This article originally appeared on VICE France.
For many reasons, Renault Clios are some of the most beloved cars in France. Both practical and comparatively affordable, they often top the charts as the most purchased vehicle in the country. Usually rundown and passed from one generation to the next, the Clio is a car of the French people; a car that often holds more sentimental than monetary value.
But for months now, Clios in Marseille and the suburbs of Paris have been mysteriously losing their bumpers, bonnets, headlights, airbags and even back seats after the sun goes down. In late June, in a quaint residential neighbourhood of Marseille, several Clio owners woke up to find their beloved cars without a bumper, shocked that no one had heard anything all night. “The Clio gang strikes again”, local newspaper La Provence titled an article about the incident.
Further up north, in a suburb of Paris, a gang of thieves operating in a similar fashion was recently busted by a local police operation. This Clio gang is suspected of having stolen between 150 and 200 Clio 4 bumpers in their area, which they immediately resold on Le Bon Coin, a French online marketplace. A police source questioned at the time by the French daily Le Parisien said the gang had specifically chosen the Clio 4 “because they can be taken apart very quickly”. “It has become a national sport,” the policeman added.
Bumpers aside, Clio gangs seem particularly fond of back seats, too. In January 2020, Le Parisien reported that one gang stole 220 back seats from Clios in the Paris area alone. Resold on marketplace sites for €300 apiece, these seats can be used to transform company cars – which often come without back seats in France – into consumer friendly commercial models with a higher resale value.
Annoyingly enough for the victims, the gangs profit twice over from the vicious cycle of theft: Clio owners often resort to these same marketplace sites to replace parts taken from their cars.
A third theory the police has put forward to explain these thefts is that bumpers, headlights and airbags – some of the most frequently stolen items – are also the parts that are most likely to be damaged during an accident that leaves the main structure of the car intact. Since many Clios aren’t worth fixing with expensive factory-sourced parts (some of which might not even be available at this point), marketplace sites are the last resort for owners who are desperate to keep their old bangers running.
Ah, the things we do for love.