Cars aren’t usually what initially springs to mind when you think of think of New Caledonia, the tiny collection of idyllic tropical Pacific islands situated 1,200km East of Australia. At the mere mention of the place any normal person would immediately visualise palm trees, azure blue oceans, grass skirts, ukelele’s and drinks with little umbrella’s in them. But Noumea is a city that hosts a round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship, so there’s gotta be at least a few gearheads about the place, right? With a rainy Thursday free to explore the city last week, I kept my eyes open for any automotive treasures I could chance upon.
Less than half an hour after arriving I stumbled upon probably the coolest thing I would see all day – this camouflaged Suzuki Jimny. With a replacement nudge bar, big mud tyres, flares and a snorkel intake it looked like the perfect tool to explore the tiny dirt roads and discover deserted tropical beaches.
The Jimny was pretty rough but what it lacked in polish it made up tenfold in charm, and it struck me that this is a vehicle perfectly suited to its location. I’m struggling to think of more appropriate transportation for this place, assuming a dash of fun is a requisite.
New Caledonia as we know it was settled by the French, in a similar way to how the English settled Australia. In the capital city of Nouméa the French influence is felt everywhere, and it’s easy to forget how close you are to Australia. French is the most commonly spoken language, the architecture is commonly Parisian and there are tons of simply incredible pâtisseries and boulangeries scattered about for connoisseurs of fine breads. However anyone with an inclination towards cars will no doubt notice the sheer number of Peugeot’s, Citroen’s and Renault’s getting about – more than half of cars on the road are French. Most of them are sacked out hunks of junk, but occasionally you can find something cool like this 205 GTI. The little details are interesting too, like how the automotive sections of the newsagents contain more single marque French car titles than you ever knew existed. I picked up an issue of a magazine devoted just to the Peugeot 205 for some friends back home.
Motorsport anoraks will of course know of the company started by racing driver Guy Ligier in 1968 in Vichy, smack in the middle of France. Their JS2 road car used the same Maserati V6 as the Citroen SM, and they competed at Le Mans from 1970 until 1975. Not only that, but they fielded a Formula One team from 1976 until 1996 whose highlights included running the famous Matra V12 in 1976 and winning a race in 1977 with Jacques Laffite.
So how did they fall from these dizzying heights to become the worlds second largest manufacturer of microcars and the largest manufacturer of drivers license exempt vehicles? I don’t know, I don’t even want to know. These things are only one step away from a gopher. It’s not even a case of another company buying the Ligier name – Guy Ligier’s son is still the CEO.
As it turns out Nouméa still is a place devoted to the art of Pacific Island living, outside of major events at least. And whilst palm trees, azure blue oceans, grass skirts, ukelele’s and drinks with little umbrella’s in them were the primary reason for Any Given Reason’s visit, it still pays to keep an eye out, right?
Words and photos by Andrew Coles