By Vicky Buffery
PARIS (Reuters) - Some of the most famous cars in French motoring history would be banned from Paris under a law intended to hit gas-guzzlers, but which is being criticized as a blow to the poor and classic car fans.
The proposal to ban pre-1997 cars from the city centre is the brainchild of Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who was behind the popular Velib' bike-rental scheme but has been accused of turning the city of lights into a playground for the rich.
Under the plan, such classics as the stylish Citroen DS, one of which was painted by Picasso; the Citroen 2CV, sometimes described as a tin snail; and the boxy but durable Renault 4L, along with less iconic models driven by ordinary Parisians who can't afford to trade up, would have to go.
"This is for our citizens. It's a public health battle and we've been fighting since 2001 to try and make the air here more breathable," the left-wing mayor told councilors in Paris.
Claude Fauconnier, vice-president of the French Friends of the 2CV Club, called the measure "another harebrained idea" to please ecologists and wealthy Parisians, that ignores the day-to-day reality of the less-well-off.
"If you're driving a 17-year-old car there's usually a reason and it's certainly not for fun," he told Reuters.
"It's often people struggling to make ends meet at the end of month and they're the ones who can't afford a modern car."
The proposal, which needs government endorsement and will be submitted to a ministerial council in January, would outlaw cars built before 1997 from the city and nearby suburbs from 2014.
The Paris Town Hall's press office said about 365,000 cars would be affected and pre-'97 models were chosen because that was the year strict anti-pollution rules took effect in Europe.
Delanoe has been fighting for more than a decade to cut pollution in Paris and says his efforts - ranging from more road lanes for buses and bikes and wider pavements - have cut traffic by 25 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 9 percent.
The Velib' bicycle renting scheme was followed up with a similar Autolib' car-hire scheme, and, more recently, by plans to close off part of the city's riverside expressways to traffic and turn them into pedestrian boulevards.
If accepted, the proposals also would ban trucks that are more than 18 years old, and motorbikes built before 2002.
Other ideas include cutting the speed limit on the busy ring road around Paris and introducing a congestion charge, or eco-tax, for trucks passing through the city.
Paris would not be the first city to ban old clunkers from its streets. The Indian city of Calcutta ordered cars older than 15 years off its roads in 2008.
(Reporting By Vicky Buffery; Editing by Brian Love and Michael Roddy)