Hustle and Flow: On Car Racing

Some cars are like a caravan hotel, back to the time where we mostly traveled as a family, and round-trip journeys took up to six hours; you would be sitting on the “wrong” side of the front seat, dozing off sprawling memories of amateur motor sport to Norfolk or Brighton, or being the first to be accosted by a policeman in La Spezia who’s just too worried not to talk during the latest Agip price-crisis. You’d be thinking of continental road trip as many men in mid-fifties discuss carburetors, or during David Gilmour’s space rock solo in “Any Colour You Like,” a track from Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. Yet, with the envious attention of the every sidewalk crossed, on one memorable occasion you’d be taking a driver’s eye view of France’s glorious routes nationales somewhere outside Paris, with skinny cows caught up between absorption and ostentatious theatricality and your excuse for the travel, a concert of the King Crimson you foolishly failed to attend.

If you are driving down to Biarritz, responsible for the tire pressure during a tedious and tiring excursion, your car would have to be a shining red Citroën DS19 [2], so you could feel like an aristocrat coming down to inspect his lowly tenants—letting the spell of the sliding chrome, oiled in love like a cadence by Liszt, lick your velvet gloved hand until it cools off in the shade. (For a while, in the 1960s, it was felt in Europe that the Italians could design everything, but could not build it, while the French could offer subliminal ethical motivations for every purchase: Renault being still compromised because of its owner’s involvement with the Nazis, Peugeot being readily available, like a respectable little fringe-benefit of your working class job, and Citroën being preferred because of its comfort and ‘foreignness’—the cheap 2CV was roughly equivalent to the baby-boomer self-indulgence—and the decisive, yet unspoken, motivation that the eponymous founder of the car dynasty had been a Jew.)

Yet, if your demands were Ozymandias-like and you did not succumb to the exotic allures of a Saab, which was always distinctive but never a “culture,” then you’d be better off dreaming of a Ford yet-to-be futuristic model [4], competing with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis for its mechanized front details [3] and with the James Bond franchise on grounds of sexual innuendos and symbolized newfound freedom. (An argument could be made about the Volvos, that no matter how romanticized was their internal combustion and how impeccably they had learnt to speak English, they’d always look continental because of the way, and the obvious delight, in which they took their salads, coffees, and wine.) Unless, of course, you want to disappear into the nearest manhole, and require a model which is purring and whispering like Frank Zappa’s supporting band. In this case, only an unseen, untraceable, testosterone-driven whim of a car could satisfy the need at hand [1], with each noise offering the reasonable assumption that you’d been raised eyeing KGB stories and Triumph Spitfires at the barber’s shop, and that you’d never, even though sympathetic to its notion as an all-purpose companion, settle for a black 1980 Monte Carlo—no more, that is, than a dazzling sundown fades silver into ice-blue. ♦

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