A couple of years later, in ’61, we moved to Sevilla, Spain. Mom and Dad bought a pair of Renault Dauphines. These were rear engine econoboxes. The engines were modified from the Renault 4CV engine with 760 cc, to 845 cc with a blistering (this is a joke) 32 HP! Although the top speed was supposedly 120 kph, I clocked almost 140 kph on a long downhill outside Madrid with a nice tailwind. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but I think the manufacturers purposely set up the speedos to show more velocity, so they would sell more cars. One of the issues with this car, was that Dad had to put sandbags in the trunk (front) so the car would not float when he drove back and forth to Huelva. It was hard to turn the car when the front wheels barely touched the road! So much for rear engined cars. (The way you drove these cars was to drive as fast as you could, and anticipate everything you did. You did not want to brake or lose speed, as it took too long to recover it.)
One summer my grades were so bad that instead of going with mom and the family to our beach house in Fuengirola, I had to go with dad to a shrimp processing plant he managed in Huelva. We had to wake up at 0500 and drive an hour and a half to get there when the factory opened. I didn’t have a specific job at the factory, but Dad was trying to punish me and didn’t want me to enjoy my summer at the beach. The factory was next door to a train depot and I got to drive a locomotive a couple of times, not as much fun as I expected. I also persuaded Dad to let me wash the car once or twice a week, which required me to move the car to the shade of a large tree, so it would not spot before it dried.
A few years later we moved to Madrid. Mom still had her Dauphine, but Dad sold his as he could walk to his office.
In Spain one could not get a driver’s license till after your 18th birthday, and I still had 3 years left. Fast forward to my 18th birthday.
The day after my 18th birthday, I went to take my written driving test. I had studied the book, so I was confident I would pass. My mother took me to the testing centre and waited in the car. It was a room with about 25 young people seated at desks evenly separated from each other so nobody would be tempted to cheat. At my 2 o’clock there was a beautiful young lady with soulful eyes, that made my heart skip a beat when she smiled at me.
As the students finished the test, they would get up and take the materials to the proctor’s desk and leave them for testing. As I stood, the girl sitting at my 2 o’clock also got up, but dropped some papers on the floor between us. I immediately picked them up and handed them to her with a smile that belied my nervousness.
I then followed the girl to the proctor’s desk. The proctor looked at us and said “I don’t know if you were cheating, but I cannot accept your test. You will both have to retake the exam in a week.”
The girl looked at me and the ‘soulfulness’ was gone, replaced by a look of hatred that told me I had no chance of getting to know her any better.
A week later I presented myself again to take the written exam. I looked in vain for the girl, but she was nowhere to be found. I’d hoped she found me irresistible, but chances are that she was able to schedule a quicker exam, and not have to deal with the fool that got her thrown out of the test centre.
This time they graded my test right away and I passed. I then walked out to the parking lot to take the practical test. My mother had walked away to smoke a cigarette, and left me with the car. A few minutes later a man with a clipboard came up to me and said, “Are you Peter?”
“Yes” I answered.
“Did you come alone?”
I assumed he meant that I did not come with a driving school, so I answered “Yes”.
He then looked at me and said, “Well, then you must know how to drive already.” With a smile and a flourish he signed off on my paperwork and said “congratulations”.
I was now LEGAL!
For the next few months I got to drive the Dauphine all over Madrid and the outskirts. Xoch, one of my classmates, had a house in the country about an hour outside Madrid that I used to escape to. Her father, Jim Tuck, was an incredible character, and I admired him and enjoyed his company immensely, especially since my father and I were not on speaking terms. (Dad thought I was a bum, whose grades were abysmal and all I thought about was partying.) Papa Tuck, as we called him, was a writer who cut his teeth in the Algonquin Hotel in New York with other famous writers of the ’30’s. What interested me the most, was a tale he told me about joining the Army Air Corps to fight the Japanese in China. He heard that they paid $500 a month plus a $500 combat bonus for shooting down enemy planes. The only problem was that he did not know how to fly. So he found a friend who had a small plane in LA and got a lesson the weekend before he signed up. He told me the only way he survived was that he would take off in the morning and find a quiet valley to orbit in, then he would discharge his ammo and return to the base in the afternoon regaling everybody with his tales of adventure. It was a great story, but remembering that he was a writer, I took it all with a grain of salt.
The part of this that has to do with cars, and the Dauphine in particular, was that one day returning home after an afternoon with Papa Tuck, I found the car wouldn’t go faster than about 80 kph. I had the car floored, and nothing. I wondered if Dad had put so many sandbags in the front trunk, that we didn’t have enough horsepower to go any faster. I seemed to have gas, so I couldn’t figure out why it was so slow.
I should have stopped to check something, anything. This would have alerted me to the fact I had been driving in 2nd gear for the last hour!
Fortunately there appeared to be no lasting damage so I never told anybody, and more importantly, I never repeated that mistake.