The French were back on their heels. Gen. Joseph Joffre organized a counterattack, and by Sept. 6 his troops were fighting the Germans along the Marne River. With the outcome — and possibly the fate of France — in the balance, General Joffre called for reinforcements from Paris.
But the railways were clogged and no trucks were available, so the military commander of Paris, Gen. Joseph Gallieni, hailed the city’s taxi drivers. On the evening of Sept. 6, hundreds of cabs assembled at Les Invalides, the military hospital, and by morning a convoy of impossibly top-heavyRenault AG1s with tiny 1.2-liter 2-cylinder engines wasputtering toward the front.
The AG1 was the Checker cab of its day. Simple and sturdy, it became the standard Paris taxi in 1905. By 1907, there were 1,500 clattering over the cobblestones.
By the end of Sept. 7, some 600 taxis, each making several runs, had delivered 3,000 troops. It is not known whether the passengers tipped the cabbies — but they tipped the battle to the French.
“It’s a small number, yes, but they made the difference,” said Aurélie Perreten, assistant director of the Musée de la Grande Guerre in Meaux, France. “That’s why we talk about the Miracle of the Marne.”
Yet while the French halted the Germans at the Marne, they were not strong enough to mount an offensive. Four years of trench warfare lay ahead, a stalemate that led to the development of the tank and poison gas.
A display at Retromobile included three Renault FT17 tanks, the first to use the modern configuration of swiveling turret, rear engine and front-mounted driver; a number of bone-shaking rubber-tired military trucks; and two “Marne taxis.”
A hundred years later, all of Europe is pausing to remember World War I. But the anniversary is perhaps felt most deeply in France, where much of the combat on the Western Front took place.
“For us, 2014 is really important,” Ms. Perreten said. “French people were affected in the soil, in their country. Everyone had a cousin, friend, son, grandfather who died.”