In 1967, I bought a 1947 Renault Quatre Chevaux for $50. I drove the car for a year and abandoned it the day the entire front end fell off the frame onto the pavement.
On a weekend shortly after I bought the car, I drove it to the beach with my favorite passenger, David, age 4.
* * *
At the beach, David is splashing about in the shallows, hands cupping seawater, arms windmilling it into a froth about him. I’m standing a couple of feet seaward from him being a watchful mother and feeling gentle warm waves bump u[ against the back of my shins. Then suddenly I’m knocked face forward into water that’s instantly become hip deep. Even before I find my footing again, I’ve got David in my arms, safe. But I’m almost blind when I stand up. My glasses! My glasses are gone. My glasses have been swept off my face by a rogue wave and presumably are receding with it. I look, but it’s hopeless. Without my glasses, I can’t see well enough to find my glasses.
What now? I’m in Topanga, an hour-and-a-half from home in Reseda, California. My Renault is right over there—I can’t see it, either, but I know where I parked it—so David and I trudge that way. In the car, sand toweled off, I sit and think. I can see perhaps 20 feet in front of the car, so I can begin the trip back, which will be on a two-way road amid in a line of vehicles all heading back to the city.
Moving along at about 25 mph in my place in line, I’m beginning to feel confident that I can at least get us to the freeway. Then, perhaps there will be a side street I can take home. But no, just think of this one step at a time.
We slow to barely moving. I can’t tell why, but I can continue to follow the car ahead, so I do that. And then a large person steps in front of the car. I brake! The person approaches the driver’s side and becomes a police officer in uniform with a clipboard in hand. Oh dear! The officer says this is a checkpoint and would I please pull to the side and hand over my driver’s license.
I manage to park on the side of the road without incident. What now? The officer begins an inspection of the car in front of me. My driver’s license. Yes, that would be the piece of paper on which is clearly stamped on the back, “Restricted to wearing corrective lenses.”
There seems to be no other option that will allow me to get David home: When the officer approaches my car again, I hop out of it and launch into my first-ever bimbo act. I wait until the man is close to the car, then turn away from him, reach for my driver’s license on the front car seat, and bounce my brief bikini bottom a foot from his dark blue uniform. Then I turn toward him, clutching my driver’s license front-side forward about two inches from the edge of my equally brief bikini bra. I breathe in mightily to expand my … uh, a cop might call them tits. And I titter.
The officer, red faced and almost stammering, takes the license from me, lays it on his clipboard, makes a note as to my identity, returns the paper to me—and never even looks at the back of it.
But I’m not good to go yet. After a vehicle inspection, I’m told my steering wheel is unacceptable. It turns, but it also wiggles. It’s loose. I’ve been driving it like this for weeks since I got the car, but I decide that’s probably not information I need to impart. I accept a ticket and an obligation to have the problem fixed and titter tatter back into the driver’s seat.
The rest of the day is boring. I steer behind the car in front of me to a side road near the freeway entrance, and then I drive for three hours at 25 mph all the way home.
The next day, I take the car to the shop. I show the guy the ticket and haul back and forth on the steering wheel. He nods and says he’ll get that fixed. Come back in an hour. I do. It isn’t fixed. Matter of fact, it can’t be fixed. The guy shows me the steering wheel puller he used to try to get it off, so it could be put back on correctly, and he shows me the fused connection.
Well, maybe if it was left in Death Valley with the windows rolled up, he says and shrugs. He writes a note, which I take with me to the DMV. Reluctantly, they agree with me that if somebody who knows what he’s doing can’t get the steering wheel off with a tool designed for that purpose, it’s unlikely I’ll pull it off while driving. They sign off on the ticket, and I’m off to work.
Here’s what getting to work is like in my Renault:
- On the Ventura Freeway, I exit onto I-405, the San Diego Freeway, doing 50 mph (top speed in my Renault is marked at 59, but she’s so old I can’t get her over 50).
- At the Ventura Blvd exit, I hear her panting.
- By Mulholland Drive, she’s sweating heavily and I move her over to the slow lane.
- By Bel-Air Crest Road—note it’s a crest—she’s down to 20 mph and is almost done in, shaking and gasping for air.
- Somewhere between the crest road and the North Sepulveda Blvd intersection, I pull over on the shoulder, get out and open the hood. There are four spark plugs—is this why the car is called “Quatre Chevaux? Four spark plugs; four horsepower? As usual, three upstart ponies are no longer hitched up to the engine block, so one poor nag has been hauling me up the last part of this hill.
- I re-hitch the three recalcitrants, hop back in the driver’s seat, and we’re good to go for the remaining dozen miles or so to work.
* * *
There were few problems with my Renault that I couldn’t handle myself. If she wouldn’t start in the morning, I’d put her in neutral, get out and push her a bit, hop back in and shove the clutch into first. If she got stuck in the mud, she didn’t even sink in very far since she was so lightweight. If we had sandy sandals, no problem since there were no rugs or mats, just metal underfoot.
In my favorite car, David and I went to Cabrillo beach to swim, to the Topanga windmill to look out and see a far distance, to the Renaissance Fair in Agoura to check out all the people, to the Santa Monica carousel to ride the wooden horsies, to the Angeles National Forest to throw snowballs…. If her front end hadn’t fallen off onto the pavement a year after I bought her, I think my 1947 Renault Quatre Chevaux would still be good to go.