“Bernard had purchased an automobile in the last stages of tuberculosis”
FRENCHMAN MEETS ENGLISH SPORTS CAR IN AMERICA
by ROGER A. PROULX
ILLUSTRATIONS by BOB WEBER
“EH! what is that strange motion you make with your left foot—push-push, so! — when you are moving the transmission lever, mon petit fil?”
“That is the double-declutch, mon Papa. You taught me.”
In wonderment, my Papa murmured, “I did?”
“Of course,” answered I. “It was you who taught me to drive, with the double-declutch also.”
“It is as you say, Bernard,” said Papa firmly, with a glance through the wind-shield to reassure himself that we were indeed still upon the road.
After a few moments silence, “Perhaps you would be so kind as to demonstrate the movement to me—at some suitable occasion, when we are not traversing a bend at such high speed? Just to refresh my memory, you understand?”
Grasping the wheel in the approved mode for the fast circuit of corners, courteously I replied to my beloved father, “Oui, of course, Papa”.
I had that very day purchased an English automobile of sporting nature, called an M.G. TC and had persuaded my father to accompany me upon a short drive in the rain, in order that I might demonstrate its character to him.
Every time I endeavoured to overtake another car, he very courteously enquired of me, “Can you see that Renault approaching towards us from your side of the car?”
Hastening to reassure him concerning the safety of a car with the steering wheel on the right-hand side—”the wrong side” Papa insisted on calling it—I said. “I can see other cars at almost the same moment as you can, Papa, for this carriage is of such fortuitous narrowness that we are almost seated in the same seat. Also, the smallest turning of the wheel produced such large movement at the front wheels that it enables me to move out to the centre of the road very quickly and return equally quickly, should another automobile be occupying the route directly ahead and advancing towards us.” Saying this, I demonstrated it to him.
When we were again upon our portion of the road, Papa muttered, “It is indeed fortunate, Bernard, that the TC is of such quick steering, for, if it was not so, that imbecile of a driver would have squashed us flat as a pancake, n’est ce pas?”
When we had turned around and were ready to return home, where Mama was awaiting us for supper, Papa requested permission to drive. With much misgiving, but allowing my filial devotion to overcome this misgiving, I allowed him to assume command. The rain was considerable and the road of much slipperiness, but, after all, he was my father, n’cest ce pas?”
After much noise from the transmission, caused by Papa mistaking 1st gear for 3rd—”Bernard, are you certain the English have not reversed the positions out of spite, revenging themselves upon us for the Vichy Government?”—we had soon attained a respectable velocity.
With great elan and, unfortunately, little style, Papa attacked numerous serpentines. Having finished these, he shouted at me over the buzzing of the engine, “It is fortunate that le bon Dieu has blessed you with muscles of great strength, Bernard, for, indeed, to persuade this minute automobile to change its direction one needs the force required to drive a very large camion.”
He then pointed the slender snout of my cheerful chariot down a road strewn with very many bumps and holes, giving this advice, “It is always wise to test the suspension, my son, in order to determine . . .” At this point he fastened his grip and said no more until the M.G. was again upon a smoothly paved road again.
“Bernard, I regret to tell you that this petite bolide is in reality not an automobile, but a small coal-cart, very cleverly disguised!”
A little later, “Intriguing! The makers of this diminutive coal-cart have made provision for the rounding of bumpy corners, without the necessity of moving the steering wheel. Observe!”
Having said this, Papa allowed the TC to glance one front wheel on the side of an oh-so-small bump and, immediately, the bonnet shook, moved and Voila! the radiator cap was pointing in an entirely new direction.
This information I stored in my memory, meanwhile noting that the manoeuvre could happen at an inadvertent moment and cause one to create a large commotion upon the wrong side
of the road.
“Also observe, mon cher Bernard,” said Papa, “the free motion of this steering device.” So saying, he turned the steering wheel through many degrees without causing any deviation from course.
“It is always wise to test the suspension”
“That, Papa, is what the man who sold it to me called ‘an inherent feature’ of a M.G. TC and can be found on my TC, if one should look.”
Do not take the trouble to look” shot back Papa. “Take my word, it is not natural.” It was possible to detect a small sigh of relief from him, when we arrived safely at our front door.
Papa was able to contain himself until dessert. Then, after much clearing of the throat, he delivered himself of the thoughts upon which he had pondered throughout supper, no doubt.
Cecile,”—it was the name of my Maman—”Cecile, our son has not, I am sorry to state, inherited my sense of the value of money.”
“But Papa . . .” I began.
“Bernard,” Papa interrupted, gently but firmly, “you will please have the courtesy to listen to your father.” He continued with the addressing of remarks to Maman, certain of my attention. “For an abnormally large quantity of francs Bernard has purchased an automobile which I can only liken to a person having arrived at the last stages of tuberculosis—angular hips, lean shanks and spindly legs.
I was not able to avoid interruption. “But, Papa, you must admit the heart is good!?
Grudgingly, Papa admitted, “That is true, Bernard. However, to return to my original theme, when a person is stricken with tuberculosis it is customary to place this person in a sanitorium, to retire from the frenzy of the outside world for a short time. Bernard, I would suggest that you do exactly this with your auto.”
“What, Papa?” enquired I.
“Retire it!” said Papa. Turning again to Maman, he said, “This Englishman’s Revenge, Cecile, of ancient vintage from its appearance, puts me in mind of my crossing of the Atlantic with my fellow Free French officers, during our last war.”
Taking a small sip of coffee, he continued. “I have not the slightest doubt but that many more ships in our convoy would have escaped the filthy U-boats, if they could have only emulated the zig-zag pattern Bernard’s car adopts, even on a perfectly level road.”
A look through the window was of reassurance to me that my TC impatiently waited. The covering of its skin by a multitude of raindrops caused it to glisten like a jewel. Sigh!
“By the by, Cecile,” resumed Papa, “It will not be a necessity to draw a bath for me this evening.”
“Why, Emile?” asked Maman.
Scathingly, Papa replied, “Because I have already bathed in Bernard’s car. So much rain entered through so many places that I was forced to wipe my spectacles five times.”
Maman giggles. Then attempted to soothe him. “Emile, it is his money and his car. From his labour came the sufficiency of francs to do so.”
“You do not understand, Cecile,” he snorted. “The beast is not safe! For instance, every time the road slopes sharply away from the crown, Bernard’s projectile attempts to attack the cows of Farmer Godet, peacefully grazing in the fields!”
Thundering on, Papa roared, “Tell me, in the name of heaven, what possessed you to pay such a fantastic sum of money for an automobile of such un-streamlined aspect, such rigid suspension that a pencil laid on the road could cause breakage of the spine, such flimsy appearance, with steering of such jerkiness and stubbornness, with a chassis that seems to twist like a pretzel and a roof that flaps the edges in the breeze like a bird allowing great deluges of water and air to enter?”
“Well, Papa,” I answered to him, on my way to the door, “I have read in a sporting magazine, that the M.G. TC is now considered to be a classic in the U.S. of A., sometimes selling for more than its original cost price.”
“Ah, well, the Americans!”
It was possible to detect a small sigh of relief from him when we arrived safely at our front door
Ed’s note: This article was originally published in April 1959 in Sports Car Illustrated which ran from 1955 to 1961 and then became Car and Driver.
Car and Driver has a claimed circulation of 1.23 million and is owned by Hearst Magazines. It is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
My grateful thanks goes to Eric Worpe for bringing this delightfully humorous article to my attention and to Tom Wilson in the US for helping to secure permission to reprint it. In fact, without Tom’s help, I don’t think we would have been granted permission. I would also like to thank Laurie Feigenbaum of Hearst Magazine Media Inc. for granting permission to publish in TTT 2.
We have tried to faithfully reproduce the article, bearing in mind the original different font and different page size.