcrouded our roads are, i always want to turn around and get straight back on the ferry.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest