French cars used to have a reputation for being quirky and futuristic.

Citroen in particular came up with some weird and wonderful creations such as the Ami and the DS before everything became a bit boring in the 1980s and ’90s when all cars started to look very similar.

So Renault decided it was time to install a little more “Francais” into its motors and also restore its position in the luxury car sector.

After a heavy night on the Pernod, they came up with the Vel Satis, a car so unusual that the only normal thing about it was that it had a wheel at each corner.

Shocked public relations officials tried to pass it off as a genuine alternative to BMW’s class-leading 5 Series, offering masses of interior space and luxurious fittings.

Other more cynical types viewed it as an ungainly monster that anyone other than a Frenchman wouldn’t be seen dead in.

The Vel Satis looked like a cartoon with a radiator shaped like a gaping tooth-filled mouth. All it needed was a Gauloises cigarette wedged on one side and the image would have been complete.

The aim was to produce the motoring equivalent of Serge Gainsbourg, all black polo neck and je ne sais quoi.

But it misfired. Even the French thought Renault had gone mad and sales were disastrous. Instead of being sexy and sophisticated, it was seen as fat and ugly.

Renault’s marketing spiel said the Vel Satis was for people “distancing themselves from the conventional saloon”. Sadly they were so distant that they were found in the BMW showroom.

Those that did buy the car were diappointed by its poor ride and niggling problems such as the failure of the automatic handbrake and other electronic quibbles.

But the biggest problem was depreciation. The Vel Satis lost money faster than you could say ‘quel dommage’.

Renault reacted with a huge Gallic shrug, stopped production and returned to being sensible.