The unmarked cars of European street signs
When I lived in South Carolina, I could drive 100 miles in any direction and the style of regional BBQ wouldn’t even change. Slight shift of the drawl, taller pine trees, and mild variations in asphalt composition, at most. Here in Europe, where I now live, traveling that same distance could entail passing through areas that speak three separate languages, possess varying social attitudes, and have different perspectives on the acceptability of public nose-picking (yes, it’s a thing). All that said—and to my great delight—I had not anticipated such colorful variation in road signage.
Let’s kick off with my current area of residence, in the hills of German wine country near Stuttgart. With some exceptions, the depicted cars for signs on the German Autobahn are unromantic and nondescript, the message to the straight to point. Presumably that’s to keep eyes and minds on the road instead of … doing whatever it is we are doing here. Get off the main roads, and the detail level ratchets way up!
Want to leave your Opel Ascona unlocked in the park while you take a Sunday stroll through the vineyards? Then you can kiss that sweet Voigtlander Vitomatic Rangefinder camera goodbye. Giant car-sized hands exercise little restraint.
Out in the “Weinberg,” pictured below, the danger of being T-Boned by a Deutz-Fahr DX orchard tractor while peacefully driving along in your Opel Senator is visualized as a real possibility. (Complete with vines and what’s either blood or sparks or bloody sparks.) In addition to the transparent warning of ever-present danger, it’s also clear that the region will produce a light, mildly tannic red with decent body and floral character this year. A fine vintage!
Here in the apple orchards in the Schwaebisch Alps, we have an Opel ‘A’ Kadett with a beastly 9-inch Ford diff swap currently ripping some nasty, kilometer-long skids in the apple orchard. Who says Germans are all serious?
Parking is a big deal in Germany and people take the rules as gospel. Going into the store? Better set that blue-and-white cardboard clock on the dash to indicate the precise moment you went to find a cart. A personally reserved spot is either earned via career advancement or paid for—denoted by a replica of the prideful owner’s license plate. The first of many tow-away warnings, as you can see, specifically targets illegally parked Volkswagen Foxes. If so affected, follow that Kia Bongo to the nearest stretch of chain link fence and have your Euros at the ready.
Foreign Saab 99s require more heft to haul, hence the use of a far more capable, yet antiquated (and strangely scaled) Opel Blitz.
In the private sphere, we see the German attention to detail illustrated by this homeowner. At the entrance to someone’s driveway—posted without comment aside from name and number—is a precisely detailed E23 BMW 7 series.
In terms of non-automotive signage in Germany, nothing is left to the imagination. Signage spells out everything from the three individual turds exiting the visibly-strained dog to the technicolor rendition of the exact newt that you shouldn’t run over.
Now on to Italy, where passing is shown to be non autorizzato by a pair of sedans. Not just any sedans, but dueling black and red Australian Holden LX Toranas, surely packing 308s and four-speeds, ready to settle a grudge match on the Hume heading out of Melbourne. Clearly racing is in the local blood, as the next sign is the entry point for the famed circuit-city of Monza.
Not too far down the street, we are warned that the road is indeed for cars and other machines over 149cc. This information comes courtesy of a cute Fiat 850 Sport with 700 ground-pounding cubes.
Off the highway and into the area commerciale, we see the “yield-to-eloping-couples zone” and yet another tow-away warning shot. Let it be known: Any time between the hours of “all the time” and “all day, any day” your BMW 700 Coupe could be spirited away just as swiftly as these two-dimensional lovebirds.
Now we’re off to Amsterdam, for a stop at the coffee shop and an enlightened stroll around town. Though Dutch sounds like American English being spoken backwards, the signs are more or less legible. Here, “U WORDT be WEGGESLEEPT” for blocking this entrance. Nobody, of course, wants to be weggesleept, but what car they’re weggesleept-ing away is a bit harder to suss out: Honda Prelude? Rover 800 Coupe? Pontiac Sunbird? Keep the guesses coming!
Now, here is the same message phrased in a less aggressive tone but with consequences still plain as day: If you block this entrance in your Spanish-registered Seat 1500, our Albion FT27N Claymore (with absolutely gargantuan boom) will be by shortly to grind your rear valance into the ground. You’ve been warned!
Absolutely forget about driving a Ford 12M Taunus up this alley, or any surplus WWII motorbikes. (Uh, guys, help me here, I know nothing about motorcycles.) In any case, it’s certainly easier looking at the red circle than trying to see what the heck is going on with that text.
Like I’m suddenly transported back to Charleston, the jasmine grows up the brick and zinced signpost on this Amsterdam building. Sitting atop is something rectangular and sealed-beam in nature. Maybe a Moskvich 412, but more likely a Ford Taunus P7—if we are to consider regional distribution.
See? Exploring Europe for the road signs can be just as fun as experimenting with food, drink, and culture. Life abroad is truly enlightening.