French Cars, Yoyo’s and Chinese Burns

Did you go crazy for the crazes at your school? of course you did. Growing up in the 1970’s my school went through plenty of crazes, and I became obsessed with most if not all of them as they swept across the playground. Silly Putty was a strange silicon blob that came in a small egg-shaped pot which shut airtight with a satisfying click. This pink rubbery stuff performed no practical function, but could be moulded into shapes or rolled into a ball and bounced. What’s more it could be flattened out then folded and crimped around the edges with your fingers to trap a bubble of air. Squeezing the resultant putty pasty brought an even more pleasing loudSillyPutty2 ‘crack’ as the bubble burst free. If this wasn’t enough excitement, pressing a dollop onto Dad’s Daily Express would peel off a proportion of the newsprint to reveal an exact reverse image on the stuff. Hurrah! You could even squish it against your teeth to produce an exact, if inverse impression of your dental status. All of these wonderful properties had us 8-year-olds gripped, and the local shop ran out of stock in no time and received a massive re-order just in time for our school to ban it when Michael Crump forced another kid to eat his own Silly Putty. School rumour had it that he poohed pink for days.

Next to come in were yo-yos. All the cool kids got them and were soon ‘walking the dog’, going ‘around the world’ and performing ‘the creeper’ with their bright Lumar plastic yoyos. I was not a cool kid. No, it’s true. Mum bought me a plain wooden one from a craft fair. It was appallingly not a Lumar and was lumar yoyobarely able to ride up and down let alone do tricks. Having been laughed at and jostled at school all day because of its naffness, I never took it in a second time. Over the following weeks, I saved up my pocket money then took it to the local shop one glorious Saturday to buy a beautiful, fashionable Lumar. They had run out because of excessive demand, but told me they’d ordered a whole lot more if I cared to come back the next week. I never did: the following Tuesday Michael Crump used his Lumar to clout Brian Barrington on the head and so they were banned.

At some point, the harder kids in my year came in with chocolate cigarettes. They looked just like the real thing in neat card packets, each delicious stick wrapped in rice paper printed with a filter tip. I saw a large box full of these cartons in the local shop. Mum said she wouldn’t buy me any as, ‘they send out the wrong message’. Our headmaster agreed, and banned them having confiscated 5 packets from Michael Crump, after catching him flogging them to younger kids at the school gate.

Chinese burns was a short-lived fad before the craze came that I could really handle, even thrive in. Top Trumps had the ideal mix for me of coolness, collectability and nerdiness. These were decks of 32 cards, each pack based from a range of subjects aimed at the time at teenaged boys: motor bikes, tanks, racing cars and the like. Every card showed a different example of that decks theme, with a picture and its specification in a number of key statistics. The game involved players comparing their performance in a chosen category on the card in front of them, the highest value card winning that hand. Play continued until one player held all the cards and was declared winner.

I loved Top Trump cards, but didn’t particularly enjoy the game. front cardNo, I liked to examine the cards on my own in my bedroom, studying and savouring the statistics, ranking the cards in likelihood of winning a hand if in play and recording on sheets of graph paper filched from Maths. Inevitably some packs were more exciting than others. Hot Rods was a good one as was Sports Cars, whereas Light Motorcycles and Japanese Cars were both a bit crap. Over the next year or two, more subjects were added to the range until there must have been several dozen available. I had them all. The local shop must have made a mint – especially from me. There was little even Michael Crump could do to get them black-balled though there was always talk that he was running a gambling ring with them at break times.

Though they improved in variety and design, my favourite pack was one of the originals: French Cars. Even then I could see that they were mechanical misfits. English Cars had the Rolls Royce Corniche, the Mini, the Rover 3500, and the triumphant Triumph Stag, whereas French cars had, well, let me show you some of the characters:

Peugeot 404The Peugeot 404GL

This looked like it came out the old Soviet bloc, cast out of a solid lump of lead and painted the sleek grey of a November Sunday in Murmansk. As sleek as a crateful of Argos catalogues, its 1618cc engine could only heave this boulder to a slumberous 87mph. Today’s counterpart, the Peugeot 3008GL 1.6 may set you back £28,934 – probably a little more than the 1970’s version, but will get you to 146mph despite being approximately the equivalent of 60 gallons of Perrier water heavier.

simcaThe SIMCA 1000 Special

1000 Special? If they still built them today Trades Descriptions would insist on adding the word ‘Needs’ to the end of its name. Incredibly it has the exact same top speed as the lumpen Peugeot 404GL – just imagine the tension of a ead-to-head burn-up with one on the SpongeBob_SquarePants_picture_logoAutoroute out of Saint-Tropez. The Special 1000 was in production for 17 years before beings phased out in 1978, a year before Simca themselves became defunct. However, in a strange twist of fate, it came back in our lives in 1999 as the clear inspiration for Spongebob Squarepants.

Citroen DSThe Citroen DS 21 Injection & 21 Break

Now for the only bit of French va-va-voom in the pack. Citroen’s beautiful Bertoni-designed range of drop-arse saloons of the ‘70s remain iconic, the DS quite-rightly standing for ‘Déesse’, or Goddess. The characterful headlights were made even more frog-eyed by moving in line with the direction of the steering wheel – isn’t that fab? I’m not the only one who liked them as 1,455,746 were built. It was technologically advanced too, with its self-levelling hydropneumatic suspension – a concept so futuristic that Spellcheck doesn’t recognise it even today.

At 55, I’m not a car fan whatsoever these days and am the  Citroen Breakonly bloke not to watch Top Gear and/or wear leather driving gloves, but I’d still love a DS, even it would probably get beached getting over the modest bump to my drive. Looking at classic car sites, it seems one of the old girls can be bought for between £10,000 and £20,000 making it an achievable dream for style enthusiasts for who it’s more the journey and not necessarily the arriving that counts.

Buoyant on sales in the 1970’s, Citroen adapted the DS for middleclass families and introduced the 21 Break, which as you can see which came with a conservatory built on the back. This allowed for the French man of the house to take his chickens with him wherever he went. It came in burgundy, to match his wife’s chiffon scarf while the kids appreciated the Top Trump card value that the additional 110lb in weight gave over the standard DS. A car model named Break however? Hmm, perhaps that hastened the end of its production, and the decision to develop a replacement, the Citroen SM.

Citroen SMThe Citroen SM

The Citroen SM was a strange one. Even the reason behind its name seems to have been forgotten with a Gallic shrug. Designed to pull the French car market out of the post-war era and compete with executive cars of its day from abroad, such as Jaguar, Rover and the Jensen Interceptor, Citroen even bought Maserati to make its engines. With all good intentions, futuristic designing and with headlights which not only swivelled with the steering, but self-levelled with the suspension, it turned out that there were too many Frenchmen remained content transporting their chickens and mistresses in lead-lined Peugeot 404GLs, and when Peugeot took over the bankrupt Citroen in 1975 only 115 SMs had been sold in the previous year. What a shame. Whatever its shortcomings in the commercial world, the SM’ card was lauded by Top Trumpers as its statistics were the highest in every category bar one. It was the only French car to have more than 4 cyls, and boasted the pack’s highest speed despite it weighing more than a Citroen Dyane 6 and Renault 4 put together. These facts made it the card of legends and to be dealt the SM at the start of play pretty much guaranteed you victory. The only category it could be beaten on was revs, where its 5,750 per minute left it a middle-of-the-road 13th out of the 32 cards. Revs were always a contentious statistic for pedants like me– the generally accepted protocol was that in game-play, the highest revved card would win its hand if called, but in the real vehicular world I’d argue that the higher its rev value, the more chance the thing had of ripping the nuts off its own engine mountings so shouldn’t the lower scorer win? A moot point.

Citroen 2CVThe Citroen 2CV 6

With top Top Trumps irony, the only card that was unbeatable in revs was also a Citroen, the 2CV, a pile of a car cobbled from the corrugated roof panels and guttering left over from decommissioned Nissen huts and detritus picked out of old bomb craters by rang and bone men (hommes de chiffon et d’os). With fewer cylinders than a four-pack of Kronenbourg, a horse power rating of less than some fairground carousels, and an engine of similar tone and size as a bee in a biscuit tin, it made an atrocious card to hold in your hand: unless it was your call and you were up against its beautiful grown-up sister, the SM.

ChryslerThe Chrysler 180

There is one other card that I feel particularly strongly about showing you, and that is the Chrysler 180. Study it closely. It has no particular strengths or weaknesses as a Top Trump card. I’d probably have called CC or lbs, or played it safe on cyls. But I felt that I had a more personal involvement with it.  Not that my Dad, or grandperecousin sue had one, you’ll understand, but more that I always thought that it looked like my cousin, Sue. Something about the headlights. I’m sure she’d be flattered to know this. I’d completely forgotten this until I recently bought a pack of French Cars from Ebay, and flicking through for the first time in over 40 years, gained this immediate recollection, and as from the picture of a contemporary Sue, I’m sure you will agree the likeness is uncanny.

So, what was I doing buying another pack when I so clearly treasured my own from all those years ago? Well, when my son Jack attained the age of 12 I bequeathed him a drawer full of them. I thought he’d be thrilled. As well as French cars and the majority of the basic packs, I’d spent birthday and Christmas money buying packs themed on Prototype cars, battleships, helicopters and International Cricketers. I explained the joy that each pack had given me while he sat nodding, one eye on the TV watching the Undertaker stage-wrestle Ray Mysterio in his beloved WWE. Call me intuitive, but was almost as though he was more interested in the staged ballet-wrestling and didn’t really get the true-meaning of my wonderful cards. I tried to stimulate fervour by pointing out the better cards in each packs, the Citroen SMs, if you like, to give him an advantage when playing his mates.

I’ve never seen a single one of these packs since. Maybe they are somewhere in the depths of his bedroom, maybe he E-Bayed them for a small fortune, or perhaps he just fed them to the dog. Sad to say, I don’t think Jack is anything like the nerd I was and indeed exudes social skills that I could only ever dream of possessing.

Maybe the Top Trump thing skips a generation in the same way that our kids aren’t interested in playing conkers or building camps. With this in mind, I looked at the current range available and was deeply shocked. Pack themes published since my heyday include space phenomena, Little Britain, Skyscrapers, Lacrosse, WWE (bet Jack has ‘em), Punctuation (yes – Punctuation!), Only Fools and Horses, Harry Potter, Clone Wars and The X Factor. BORING! Even the word ‘Trump’ has taken on a vulgar and regretful alternative meaning.

I wonder what the playground crazes of today’s schoolkids are? I know our local shop couldn’t believe it’s luck when my two’s obsessions with Panini stickers and Pokemon cards raged at their highest. I hope Michael Crump’s had 12 kids and they cost him a proper fortune. I expect nowadays kid’s crazes are all smart-phone based: certainly fallen conkers remain untouched in the parks, and the call of, ‘Cylinders – 4’ is not one I‘ve heard from kids on any street corner near me for some years.  And as for being seen with a yo-yo…        trump cards

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Doug Larsen says:

    God, you guys had such fun as kids. All I had was a pocketful of marbles which you had to throw one by one onto a patch of mud with a circle inscribed in it against an opponent. If you were within a handspan of your opponent’s marble you got to keep it. Can you imagine the excitement? As you have probably observed I have very small hands (think Donald Trump and you have some idea) so I won very few marbles and spent my days looking for stray ones under hedges and in drains. To be observed buying some from the shop was too humiliating.
    Anyway, I hope Michael Crump got buried beneath a sea of soiled nappies.



    1. Struwwelpeter would have cleaned up at your school, Doug. You may have lost your marbles, but think of all the money you have saved over the years on gloves and reaching into the ends of toothpaste tubes to extract the final smears I have never noticed the size of you hands and simply presumed your circle drawing to be ritually pagan.


  2. amydwestphal says:

    It’s so funny but my girls just got silly putty for the first time and love it. And both have yo-yos after seeing a performance at school. They love them. Maybe there’s room for a car card resurgence after all. I myself collected trolls and books.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Trolls are the scariest things in the world – after custard, blancmange and all other milk-based puddings, of course. Silly Putty is the best thing evs when you are a kid, – but heed my advice and keep them away from your shag pile carpets with it, and never let the girls bring their school pal Michaela Crump for a sleepover.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s