Chauffeurs Through The Years

We all know that chauffeurs are those fellows who get paid to drive other people’s vehicles for them, that much needs no elaboration. It is also true that a fair few of us (and certainly plenty of French people) know the derivation of the word ‘chauffeur’, and that it means ‘a person who warms’. The reason for this is because in the olden days cars were powered by steam and it was the chauffeur’s job to start them.

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However, there were very different kinds of chauffeurs, furtive and operating in disguise in late-eighteenth-century France, very much the type of chaps you would not pay to drive your car and more probably the type who would charge you to ‘keep an eye on it’. These unsavoury characters would roam the countryside with soot-blackened faces, creeping through remote countryside to access remoter cottages or farms. Once there they would half-strangle the inhabitants and stretch them out with their feet pointing towards the fire, in order to extract information on their money and treasures. Hence the term for those men was ‘chauffeurs’ or ‘heaters’ and whereas we now think of chauffeurs as respectable, in times gone by their name was enough to strike fear into the heart of villagers.

At the dawn of the motor car age, that sort of behaviour was a hundred years in the past and the social make-up of the chauffeur class had become markedly different. To be a chauffeur was to be in the employment of the very rich indeed (of course, for only they could afford a car at that time). This fact had some rather interesting consequences and salesmen and merchants knew that attracting a chauffeur’s attention might well lead to capturing the attention of their lords and masters.

A Michelin star is a coveted acquisition for any restaurant, a symbol of distinction indicating the eatery in question has achieved a certain excellence in the food field. It would probably surprise most people that the Michelin guide was originally intended to be a publication aimed at chauffeurs. The theory behind this was that the chauffeurs would be driving around and their tasks included fixing anything that broke on the car. The first guides therefore were primarily purposed to keep chauffeurs informed about local garages and since waits would be common, they included places to eat and where to find accommodation. As chauffeurs began to be dispensed with, the guide was then gradually aimed more towards the car owners and the star system we know today was introduced.

Article written by Jason Klein representing the chauffeur car hire company who also provide airport transfer, wedding and luxury hire amongst their services.

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