Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on BBC Autos.



Calm under pressure, audacious skill and a bit of lunacy: all traits of a prepared racer. Coupled with purpose-built equipment shaped by the wind, and you have a recipe for a properly exciting race through Paris.

The month-long Tour de France stormed through the streets of Paris on 27 July, with scores of cyclists swarming towards the finish through a crush of hardcore fans. It’s an evocative scene, one repeated throughout the ages every year. But in 1976, there was an exceptional, extra-legal sprint that was filmed, discussed and ultimately passed around in video-cassette form like contraband.

Nearly four decades ago, French director Claude Lelouch releasedC’était un rendez-vous, a short film depicting a Ferrari 275 GTB illegally blasting through the dormant avenues of a Paris dawn, coming to rest at the Montmarte overlook adjacent to Sacré Coeur. The speed and reckless maneuvers in the picture caused a tiny stir in the City of Light and among car enthusiasts worldwide, as copies of the short film slowly made their way across oceans.

Translating to It Was a Date, the production is regarded as one of the earliest – and still one of the best – street-racing films. Though many a driver has felt the impulse to speed away from a red light or dash through a commute as if it were the last lap at Le Mans, it would be folly to follow through. Lelouch couldn’t help himself. The director weaves through a makeshift 6.5-mile circuit in less than eight minutes while maintaining remarkable pace. But all is not what it seems.

A keen viewer will note that the speed and movement on screen does not always correspond with the sound of a Ferrari at full chatter. In fact, Lelouch used his massive Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 sedan for filming. To make the movie more exhilarating, the director later dubbed over the soundtrack with that of his Italian sports car. Forget suction-mounting a GoPro camera; Lelouch affixed a full-size film rig to the front of his German land-barge.

And while there was no yellow jersey or flowered garlands awaiting Lelouch at the finish of his “tour”, there was something more permanent: immortality.

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