Friday, March 5, 2010

1962 Renault Dauphine Gordini

My old Dauphine Gordini in front of Shadetree-
5th Ave. Wharf, Oakland, CA
February, 2010

I was a young starving artist/art furniture intern, and living in a burned-out warehouse on one of Oakland's seedier wharves. I quickly learned that buying lumber in my convertible MGA was a tricky proposition, so I sold it and began looking for a more suitable car. Still more style than sense, I bought a 1962 Renault Dauphine Gordini from a race car mechanic in Pt. Richmond. The car was in prisitine condition, and came with enough spares to build most of a second.

In 2007, Time Magazine named the Dauphine one of the 50 worst cars of all time:
The most ineffective bit of French engineering since the Maginot Line, the Renault Dauphine was originally to be named the Corvette, tres ironie. It was, in fact, a rickety, paper-thin scandal of a car that, if you stood beside it, you could actually hear rusting. Its most salient feature was its slowness, a rate of acceleration you could measure with a calendar. It took the drivers at Road and Track 32 seconds to reach 60 mph, which would put the Dauphine at a severe disadvantage in any drag race involving farm equipment. The fact that the ultra-cheap, super-sketchy Dauphine sold over 2 million copies around the world is an index of how desperately people wanted cars. Any cars."

Actually, the limited edition race-modified Gordini model was zippy enough for a small car, and was raced and rallied successfully for a couple of years of its production life. It was a cheap POS tin can...but quirky in a mid-century French sort of way, and suited my needs well enough. Driving carefully, I could squeeze almost 50mpg out of it- important when you are working for slave wages- and with a roof rack, I could pack 50 board feet of lumber before the springs started to bottom out.

Several years later, I moved to rural Mendocino County and needed a truck to navigate the miles of unpaved roads to my remote cabin, so I sold the Dauphine to a local guy who bought it for his girlfriend, visiting for the summer from France. Of all of the stuff I've let go of in my life, I most regret selling this car. When he brought it by a couple of days later- fully detailed and polished- I nearly sat down on the sidewalk and cried.

Flash-forward 20 years:
A while back, I took my wife and daughter to see some of the places that I had lived and worked "back in the day", and there, parked in front of the old warehouse in it's old designated spot was "my" Dauphine. Somehow, over decades and miles, she had found her way home.

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