Category Archive 'Automobiles'
16 May 2020

Citroën 2CV Passing Ferraris

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The Goodwood Collection offers the above video of a little old Citroën 2CV, its standard smaller-than-your-lawnmower’s engine replaced by a Suzuki GRX-1100R motorcycle engine, successfully passing Ferraris on the track.

A ride in a normal 2CV might send you to sleep, with its overheating engine, slow pace and rocking motion akin to a lazy sloop on the Mediterranean Sea. Not this one, however. This rather special deux chevaux is a track-worthy hot-lap machine, thanks to the Suzuki GSX-1100R powertrain hiding under the bonnet.

Join it at the Circuit Paul Ricard as it takes on the bigger boys – Porsches, Ferraris, Lotus and so on – during the ‘Dix mille tours de Peter Auto’ at the Paul Ricard circuit in France.

Despite having the aerodynamic qualities of a brick, the potent 2CV proves a lightweight weapon, passing a far, far more capable Ferrari 458 Italia twice on the French circuit before being overtaken again on the straights.

This has to be the most unlikely yet exciting hot lap we’ve seen for a while, and the perfect antidote to the enduring monotony of another day in lockdown. It’s also a perfect example of it’s not what you drive but how you drive it.

08 May 2020

Quentin Tarantino and Blue Karmann Ghias

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Quentin Tarantino makes prominent use of a blue Karmann Ghia in two movies.

My college best friend had a white Karmann Ghia that he called “Leopold.” Ghias were, I suppose, slightly cooler than the ordinary VW bug that most of us owned back when we were young, but most of us thought they were funny looking and, most importantly, no faster than any ordinary beetle.

I had been watching “Once Upon a time… in Hollywood” (2019) on cable, and I remembered that Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) had been driving the same bloody blue Karmann Ghia in Mexico on her way to the final showdown in “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” (2004). So, I asked myself: Why in hell does Quentin Tarantino think that Ghias are cool, and what is it with that blue color?

I decided to search the Internet, and I found the answer: his dad owned one and he fixated on blue Ghias as a child! My father had a copper-colored 1960 Chevrolet Bel-Air, but I only thought it was cool back then. I wouldn’t take a free one today.

The cars in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood” come close to stealing the show. Given that the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt — both grizzled and a bit beaten up but all the more handsome for it — that’s saying a lot. …

there’s the blue, beaten-up 1964 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, which belongs to Dalton’s stunt double, Cliff Booth (Pitt).

Oh, that Karmann Ghia. It’s lovely. I read that to help it perform in the movie as Tarantino wanted it to, he had its VW engine replaced with a pumped-up Subaru engine. The result, strange to say, is exactly what Tarantino’s films are like: cult cars souped up with new engines.

They’re exercises, in other words, in having it both ways: nostalgic and up-with-the-times; viscerally violent and glibly cartoonish; knowing and innocent. Tarantino’s casting of the Karmann Ghia expresses this duality in more ways than one.

I should stress at this point that I am in no way a “car guy.” I own a Honda CRV, and I can never remember where they’ve hidden the lever that opens the hood. But I do love beautiful cars, and whenever I see a Karmann Ghia, whether in a film or in real life, my heart breaks into a canter.

Yes, Porsches are gorgeous. Citroens are cool. And the great Italian sports cars are obviously unsurpassable. But Karmann Ghias — an unlikely combination of German (Volkswagen) mechanicals and Italian design — are simply the most beautiful cars ever built.

I know, I know, beauty is subjective. (Although it’s not so hard to find agreement on the proposition that Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie are good-looking.) But that’s precisely the point: A Karmann Ghia’s attractiveness is not absolute in any Platonic, archetypal way, like a Porsche or a Ferrari. Karmann Ghias are real. They’re invitations to fandom. They’re approachable. They’re affordable. And their shape is — to a degree that’s almost sublime — just right.

So yes, if I were Quentin Tarantino, setting my film in 1969, with his moviemaking budget, I, too, would be looking for just about any excuse to film a scene with a Karmann Ghia. I might even build my whole movie around it.

There was a moment when I thought that’s exactly what he had done. In one of the film’s indelible sequences, Pitt bids farewell to DiCaprio, hops into his Karmann Ghia, and drives home. Suddenly, it’s as if he were in a different movie, playing a bank robber with the cops in hot pursuit.

He’s not. They’re not. The whole sequence feels gloriously pointless, and — in classic Tarantino style — quite a few seconds longer than it needs to be. But the pointlessness is exactly what makes it so wonderful.

You could argue that the scene helps “develop” Booth’s character. You would dutifully point out that when acting as Dalton’s chauffeur, buddy and life coach, Booth drives his Coupe de Ville sedately, whereas when he is in his own car — the Karmann Ghia — he expresses his true calling as a stunt double: He appears to become a reckless lunatic, but he is actually very much in control. Both sides of his character get to shine in the film’s denouement.

But honestly, who cares about that? The real reason — the deeper reason — for the extended Karmann Ghia scene is the same as the reason Tarantino made homages to hard-boiled crime novels (“Pulp Fiction”) and to blaxploitation films (“Jackie Brown”); a revenge fantasy about Nazis (“Inglourious Basterds”); and a vampire Western (“From Dusk Till Dawn”). It’s the same as the reason he chose to cast the likes of John Travolta, Pam Grier and Christopher Walken in leading roles. It’s because he is a fan.

Tarantino’s main talent is and always has been the exuberant expression of fandom. He is a sort of hyperactive curator of personal pop obsessions. He’s just like you and me in this sense, only more so.

He tells stories, yes. But original plotting is not where his energies go. His real talent is to bring the irrational wildness of fandom to stories and subjects that in other hands feel exhausted, cliched, or just dated.

Tarantino’s fandom is so uninhibited, it’s infectious. Spotting the references to his various obsessions is part of what makes his films so fun. But he is generous on this score: If you get his allusions, great. If you don’t, he’ll make sure you have a good time anyway. …

Tarantino is happy for you to know that his father owned a blue Karmann Ghia. But the mental connection he would probably prefer you didn’t make when you see “Once Upon a Time” is between the Karmann Ghia and a trauma experienced 15 years ago by Uma Thurman — a trauma for which Tarantino last year publicly acknowledged responsibility.

In the final stages of shooting “Kill Bill: Volume 2,” Tarantino had asked Thurman, the film’s lead, to drive a blue Karmann Ghia down a sandy road at a speed with which she was uncomfortable. She had been told the car was not operating correctly after its manual transmission was changed to automatic. She asked Tarantino to get a stunt double to do it instead.

Tarantino insisted she drive, and the upshot was awful. The Karmann Ghia, with Thurman at the wheel, plowed into a tree. Thurman, who is convinced she could have been killed, has since described the incident as “negligent to the point of criminality.” She forgave Tarantino (he describes the incident as the biggest regret of his life). But Thurman maintained that the alleged attempt by Harvey Weinstein, Lawrence Bender, and E. Bennett Walsh to cover it up was “unforgivable.”

RTWT


And, how do you like this? Quentin couldn’t actually put up with a true Ghia’s anemic power, and had the original VW engine replaced with a modern Subaru boxer engine that puts out at least four times the power of the stock German 1500 air cooled flat-four.

13 Apr 2020

“35 Most Beautiful Cars Ever Made”

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Certainly not the most beautiful, but a Corvette I’d never seen. They only made 3600 of them that year. Very nice for a Corvette.

I hate clickbait format sites like this one. But I will admit this one is almost worth all the trouble and delays of wading through page after page, accidentally hitting an ad link ever now and then.

Obviously not all the most beautiful cars ever made. (How in hell did that Citroen get in there?) Far too short of pre-WWII cars, needs a lot more British cars and more of the very old Alfas. You could make Bugattis half the list. But, still, worth a look.

28 Mar 2020

The Crazy Search for Ernest Hemingway’s 1955 Chrysler

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Hemingway’s 1955 Chrysler New Yorker as found.

David Frey, at Narratively, describes the obsessive quest for Hemingway’s Cuban car.

A silver Porsche steered James Dean into legend. A pink Cadillac escorted Elvis to Graceland. On the streets of Havana, a 1955 Chrysler New Yorker carried Ernest Hemingway to the long bar at the Floridita, which he called “the best bar in the world,” for daiquiris mixed strong and sour. A two-door convertible with chrome details across the gunwales and an Art Deco eagle over the hood, wings spread wide, this car ushered the Nobel laureate to the fishing boat that he sailed into the blue current, which he simply called “the stream.” It took him to the hilltop farmhouse where he lived among royal palms and mango trees most of the last twenty-two years of his life.

Then it disappeared.

For decades, Hemingway’s car survived only in legend. Was it still on the island? Had it been secreted away? Or was it lost to history, fallen into scrap metal? It became the automotive version of Hemingway’s missing suitcase, the one full of early manuscripts that his first wife Hadley lost in a Paris train station and never found.

“This is where Hemingway lived for twenty-one years and this was where he felt at home,” said Christopher P. Baker, a British writer who had long been on the trail of the vehicle himself. …

Baker heard the first hint about the car back in 1996 from an American who believed he was buying the legendary auto. “Somebody was selling him a joke,” Baker said. But somewhere out there, he thought, the car must exist. In 2009, he talked with the director of Cuba’s automobile museum. He told Baker he’d seen the car, but it was “hidden away.”

The alleyways of Old Havana are still full of vintage Plymouths and Packards, cars with graceful curving hoods and rocket ship fins, relics of the 1950s, when Americans descended on Cuba for its bars, brothels and casinos. More than fifty years after Castro’s socialist revolution ended the party, those old cars linger as postcards of Cuba’s past. Some gleam like they just motored off the showroom floor. Others seem held together by rust and fading paint. Hemingway’s Chrysler was lost among these fossils.

Then one day it reappeared, but before it could find a new life, it would have to endure an adventure of real-life sleuthing, an aging TV detective and Cold War politics thawing in a new millennium. …

[Hemingway] meant only to take a long vacation when he boarded the ferry to Key West on July 25, 1960. But history had other plans. Cuba nationalized private property. The U.S. launched the failed Bay of Pigs invasion the next year. In the meantime, Hemingway’s health failed. His depression deepened, and he underwent electroshock treatment at the Mayo Clinic. It didn’t help. The writer never returned to Cuba, instead settling in Idaho, where on July 2, 1961, he took his own life with a shotgun.

Castro had made clear that he was fond of Hemingway’s house, and his widow Mary donated it to the Cuban government. She gave his fishing boat, the Pilar, to Hemingway’s longtime first mate, Gregorio Fuentes. The Chrysler New Yorker went to José Luis Herrera Sotolongo, Hemingway’s doctor and friend. Nicknamed “El Feo” (the ugly one), he was a Spaniard who served as surgeon on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War and fled to Cuba to escape the Franco regime.

In the 1970s the doctor passed the Chrysler down to his son. From there, it changed hands again, and again, and again. With each new owner, the car’s connection to Hemingway dimmed. The Chrysler disappeared into Castro’s automotive jungle, where it might have been sold for scrap, chopped for spare parts, or simply pushed, rusting, onto a junk heap. It would have stayed lost forever, had Ada Rosa Alfonso not resumed the search. …

After six years of searching, her quest came to an end just a few miles from where it began. Alfonso showed up at the home of Leopoldo Nuñez Gutiérrez, an elderly man who, like Hemingway, lived in the village of San Francisco de Paula. He led her to his backyard. Chickens and a goat strolled amid a riot of tropical plants. Scattered through the yard were ruined cars and spare parts.

The old man led her to a vehicle. It sat hidden beneath a tarp. That thin piece of fabric was the only thing protecting the car from Cuba’s sun, wind and rain. As he peeled back the tarp, the contours of an aging chassis emerged. Big round headlights like eyes. A long, broad hood. A deep trunk. Alfonso couldn’t believe what she saw.

“The car,” Alfonso said, “was a disaster.”

The New Yorker’s two-tone paint job, Navajo Orange and Desert Sand, was painted over, first in blood red, then in white. The matching leather seats were torn to shreds. The white convertible top had grayed and eroded away. Holes rusted through the floor. Like Havana’s old mansions crumbling into dust along the sea, Hemingway’s car was barely holding on.

Alfonso compared the car’s serial number to Hemingway’s insurance papers. It was a match. After some convincing, Nuñez agreed to donate the car and Alfonso had it hauled back to the Finca and stored on cement blocks, where it was left sitting again. Cuban mechanics have become magicians in the art of resuscitating American classic cars, but the parts, and the funds, they needed were all in the United States, sealed off by decades of bad blood and a U.S. blockade.

Enter David Soul.

RTWT

Video link


The hardtop looked like this in those colors.

23 Mar 2020

How a Jewish Driver Funded by an American Heiress Beat Hitler’s Silver Arrows

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The Delahaye 145 that Dreyfus drove in the 1938 Pau Grand Prix.

“In the 1930s, Adolf Hitler funded the most powerful racing program in the world. An American heiress, a Jewish driver, and a struggling French automaker banded together to defeat them on the racetrack.” Road and Track.

In 1933, the newly-elected leader of Germany, Adolf Hitler, announced that the Third Reich would dominate the Grand Prix. After the government poured funds into Mercedes and Auto Union, their top drivers Rudi Caracciola and Bernd Rosemeyer swept the field in their supercharged Silver Arrow race cars.

A woman named Lucy Schell decided that something had to be done—so she launched her own racing team. A dazzlingly fine driver in her own right, Lucy had cash to spend, reasons of her own to challenge the Nazis, and the will to claim her place in a world dominated by men. For a car, she chose the most unlikely of manufacturers: Delahaye. Managed by Charles Weiffenbach, the old French firm was known for producing sturdy, staid vehicles, mostly trucks. Racing seemed like a path to save the small company. For a driver, Lucy recruited René Dreyfus. Once a meteoric up-and-comer, he had been excluded from competing on the best teams in the best cars, all because of his Jewish heritage.

Triumph over the Nazis promised redemption for all of them. If it was to happen, the opening race of the new formula Grand Prix season in 1938 would provide their best chance.

— excerpted from the new book Faster: How a Jewish Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Beat Hitler’s Best.

RTWT

28 Feb 2020

After 62 Years, Chevrolet Kills the Impala

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1960 Chevrolet Impala

Yesterday, an American era ended. Detroit News:

Production of the Chevrolet Impala will cease Thursday after six decades, making the Impala yet another Detroit sedan to be laid to rest as buyers switch to crossovers, SUVs and pickups.

Introduced in 1958 and produced continuously except for gaps in the 1980s and 1990s, the final Impala will roll down the line at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly. Seen by many as emblematic of the all-American car, more than 16.8 million have been sold globally (not including the 1994-96 Impala SS, which was counted as a Chevy Caprice).

Impala enthusiasts around the country are sad to see the nameplate hit its expiration date and cherish even more the Impalas they have found and made their own.

RTWT

Typical Americans of my generation grew up riding in our father’s full-sized American sedans, of which the Chevrolet was the paradigm example. My father proudly came home in 1960 with a new Chevrolet Bel-Air. The Impala was a slightly higher-priced, gussied-up version of the same car, and my father was decidedly resistant to opportunities to spend more money unnecessarily for image and prestige.

Europeans drove smaller, often sportier and more sophisticated automobiles. But, back then, we Americans reveled in our roomier cars fitted with bench seats and bigger engines. We had yet to learn anything about cornering and handling. And the notion that importation from the European Old World should be looked upon as evidence of superior styling and sophistication was, back then, confined to the extreme top-end American haute bourgeoisie. Most Americans considered American-made to be the best in the world and sneered at European cars as foreign junk.

How our perspectives would change after a decade or so!

13 Feb 2020

First They Coming For Your Guns…

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Then they mean to take away your car, Jack Baruth predicts.

I’d be willing to bet that very few of you know who Richard Aborn is. He was the president of Handgun Control, Inc., in 1993 when the Brady Bill was passed. Prior to the bill’s passage, the NRA and others said that it would be the “camel’s nose under the tent” of firearms legislation. This is a reference to an old saying that you can’t just let the camel’s nose into a tent—you end up letting the whole camel in, whether you want to or not.

Anyway, when the Brady Bill was passed, Mr. Aborn grabbed a reporter and said, “[The bill’s detractors were] right all along in fearing the waiting period was a camel’s nose under the tent. Brady has now passed and it is time to reveal the rest of the camel!” At the time, I thought that was a little, ahem, bold of the man to say. Regardless of how you feel about gun control, you can probably agree with me that you shouldn’t spike the football before the referee puts his hands up. But Mr. Aborn no doubt figured he was on the right side of history in this matter.

Across the Atlantic, the legislators both elected and unelected believe themselves to be on the right side of history when it comes to the privately-owned internal-combustion vehicle—more specifically, when it comes to the demise of same. The UK just announced that it would ban the sale of gas or diesel cars by 2035, “or earlier, if possible.” When Neil Peart wrote Red Barchetta, that date was a robust 60 years away. Now it’s closer in our windshield than the introduction of the second-generation Toyota Prius is in our rearview mirror, so to speak.

This astounding regulatory decision, made by people who can’t gauge the UK’s relative impact on the climate vis-a-vis China—or maybe they just read 1984 as an instruction manual, not a warning—sickens me. There’s only one thing to be said in its defense: at least it’s kind of fair. Contrast it to the Europeans, who are doing something even nastier: their 2021 emissions standards require a fleet average of 58 mpg or thereabouts. You couldn’t do that with an all-Prius fleet. Heck, not even the Plymouth Horizon Miser could hit that mark.

What the EU expects the automakers to do is simple: continue making Ferraris, AMG Benzes, and whatnot for the super-rich while forcing everyone else into an electric vehicle. So while British showrooms will force the same misery on everyone, kind of like the way everyone in London had to hide in the same shelters during the Blitz, the Europeans will make sure that the most privileged among us get to keep doing what they want while the average man or woman in the street gets stuck with a glorified golf cart.

(If you like, and if it fits your political worldview, you’re also free to see this as a way to make the dirty plutocrats subsidize clean electric transportation for the proletariat through extra markup on their G-wagens or Range Rovers or whatever. There’s room for all views here, except perhaps for those held by the people who weld enormous scrap-sheet metal fenders on old 911s for no reason.)

The delight with which the politicians are rolling out these regulations would make Richard Aborn blush.

RTWT

01 Jan 2020

Just In Case You Win the Irish Sweepstakes

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Ferrari Monza SP1

Motortrend describes Ferrari’s latest: a one-seater and a two-seater with no windshield!

Barchetta means “boat [tail]” in Italian, but Ferrari is using the term to mean a vehicle without a traditional windscreen. Both versions of the Monza come with a Virtual Windscreen, a carbon-fiber hoop in front of the driver that diverts air up and over one’s head. You’ll probably want to wear a helmet anyhow, but luckily a custom fit one by Berluti comes with the car. You get a pretty nifty driving suit by Loro Piana, too.

Ferrari’s design team looked to the past—specifically the 166 MM and the 750 Monza—for inspiration. But they did not want to go retro. All they wanted to take from the old cars was purity of line, harmony of shape, and the “Symbiosis between driver and car.”

Are They Fast?

Uh, yeah! Under the long hood sits a modified version of the screaming 6.5-liter V-12 from the 812 Superfast. In the Monza it makes 809 horsepower, up by 30 from 789 hp. The gains are mostly achieved via variable-length intake ducts. Torque stays steady at 530 lb-ft. The chassis is in fact the aluminum undercarriage from the 812. The body, however, is mostly carbon-fiber pieces with bits of Kevlar tossed in here and there. Ferrari says it’s 15 percent lighter than aluminum panels.

Ferrari says 0-62 mph happens in 2.9 seconds and 0-124 mph comes in 7.9 seconds. Top speed is faster than 186 mph. Probably much faster.

Why Two Versions?

If you like driving around with your friend, you’re going to want to opt for the Monza SP2, as it has two seats. Happiest by yourself? Opt for the monoposto, the single-seater SP1, as there is literally no passenger seat. I’m not even sure the door opens (it probably does), but the space where the passenger seat would sit is encased by a tonneau cover. This is the one I would get. The SP1 is lighter than SP2 (Ferrari is claiming a “dry weight” of 3,306 pounds for the one-seater and 3,351 pounds for the duoposto. Also, “dry weight” is Italian for hahahahaha!!).

How Many Are They Building?

Great question. Less than 500 between the two models, and they will let customer demand determine the mix. If everyone listens to me, there will be no SP2s built save for the black one they showed. However, I’d imagine most customers are going to be a touch more mature and opt for the second seat. What a pity. Only time will tell.

How Much?

Ferrari won’t say officially until the Paris Motor Show, but I think $2 million a pop is a pretty safe bet. A bargain, too, when compared to a limited edition like, say, the F60 America, which went for $2.5 million and was essentially just an F12 with the roof hacked off. Though Ferrari did only build 10. But hey, back to the Monzas. You get a free leather-wrapped carbon-fiber helmet plus other clothing! Not the worst deal ever.

RTWT You want to see more photos.

I wouldn’t buy one. No standard transmission. I don’t care if a computer can do it better. I still want to shift for myself.

01 Jan 2020

1930s Design

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1937 Reo Speedwagon Fuel Tanker Truck.

09 Oct 2019

“Jeep in a Crate” — A Persistent Urban Legend

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Somebody posted the above photograph in the Vintage Firearms Discussion Group on Facebook (the link probably won’t work if you aren’t a member), and a lengthy argument ensued. I’m afraid the skeptics won.

WWII Jeep Parts debunks the legend:

“Cheap Army Surplus Jeeps! You can buy a brand new jeep in a crate for $50!” Ads with headlines like this ran for decades in the back of Boy’s Life, Popular Mechanics, and several other magazines I used to read as a kid in the 1960’s (and those ads probably ran in the 1940’s and 1950’s as well). The ads promised to tell you how to buy Willys MB and Ford GPW jeeps and other government surplus for extremely low prices. They charged a fee for sending you this information. You mailed in your payment and waited for the postman to deliver the pamphlet that would divulge the secrets of buying tools, equipment, jeeps, trucks, etc. etc. on the cheap for “your fun and profit”.

RTWT

09 Sep 2019

Remembering Françoise Sagan, 1935-2004, II

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Here she is, aged 19 or 20, wearing a leopardskin coat and at the wheel of her XK-140 Jaguar, dark circles under her eyes.

Frédéric Brun, in the French magazine Les Grands Ducs, wrote a very nice tribute to Sagan’s passion for automotive speed.

Bonjour Vitesse

Just as death is immobility, movement is life. That was the implicit motto of the turbulent Françoise Sagan who demonstrated, by making her life a fashion statement in spite of herself, that a life of speed is the best life.

Hers was an amusing life, in any event, that is certain. Contrary to what the dictionaries of literature still say, Françoise Sagan was not born in Cajarc under the name of Quoirez, but rather at the age of eighteen in the office of the publisher René Julliard. She stole out of Proust her pseudonym and purloined from a verse of Eluard the title of her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse.

Sagan wrote in an individual way, reminding the reader of La Fontaine, but she conjugated existence in the plural. Pleasures rather than pleasure, problems to drive away boredom, men and women instead of one man, ultimately living a life with which she took liberties with personal liberty as her pretext, incapable of counting the consequences of her actions. She lived as a wonderful and carefree butterfly,infatuated with intensity and speed. She proclaimed: “Anyone has never loved speed, has never loved life, has never loved anyone.”

Sports cars were a devouring passion for the literary youth of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in search of something new, greedy for sensation, thirsty for discovery. The automobile is freedom, Sagan remarked. She commented: “In fact the automobile, one’s automobile, will give its tamer and its slave the paradoxical sensation of being finally free.”

More than a pleasure, the automobile was after the war an intercession between man and divinity. As we can only access God through the Saints, we can only know speed by propelling ourselves from the interior of a sports car. In the landscape of a France slowly starting its march of progress, Sagan’s Jaguar XK140 was capable of more than 150 km / h (140 miles per hour, hence its name) was a sports car delivering unheard-of power and unprecedented sensations. To drive it was to belong to the aristocracy. At the wheel of a competition Gordini 24S, rougher than any luxury grand touring toy, she earned even the respect of gentlemen drivers and motorsport enthusiasts, and her signature driving stripes. Barefoot driving stories do not really fit the Sagan legend, and were just publicity. No one drives a heavy Jaguar XK barefoot on the hot aluminum pedals and sticky rubber. It was the journalist Paul Giannoli who unshod Sagan forever to spice up his article on the frail young bourgeois girl becoming a part of her virile machine.

As the oil lamp symbolizes the victory of knowledge over obscurantism, the speeding automobile embodies the triumph of technology over time. Milan Kundera observed: “Speed ​​is the form of ecstasy that the technical revolution has given to man.” A form of ecstasy manifest in the words of Fillipo Tomaso Marinetti (Le Figaro, February 20, 1909), author of the Manifesto of Futurism, who affirmed that “the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.”

Fascination with it begins when the person or the object embodies his time, as Roland Barthes demonstrated in his Mythologies (1957). Françoise Sagan and her taste for speed illustrate the point. She sets the tone, as Marie Dominique Lelièvre aptly remarked: “Sagan’s tastes are in tune with the collective imagination of her time. She both anticipates and accompanies its changes. She is its dynamic in person. With her royalties, Françoise bought a car: a sports car, symbolic of her energetic metabolism. Françoise spoke quickly, ate quickly, became successful quickly, and thought even faster. Her fast cars, her risk taking fanfared her fame. Inseparable from her legend, her car is the attribute of her glory, the materialization of her triumphs.”

Sagan lined up a series of fast cars in her garage throughout her life, from the first the Jaguar XK140, bought with the royalties from Bonjour Tristesse, to the long, marron glacé-colored Mercedes SL of her last few years. “Just touched-by-age enough to be elegant” was how Sagan herself described her famous Gordini 24S eight-cylinder, a racing car prototype that was victorious in the hands of Jean Behra at the 24 Hours of Le Mans 1953. It also had belonged to a certain André Guelfi, also known in his own “milieu” as “Dédé la Sardine.” … Sagan purchased the car from the wizard Amedeo Gordini to help pay his bills. There was also the Aston Martin DB2/4 made famous in her accident, and the Ferrari 250 GT California of 1966, with its V12 capable of 280 km/h (173.9 mph) she bought herself to celebrate the success of her novel La Chamade. Her father, Pierre Quoirez, gave her the taste of beautiful mechanics. He was a friend of the engineer and automotive designer Jean-Albert Grégoire, an industrialist, and a knowledgeable amateur who competed himself in the 1926 Paris-Nice in a 2-litre Sizaire. Jacques Quoirez, Françoise’s brother, was not to be outdone either and possessed notably a rare Lamborghini Flying Star in the sixties.

To understand her craze for speed, it must be understood as a way to propel oneself out of oneself, to relieve a metaphysical need to surpass oneself, or to escape from one’s self using speed as a pain reliever. Sagan remarks on this in her fond memoir: “It also removes sorrow. One may be mad for love and in vain, but one is less so at 200 miles per hour. One consoles oneself for one’s earthly situation by physically overcoming the attraction of the earth. “The frenzy of speed is a manifestation of the spirit of revolt, a phase of conflict between inertia and movement. The inertia of habits, the human condition, and social conventions work in vain against speed. Hence our reaction and our tumult of excitement and impatience. …

[Some obscure and typically pretentious French references deliberately omitted.]

But it is necessary to control this energy offered by the mechanical power. Six months after the brutal death of James Dean, Françoise Sagan navigated between life and death at Corbeil hospital. It was an auto accident, again. Sagan thus became a product of her own legend. The newspapers saved their headlines, France held its breath. She was given Extreme Unction and kept anesthetized. In the end, she did survive, but remained handicapped.

Enzo Ferrari recounts in his memoir, “My Terrible Joys,” that he had arranged with the novelist to come to Maranello to take delivery of her Italian racing car. The accident occurred on April 13, 1957 at 2:15 pm in Milly-la-Forêt. Françoise Sagan was planning to have to lunch Jules Dassin and Melina Mercouri at the mill Coudray, which she had rented from Christian Dior to enjoy the quiet of the countryside and to write. Her guests were late and she went to meet them in her powerful and luxurious convertible Aston Martin DB2/4. Travelling with her, in a different car, were her friends: Voldemar Lestienne, Veronique Campion, Bernard Frank, and his brother, Jacques. Both cars raced with bravado. Sagan did not take the road into account and accelerated to high speed. At more than 175 km/h, on the small country road, skidding was inevitable. She braked, the wheels locked, her cabriolet skidded and turned over twice, trapping under under two tons of metal the frail young woman.

“We are trained by these little accidents,” Françoise Sagan wrote later in “With Fondest Regards” (1984). “One remembers the distraction, the absence, one remembers everything except the main thing which is the precise opposite, the sudden, unsuspected and irresistible encounter of body and spirit, the contact of a living being with the brief lightning flash of ​​its own existence.

“It’s a precise, exhilarating and almost serene pleasure to go too fast, past the safe limits of the car and of the road itself, past its handling capabilities, beyond one’s own reflexes perhaps. And let’s also say that it is not precisely a kind of wager with oneself that we are talking about, nor an imbecile challenge to one’s own talent, it’s not a competition with oneself, it’s is not a victory over a personal handicap, it is rather a sort of jaunty bet between chance and oneself.” Sagan concluded: “As soon as danger joins the game, speed adds to the happiness of living, just as the vague threat of death is attendant to the happiness of living. That’s all I think is true, finally: speed is neither a sign, nor a proof, nor a provocation, nor a challenge, but an impulse of happiness.”

06 Aug 2019

Like a Celibate Writing About Sex

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Nathan Heller

Leave it to the New Yorker to assign appraisal of some automotive-think books to a Jewish nerd who doesn’t know how to drive and who is afraid of cars.

Was the Automotive Era a Terrible Mistake?

For a century, we’ve loved our cars. They haven’t loved us back.

According to Heller, the triumph of the internal combustion engine was just another expression of toxic masculinity. He looks forward approvingly, from his Blue perspective, to a future of self-driving cars. No more autonomy. No more individualism. What could be more Blue State? What could be better?

You kind of wonder if the New Yorker would have given John Ruskin space for a column on making love to a woman or assigned Helen Keller to review Impressionist paintings.

Come friendly bombs and fall on Brooklyn!

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