First, we had visited Poland with our trusty Renault Estafette van, where in the dark we hit a railroad track with the front wheel drive. This was, maybe still is, an occupational risk for cars in Poland, I have to tell you.
A year later in Italy we were rollin' along pretty smoothly when all of a sudden one of our front wheels decided it wanted more freedom, and just went ahead and took it. It detached itself from its anchor and rolled out in front of us in a carefree, carfree, in short liberated way. Another thing I had seen in the movies without ever expecting to actually have it happen to me. We could pull over to the curb, just like that. Behind us, by one of those coincidences, was a bus full of bus drivers on an outing. It pulled over in front of us and they all streamed out, pale down to their very skeletons.
We got it fixed all right, but only for the duration of that trip. That front wheel never got over that experience of having tasted Liberty once. It kept acting up and I finally had to get rid of the van, taking care that no junk dealer would be able to sell some sucker what had turned into a vicious killer, trying to give its driver Death.
the Volkswagen Mini-Van
It's no use blaming Volkswagen for this almost-fatal mishap. I bought the mother for what amounts to a nominal fee, after it had seen use as a chicken run judging from the maize grains we found in it. Small wonder that during our trip through Spain and Morocco this baby had been acting up already. At a certain point a bush mechanic had just cut off a brake line with a pair of pliers at one wheel, and inserted a nail in the end to shut it off. We then had a ride to Marrakesh in a Moroccan bus to get a new brake cylinder, and I guess the notorious Mexican bus ride can't possibly be much worse. But from then on, the brakes never were what Flaubert would describe asreliable; they didn't inspire what you'd call confidence, know what I mean?
So, in Portugal, it didn't come as much of a surprise to lose all brakes once again. But this time on a road that ran steeply downhill, to a crossing at the valley bottom, and then uphill again.
It's a real classic. At the valley bottom was a farmer's wagon loaded up with hay. From the hill opposite, an ambulance came tearing down at top speed, lights flashing and absolutely howling with excitement.
Well, how can I describe it? What about like this: We just sort of zipped through and ran out of speed uphill.
Just after I had bought that house that broke all records by leaking from the bottom as well as from the top, I also acquired an eight year old Chevrolet Bel-Air 1958. This was about the biggest car Chevrolet has ever built. When I gave my girl friend a ride we put her brommer (moped) between the front and back seats. Yayoi Kusama once had some nervous breakdown in it and retired under the dashboard, where there was ample room, to break out her supply of pills. The car un-coincidentally also was Chevrolet's thirstiest gas guzzler ever. Not much later I said goodbye to my job — never have had so much money since — but that's another story. Just to pay the taxes on that monster I worked one day a week at a newspaper, and not as a journalist either. Puritanically socialist Holland punished you heavily for enjoying such luxuries. The tax was even heavier as I had it rebuilt to run on Liquid Propane Gas, which in itself came much cheaper. Occasionally you were warned by the pump attendants that a car parked across the street contained a Tax Person taking down the license numbers of all cars that came to tank LPG, for checking if they couldn't be fined, heh heh.
Chevrolet Bel Air Sedan 1958
this photo was originally on the web a long time ago
did a lot of work on it but lost the original copyright © holder
The Gipsy Chevy
We made several trips to Paris in that beast and came to love it. Just zipped over there in a matter of four hours, leisurely including a coffee stop in Belgium. This at a time when the superhighways stopped when you left Holland. You always tanked full up on both gasoline and LPG before you left Belgium, as LPG was unheard of in France and gasoline was about half price in Belgium, where those quaint puritan guilt feelings just were not around. By the way, a Belgium pump attendant once told me that he'd had a car blow up on him the week before while filling it up with LPG.
Then, the French made you pay import duty on the gasoline, because that was in areserve tank; came to 40 Nouveaux Francs or so, in those days not to be sneezed at. On the way back from Paris, the LPG ran out (that was why we had to fill 'r up with gas) and we had to switch over. At one memorable occasion the carburetor had not had a taste of gasoline for so long that it had run dry, the needle stuck and the gasoline leaked out all over the hot engine. WHOOSH! A Towering Inferno ensued. You bet we had abandoned our fire ship long before a guy with an extinguisher stopped by. After he'd heard the LPG tank was in the trunk, in back, he intrepidly extinguished the flames (we had left the hood as it was - open). The car had to be towed back to Holland (for which I at least was insured), where I had the LPG installation rebuilt and all cables renewed - a much better job than the original one, by a guy who took pity and did it for very little money. It's not for nothing these stories are called amazing.
I finally had to get rid of the car, also because it developed some steering trouble and I was warned that the model was notorious for front end troubles, to the point of having been recalled to the factory. I had no way of checking if my particular one as a matter of fact had been rebuilt; I sort of lost confidence in it. So, when a gipsy came by who wanted it to pull his giant caravan, I sold it like a flash. Even got part of my tax back. A good thing too, because the gipsy never bothered with taxes, and they tried to fine me. Because they had paid me back themselves I could slip out from their filthy clutches. Wow, must they have been mad and frustrated.
The story ended when, a couple of years later, the Delft police called me at about three in the morning and asked me if I knewmycar was standing by the highway with all doors open. No, I didn't and it wasn't my car. It had obviously been used as getaway car for some crime, probably a burglary, and been abandoned. Reading between the lines, with some haste. I guess that must have been the end of my Bel Air's, you'll have to admit, adventurous life.
Martin Beumer of the Real Free Press and another friend, Ira, now a well-known Hoboken Hobo, wanted to go spend the winter in Formentera.
Of course they were just as hard up as we. Chronic, man. But we had a car and they had money for gasoline.
So, naturally, we struck this little deal: We would take them over there.
Now, first, you have to understand that this was in a time, the early 1970s, when a CitroŽn 2CV was suspicious a priori. Especially an old one. Especially when occupied by four obvious what we preferred to callfreaks, but what the Fuzzy Pigs would callhippies, such fine distinctions being way beyond these coarse-minded mud rooters. As I remember it, one such a car was stopped and confiscated at the Belgian-French border just about every week for containing minuscule quantities of weed; the occupants were fined and jailed. Especially if they were Dutch! Of course a hobo from Hoboken isn't what you'd callDutch, but he surely would have been fined and jailed along with the best of 'em. Ummm, us.
Le Canard - The Ugly Duckling
But as Willy and I liked the idea of getting a ride to Barcelona we went along with the idea. First, we repainted the car. It was only too painfully obviously an effort to make it look better than it really was; still, we judged that it would put us in a more favorable light and thus give us slightly better odds at slipping through. It's easy to understand that Cannabis was not an item readily available in Formentera in those days — early 1960s, times have changed, Bwana — so these hopelessly addicted guys took a stock with them. Which entailed a certain calculated risk. At least, part of it was calculated.
That's the part Martin had enclosed in plastic baggies and buried deep under paint in cans that he, ostensibly, took along to work on his precious Yacht there. Do I really need to explain that no such boat existed? Anyway, as long as the Puzz did not start opening cans, running the risk of ruining their uniforms with paint, that was pretty cool. So ho! for the Road.
The usual tank-up in Belgium before getting ready for the French border had been done, and I was driving down there when Ira realized he had this Key of Weed on his person. Now you may agree with the advise "Always Carry It on Your Person", but this would be carrying it a bit too far and wouldn't get us anywhere. Well, there's this heating funnel in the front of a 2CV cabin and I told him to put it in there. We were just the tiniest little bit, nothing you'd notice, pist off with that stupid donkey-burrow for coming up with his key problem so short a while before things got critical. Just before the border, I let Willy (a pretty pretty chick, no kidding) take over to make the best impression possible. I bowed down and could feel the aluminum-foil wrapped lump quite easily, so I gave it that little extra push that makes all the difference.
cabin heating duct (left)
with air cooled engine, air was warmed up by the exhaust
sometimes it stunk a bit - at other times, a lot
So we arrived at the border.Out of the car, you goddam hippies!as foreseen. While Martin and I were dragged into the customs building, Willy and Ira had the privilege of being outside to watch a French customs officer take of his cap, neatly put it down on the seat, kneel down by the side of the car and feel up the heating duct. The very first thing they'd check, as I had expected. Thanks to my recent efforts, in vain. Willy and Ira just looked at each other, carefully refraining from comment. A guy in coveralls came out, ready to take the car apart. A thing that can be done in just about 30 minutes, many's the time I've done so myself.
But it never reached that stage. Inside, after they had found Willy's birth control pills to wave them in the air, excitedly shoutingLa pillule! La pillule anti-baby!, the proceedings started loosing impetus right away when they asked Martin about his occupation and he replied in a resounding voice:Je suis un instructeur de sport![I'm a sports instructor] - they hadn't counted on such a wholesome profession. He really was one, too, you know; it said so in his passport and everything. It didn't help their enthusiasm either when they got clumsy with Ira's sitar and banged it against something, producing this loudClonk!. He looked daggers. Then they found a folder containing a choice selection of my slides, and were so impressed that they gave up hope and let us go. The way they figured, a dope user could only be a worthless wastrel, which was incompatible with the image we held up. We pulled off quite an act. I'm still proud of our little group of performers...
We hadn't driven for more than fifteen minutes or so, just to check if we weren't being followed, before we stopped to take out Ira's stash and blow a joint. Boy, did we need it.
Years later Ira told me:I'll never forget that trip. You just took us there.
Well, I won't forget it easily, myself. We almost never made it...
And in Martin's translation of the Papalagi he remarks on the fact
that he was 'zonked to the gills' while working on it in Formentera.
Now you know how.
from an ANWB instruction manual
|The CitroŽn 2CV may have been the best car CitroŽn ever built, if only after a fashion. The 2CV's main attraction, apart from being very roomy (and draughty) was you could do all repairs yourself, given a reasonable dexterity with tools. Paul and I once changed an engine of an Ami 6, its much more comfy big sister, in less than two hours. You needed hardly any more equipment for that than 3 keys (of 11, 14 and 17mm, ask me on my death bed) and a screwdriver. It was so simple and rudimentary, the windshield wipers were driven by the speedometer cable.
Most of us second-hand 2CV drivers were constantly stopped and hassled by the Figs, except in Rotterdam, where the legend is they once put a dozen of heavy motorcycle cops in an old wasted one and had them jump up and down on the chassis, which made so little impression they had to let the car go. From then on, they just gave up.
The name CitroŽn is originally Dutch and means
lemonin that language. The first 2CV was built in 1936 and the model must have been in production for well over fifty years.