An H Van is as much part of French cultural history as the 2cv.  Designed in 1942 by the body builder Franchiset and inspired by the rippled fuselage of German Junkers aircraft its exterior panels get their strength in the same way cardboard boxes do, by corrugating thin sheets to create rigidity.  Its petrol engine was the same as the Traction Avant and the later DS except that it was turned 180-degrees with the gearbox at the back, not the front.  I probably saw my first H van in 1960 when I took the Golden Arrow from Victoria Station, this time over the bridge above Sevenoaks Way, to stay with my aunt and uncle in Paris.  He was a Group Captain in the RAF stationed at SHAPE, the forerunner to NATO based in St Germain just outside Paris.  They collected me from Gare de Nord in his new white Citroen DS.  I was thrilled by the car’s overwhelming feeling of the future – soft spongy carpets, combed nylon door cards, wrap-around windscreen, touch-sensitive electro-hydraulic controls, digital speedometer behind a magnifier…and that extraordinary suspension.  Along De Gaul’s ruthless new expressway by the Seine and up into the suburbs it whisked us.  Beyond its hushed royal blue and beige interior flashed a totally French planet filled with creamy blue Panhards, grey 2cvs, pastel duo-tone Simcas, navy blue Renault 4cvs, big black Peugots…and H-vans in a kaleidoscope of colours.  Unlike Britain, France appeared to have taken a turning marked ‘This Way to Science Fiction’.  Even its Mobylette mopeds were coloured gold.  I had left a country where everything was brown and black, and entered a place where music, food, cars, fashion and people were cool.  When we got to their flat my uncle’s Grundig radiogram was tuned using a strange luminous green tube on the front, oscillating like a tiny radar screen until it stabilsed on the prefect signal.  These futuristic French images locked themselves into my brain leaving a template of what France promised.  The memory would never fade, but when I returned in 1968 the template didn’t fit at all.