When I arrived in Spain I realized that I didn’t have a car and my parents had moved to South America, so I had to buy a car if I was going to be mobile. In Madrid I found a red 1968 Alfa Romeo 1750 Duetto Spyder. It was not an E-Type, but it had covered headlights, was bright red, and it drove really well. It was the coolest car on the Coast, and that’s what I needed then. I spent the summer of 1970 in the Costa del Sol, where I had spent almost all my summers since I was born. Except now I had my very own hot wheels.
I spent a great summer adjusting to civilian life. One of the hardest things was not to dive for cover when a truck backfired. People thought it was funny when I flinched, I didn’t. There weren’t many Vietnam vets in the Coast, so I got a lot of attention from the ladies. I kept hearing about this other American who had been spending time in my town while I was away. It seems he dated all the women I knew, and I was getting really tired of hearing how cool this guy, David Weir, was. Fortunately he didn’t show up that summer, as I was not happy with the competition. The only other distraction for the ladies was Papillion, who appeared one day at the Sugarshack, our beach bar, and sat at the bar with his shirt open to his waist exhibiting his large butterfly tat on his chest. His book had recently been published, and everyone wanted to meet the man who escaped from Devil’s Island.
That summer I drove the Alfa all over the coast, from Cadiz and Gibraltar to Malaga. On the road from Marbella to Fuengirola one day, I spun out in a climbing high speed left hand curve. Fortunately I stayed on the road, since there was a 20-30 foot drop off into the sea.
At the end of the summer I drove to Madrid and left the Alfa in storage, while I flew back to the States to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. The first thing, was to use the GI Bill to get my military pilot licenses converted into civilian licenses. Around Christmas time I returned to Europe on a cheap Icelandic flight into Amsterdam. I was planning on taking a train to Madrid, picking up my car and driving down to the coast to see Jaqueline, a beautiful young French Moroccan girl I had met that summer.
Unfortunately, I met this American in the plane who was on his way to Morocco. I listened to his bullshit about how much fun it was to hitchhike, and I let him talk me into hitchhiking to Madrid, instead of taking the train as I planned. In Madrid I would pick up my car and drive him to Morocco. He told me it would be fun and easy. I had never hitchhiked, so I didn’t know. To make a long story short, we started in Paris, and walked for 8 hours that night, in the snow, me carrying a B4 bag and lace up shoes. The French don’t pick up hitchhikers.
Eventually we made it to a town with a train station and we were able to get to Madrid that following evening. I was really pissed off, so I didn’t want to linger in Madrid, and decided to pick up the car and drive straight to Fuengirola, where we could crash at my house and he could proceed on his own.
I was pretty tired, but I just wanted to get to the coast so we took off right away. About 6 hours later we passed Granada and started down the mountains. The road down the mountains to Malaga was a very curvy 2-lane road. The Alfa behaved beautifully. At one point the police had set up a roadblock because of some problem lower down the mountain. They were only going to let one vehicle at a time on the road. I got out to stretch my legs and I noticed I was behind a Fiat 2300 sedan, a car I had great memories of as one of my friends had one. The driver was also stretching his legs and we chatted about the comparative performance of both vehicles. Eventually the Fiat was let through and I waited for my turn. My passenger was sleeping on the seat besides me. When my turn came I started down the mountain. At the next corner I found the Fiat waiting for me.
The other driver said, “Let’s go down together. See who is fastest.”
Because I was tired, I agreed and decided I would just follow him and not race him. That Fiat was fast! We slalomed down the mountain really enjoying the empty road, until I turned around a corner and found a truck blocking the road. The Fiat had just passed him and the truck swerved back into my lane. I hit him head on. Fortunately neither vehicle was going fast at this point, but the damage to the Alfa was major. I could see the frame all bent, besides the bodywork crumpled like waste paper. The truck driver flew through the windshield and landed on my trunk. My passenger was asleep till he woke up with his head banging into the windshield. I jammed my thumbs on the steering wheel.
The Fiat reversed and the other driver came to render assistance. The truck driver was standing by the Alfa, but dizzy and bleeding from a scrape on his head, so we decided to pile everybody into the Fiat and go to the hospital in Granada, the vehicles were useless anyway. We threw all our bags and gear into the Fiat and drove to the hospital, only stopping to report to the police the accident we had. The police arrived when we were at the hospital and took my statement. They told me to be in the Magistrate’s office at 10 AM the next day with my documentation.
The next morning I presented myself at the Magistrate’s office. I had heard that one could spend a lot of time in a holding cell till they decided if and when to release somebody, so I needed a reason to be in a hurry. When the Magistrate asked me for my statement, I explained that I was on my way to my wedding in Malaga and I was already late, as I was supposed to be married later today. I don’t know why it worked, but the Magistrate said, that seeing that I had Full/All Risk Coverage insurance, and I was going to get married, he would let me go that day.
When I later spoke to the insurance company they told me that they were going to repair the car in Granada. I was surprised since all the parts were Italian. But the insurance man the said the spare parts were too expensive to replace (import tax), so they were going to make their own.
Six months later I was told that the car was fixed and ready to be picked up in Granada. I took a train back to Granada and picked up my shiny, almost-new, red Alfa. The car looked great. However, it didn’t track straight. I could feel it. In one high speed curve on the way home, I spun out again.
The world seemed different since I returned from Vietnam. My friends in Europe didn’t seems so interesting. They were in a time warp. It was as if nothing had changed since that day, over 5 years ago, when I first flew to the States to join the Marine Corps. It was time for me to move on.
I sold the car to a sailor in Rota Naval Air Station. I told him about the accident and he said he could straighten the frame when he got home. I had owned the car for a year and only got to drive it for 3 months.