Friday, August 10, 2007

My Favorite Car

Way back in the late 70s (told you I was old) I bought a Fiat X1/9 from Jim V___, my company commander. She was red-orange (code 408 from the Volvo catalog, oddly enough not in the Fiat color catalog), and I drove her all over Western Europe. She was certainly a chick magnet. I drove from battlefield to battlefield from Omaha to the German Border. I popped up to the "inter-German border" and even wandered around the Alps a bit.

I used to like to walk in the woods, and combined business with pleasure by driving the X1/9 up to one of our defensive positions, and walking (in liederhosen or knickers, and hunter's hat) around our assigned defensive sector. Once dressed like a local, I was wandering, and paused to use a handy shovel to move some extra cowpies from the path. A troop of German boyscouts came around the corner, and I leaned on the shovel to watch them. Their leader asked me to show where they were on his map. Of course I knew EXACTLY where I was, and reached down to pull up a stalk of grass. I used that stalk to point to his map. My friend Cyrus L__, also in mufti, snickered at my precision. I could have shown them a lovely field of fire to a main east west route across the valley.

Boy could that car take corners. The X1/9 looks a bit like a doorstop, and had a removeable top that could be stowed into the front end. Only two seats, the engine was for all intents and purposes in the back seat. The back trunk was small, and the muffler was just under it, so you didn't want to stow your beer there. When I went through a car wash, a bit of water would come back in from the rear, wetting my (closely cropped!) hair. Rain would drip onto the distributor, and it rained every day in Germany.

I picked up a French college student between Le Havre and Paris. Boy she was amazed to hitch a ride with an American who even spoke a bit of French (with, I must confess a very Canadian accent!). She had never been to Paris, but had an address. I drove through Paris, and even remembered the streets from my high school French class (Thanks Mrs. Huchro!). I asked her when she had to be there, and took her around to the sights before her appointment, all without a map. She was amazed that I knew Paris so very well. Of course the X1/9 handled like a dream in the dense traffic over the cobblestones. I could just about think about changing lanes and would be there. The ease of driving permitted me to call up memories of the maps.

I had a few dates with a Hanau high school girl. I was only 23 then, so I wasn't quite a pervert. Her father was a teacher at the local American school. She was cute, and played a very good game of tennis, but was offended that I, a muscular schmuck, could beat her, the star of her school tennis team. I didn't tell her that my dad taught me tennis when I was in high school, and that I had further taken a class in tennis in college. I never saw the point in letting someone win, if I could beat them. If they beat me, they earned it. She did like for me to pick her up in my X1/9 after her tennis practice, but her personality was a little too self absorbed-prissy for my taste. Her younger sister was 10, but had a much nicer (tomboyish!) personality. Of course there was no question of taking the younger sister out.

One winter, ,my friend Cyrus L__ and I went to a few battlefields, and on the way back from Bastogne, the heater released a hot stream of water-ethylene glycol onto his leg. We stopped, and he moved so the scalding fluid wouldnt land on him. Eventually I turned off the heater, and mirable Dieu! the fluid stopped spurting! We even continued our trip with a side trip to the ruins of the Bridge at Remagen. A replacement hose (used the same clamps) and all was well after we got back to the base.

We had a big inspection, and First Sergeant C___ was tired after a long period of working long hours to prepare. He hopped in his car and backed out smashing my poor little Fiat's door. She was actually so small that there was no way he could have seen her from his rear view mirror. His insurance paid for a new door, and new coat of paint down that side of the car.

As Battalion stayback commander I got notified that a sergeant had gotten injured in the field. We tried to notify his wife, but eventually we were given the information that she had returned to the US. Accordingly, notification would be devolved to some lucky group in the US. A few hours later she stormed into my office, angry that she had found out from the person who had told us that she was no longer in Europe. I was sorry about how she found out, it was normally a "unit representitive-chaplain" thing. The important thing was to get her to see her husband, then in a hospital room in Wurzburg. The little X1/9 came to the rescue, and I drove the lady to her to her house for a ditty bag, then we dashed to the hospital. Her husband had caught a face full of brass from an exploded .50 BMG round. One eye was covered with gauze, and he looked like Bruce Campbell in "Army of Darkness", but he was mostly ok. We were able, as I remember, to get her checked into a hotel near the hospital, and I went back home with an empty seat beside me.

Soon my younger cousin Suzanne came over from the US to attend college at Fredrich-Alexander Universitat in Erlangen. She was 18, athletic, full figured, and had played field hockey, syncronized swimming, and softball. Very attractive, VERY smart, very tomboyish. Who could want more? But there was an instant jealousy between the X1/9 and Suzanne. Suzanne became my first wife. The X1/9 handed me off to the lady responsible for the next phase of my life. I was married to Suzanne for 17 years.

I sold her (the X1/9) before leaving Germany, to another officer who lived down the hall in the Batchelor Officer's Quarters. I had a lot of good memories from that little doorstop. Mechanically not so reliable, the engine took up so much room that the carburetor would overheat, and evaporate the fuel, starving its little 4 cylinder 1300 engine. Later versions had a special fan to cool the carburetor. She only weighed 645 kilograms, so was not all that underpowered. With the amid-ship engine, she powered through hairpin turns, and the nose was light enough to steer with only one hand. The steering became ineffective at much over 90mph (150 km), as the air dam at the front would deflect. Still she was a wonderful "poor man's Ferrari ". Being small, she fit well through the narrow streets of the old German towns.

It would have required heroic measures to get her brought back to the US, as it didn't meet US bumper/air pollution requirements. Though perhaps, I may have gotten some kind of waiver with money in escrow with a promise to upgrade her, I knew that such upgrades were darned expensive. And I knew that Suzanne and the X1/9 would never get along.

Ah, to be young, single, muscular, with a cool car, and adored by the French girls again. Well, it happened to me once, and that will have to be enough!

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