Tuesday, August 07, 2018

I couldn't believe my eyes

Within a couple of days after Finger Boy gave me the digital salute from what I took to be a Renault Alliance, I saw a car with the same distinctive color scheme coming the other way while I was driving, not riding. It was clearly not an Alliance. Going at highway speeds, I got only a quick impression of its shape and no confirmation of the grille emblem.

I hate to be wrong. Clearly I had not paid enough attention to car makes and models over the years. How wrong was I? My brief dalliance with Renault lasted four years, from 1985 to 1988. It was an Encore with no encore. The most common models at the time were the Encore and the Alliance. I remembered others, like the Fuego, and Le Car, but what I saw did not look like either of those. What matches the profile that flitted past me twice, once obscured by a fist and finger, the second time blurred by speed? The front end of the car was the clearest image from the first encounter.

A quick search turned up Renault candidates that look something like Finger Boy's ride. So maybe I wasn't having an old guy hallucination. I hope he doesn't reappear, but I'm also intrigued.

The Encore had some good points. My first car had been a Peugeot 304. Another weird French machine, it was also one of the first transverse-engine, front-wheel drive cars in the US, well ahead of the VW Rabbit and the Fiat 128... at least as far as I know. As a stupid teenager, I managed to elude muscle cars by leading those behemoths into twisty streets where the agile 304 could dart through the maze quicker than the pride of Detroit could ever hope to follow. My father was born in Paris (to American ex-pats after WWI), so we had an open mind about products of French engineering. Lack of tech support doomed the French imports, but we had some fun while it lasted.

When  I went to Sault Sainte Marie, Ont., in 1974, for service on the 304, it was like entering another dimension. The guy at the tire place had nothing nice to say about the blank-hub wheels ("You've got to use bloody spoons, like a bicycle tyre," he grumbled), but there was a fully stocked dealership with all the parts on hand. I loved that little 304 because it was NOT a Toyota or a Datsun, it was its own weird self, and pretty darn sporty for its type. Then I got sideways in a snowstorm one night on I-75 near Bay City, MI, and got T-boned by a Mustang. There were no injuries, except to the Peugeot.

The impact didn't even break the headlights in the Mustang. Those 1970s Mustangs had pointy front ends, like a giant shark. The battering ram punched the passenger-side doors in, bent the floor pan down and the roof up. But my brother in the shotgun seat and his girlfriend in the back seat did not die, so I couldn't complain.

That night, in a cheap hotel, I kept spinning sideways and waking up with a bang each time I started to drop off to sleep. Meanwhile, in the other bed, my brother and his girlfriend celebrated their survival with a different kind of bang.  I figured I owed them that for nearly getting at least one of them killed. I ignored it as best I could, reliving the impact over and over until dawn. And then there was coffee.

The Encore never dealt such drama. It was the sag wagon on my thrown-together double century in 1988. I drove it to various trail heads in all seasons. Then I traded it for a 1985 Ford Escort that ended up with the nickname The Bungeemobile, because late in its life you had to hold it in fourth gear with a bungee cord. At least it was technically American, so local nationalistic mechanics would work on it, and parts were readily available.

It's a lot easier to keep an old bike going. In any case, we're just trying to keep rolling.

1 comment:

mike w. said...

i once witnessed a LeCar getting rear-ended by some bigger American car. The street was slick from an icy rain, the LeCar was stopped at a light and the other car- driving too fast for conditions, of course- slid about 20 yards before impact. The passengers of the Renault were unable to exit their car because the crash crumpled the bodywork so badly that the doors were crimped shut. The scene put me off of considering owning a Renault.