Before the internet, buying a used car was an adventure…

She didn’t appreciate waking up at 6 am. In 1989 or 1990, I can’t quite remember, my aunt, who hates getting up early, had to answer a bunch of smelly telephone operators. She had sold it Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 Viva from 1986 up to F12,000, only instead of mentioning 120,000km, the advert only showed 12,000… So that was enviable! It was a Thursday, the day that La Centrale des Particuliers appeared, this paper newspaper that was the reference tool for looking for a used car. You will say to yourself yes, but at this early hour the newsagents are not yet open.

La Centrale was the benchmark for classified newspapers in the 1970s and 2000s.

Of course, but it was Minitel (admittedly it is now digital), where you could consult the announcements very early (paying about 1 franc per minute) by typing 3615 Lacentrale. That said, it wasn’t before 7am if I remember correctly. In fact, some argue that bargaining took place as soon as the newspapers were printed, even before they were distributed, with some hard-earned advantages going to the well-placed.

Opel Corsa, with a good reputation, sold very well 30 years ago.
Opel Corsa, with a good reputation, sold very well 30 years ago.

Another feature of the time, to publish a car ad in periodicals you had to pay and the price varied depending on whether you wanted to embellish it with photos or not. The best offers, of course, were not illustrated, and hundreds of lines filled with abstruse mentions “pr.m, ve, fc” which meant “from the first hand, electric windows and central locking” had to be seen, to mention only those – this.

We were wary of the “counterkm” because that meant the actual mileage could be different and the “mot. nine” for a new engine which may have only had a cylinder head gasket change. You couldn’t, like now, ask for photos because that meant the seller had to get some (not everyone had a camera), develop them, which was expensive, and then send them by mail. Too long! So, we made an appointment and there, we had surprises. Much more than now.

It was a surprise to see the one I was planning to buy arrive in 1993. I had seen an ad in La Centrale for a 1985 Fiat Uno 70 SL (yes, already…)
16,000 F for 60,000 km. Very interesting, especially since this version was rare. In fact, I saw a 70 S (not the same model) arrive at Porte d’Italie, 1984, and decked out with a horrible pink reflection in the hastily applied green paint, which was leaking at the joints. I didn’t even agree to try it.

Heavy on advertising, the Fiat Uno was slightly less successful than its French rivals second-hand, so it was a great deal because it cost a lot less.
Heavy on advertising, the Fiat Uno was slightly less successful than its French rivals second-hand, so it was a great deal because it cost a lot less.

Then I stumbled upon the columns of La Centrale in a VW Polo 1.3 CL from 1985, pre-owned and shown at F15,000 with less than 80,000 km. I call the seller, who assures me about its maintenance, the complete history and the authenticity of the mileage, it is checked regularly because it was insured exactly in the kilometer. In the basement, I happily tell myself it’s the right one, then the owner reveals to me in a slightly mocking tone: “There’s just one problem: you’re the 72nd person to call me today.”

I finally bought one Peugeot 205 GT from 1984 (F13,000 for 68,000km if you’re interested), with its share of more or less hidden defects, sorted out after some well-meaning threats to the seller. This, a professional who tries to pass himself off as an individual, did not expect to find himself at his workplace…

At that time, car ads were plentiful in the print media: I liked to start reading old magazines like Auto Retro or Rétroviseur right through the pages dedicated to cars for sale, and there were a lot of them! We also found them in generalist magazines like Auto Plus, daily newspapers like Le Parisien if we lived in the Ile de France (but there were very few of them), and especially the Argus.

The latter was aimed more at professionals, but in addition to announcements, it produced a rating that had been the benchmark for decades. It was too low, and to compete with it, La Centrale had created its own, more favorable to private sellers. So the smart guys had fun using the former to negotiate the purchase of a car, and the latter when it came to selling it…

Don't worry about reselling your Polo in the 80s and 90s, VW's image is already very strong.
Don’t worry about reselling your Polo in the 80s and 90s, VW’s image is already very strong.

Later Jannonce appeared, which seriously competed with La Centrale: you can advertise your car (or others) there for free. As you will have realised, looking for the ‘good opportunity’ then involved buying lots of press and sitting a good week between two releases. Something that can hardly be imagined at the present time.

The internet ended up re-dealing the cards, which is only logical. What progress! From now on, the ads are almost all illustrated, we get our selection every day almost in real time in our mailbox, we can consult a part of the history of cars on the Internet, even do research abroad and it costs nothing more. the time. With this plethora of offers to consult without breaking the bank, comparisons are made instantly. Consequently, the notion of formal assessment is now much less important.

Too bad for magazines that can no longer make so much money by publishing paid classified ads, losing some of their interest in it, but that’s the world. It’s certainly easier not to make a mistake these days, even if some sellers are very good about only sending pictures that don’t show their car’s faults.

I remember a well-known German professional, based in Cologne, who assured me that the upholstery of the old car I was interested in only needed a little stitching. Once there, I saw that it was destroyed… Disbelief must remain in place!

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