Every third weekend of March many car enthousiasts gather at the Salon Champenois in Reims, France. This year celebrating its thirtieth birthday.
The rolling landscape approaching Champaign capital Reims extends barren and desolate up to where the real Champaign area begins, where the bare vines are lined up willingly. A blue sky and a mild spring sun heralding things to come. As a metaphor for the zingy freshness of the most famous local produce. At the outskirts of the city renown Champaign houses follow one by one. For now we leave them where they are, continuing our journey to our final destination: The Salon Champenois du Véhicule de Collection. For thirty years this is the place where classic car enthousiasts from Northern France and far beyond gather to shake of the cobwebs of winter to celebrate a new season of events and meetings.
As so often the Reims Expo is situated amidst an anonymous industrial estate outside the city centre. Visitors that did manage to free their classics from their winter hideout in time, will find a parking spot on the grounds in front of the Expo, so we remember from previous visits. This time we park our car aside the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne, where the locals are having their Sunday run along the towing path. As regular visitors of the event, by now we know what to expect. Still the outright hallucinating combination of hundreds of parked classics, the enormous outside market in front of the Expo offering an immense amount of (used) parts and the three large halls where, besides even more market stalls, every self respecting French classic car club has erected a magnificent stand, remains overwhelming.
Enjoying all this automobile diversity instantly awakens the virus. Making us want to widely open the barn doors at home. Put aside al the excuses and start enjoying. But for now we are here in Reims, wandering through a streetscape so much more charming than what we are used to today. Prowling through the overwhelming amount of parts, curiosa and everything related on offer. It is simply too much. We just never managed to get our focus her in Reims. To find just that what we need. We gave up years ago, we’re just here for the atmosphere, the experience and the ultimate feeling of spring the Salon Champenois offers us every time.
Reluctantly we exchange the sunlit market for the first of the three halls. We work ourselves through even more stalls toward the first club stands, where, like every year, the clubs go a long way to depict the central theme. The thirtieth birthday of the Salon itself as a reason for the many individual parties that can be celebrated within a make, model or club itself. And celebrating is something the French know how to do, we’re aware of that. Many of the clubs invite their guests to a Champaign lunch, one even more abundant than the last. For the ‘ordinary’ visitor this sometimes creates a bit of a distance, but it’s fairly easy to understand the solidarity of the whole thing.
Once outside again we subject ourselves to the March sun, the sour smell of chip pans that are having a hard time to cope and a fresh beverage. One last round along the grounds, one last breath of the ultimate combination of stale barn and attic aroma mixed with fresh spring air. Driving along the canal we decide, not all that unexpectedly, that the motorway is not an option for the drive home. Next time we should really make a weekend of it, like so many do. Visit the city, the Champaign houses, the parks. Reims, like the Salon Champenois, offers an abundance one would just love to drown in.
Marc GF Zaan, Wigbert Steenbeek