Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Happy new car.

About six years ago I ran across a classified ad for a 1966 Simca 1500 with only 71,000 miles on it. I didn't have a car at the time but its price was only $1,500 and in short-order I convinced my ever-loving that it was time--we were in our mid-50s at the time--that we got a car.

So, I took a train and a bus up to a section of the Bronx hard on the New England Thruway. It was an old and dilapidated area of that old and dilapidated borough--the housing stock consisted of newer brick mid-rises that were built after World War II and before the influx of drugs and the outflux of white flight in the early 60s. The rest of the housing was older. It was made up of cheap 1000-square-foot summer bungalows that were built when the northern part of the borough was still largely rural.

I met the owner of the car and in a trice I handed him a certified check and he handed me a key to the 50-year-old vehicle. I started the Simca up and shifted into second (first wasn't working) and steered the old machine onto the heavily-trafficked highway.

However, rather than heading into the city, I veered onto the area's ugliest expressway--the Cross Bronx--over the George Washington Bridge and onto the Jersey Turnpike down to Toms River, New Jersey. (I'm not sure if there was more than one Tom or if the potentates of the village forgot the apostrophe.)

I had heard that the world's greatest Simca repairman had a garage down there and I called Lothar to say I was coming with my 1966 1500.

In about 90 minutes I pulled off the highway, down half a dozen backroads and into the long gravel driveway that led to Lothar's small garage.

As I stopped the sputtering machine, Lothar came out of his shop wearing an old grey sweatshirt over a pair of baggy dark corduroy pants. He was a big man, two inches taller than me, and low branches scraped the top of his bald pate.

"She is a noble machine," he said, shaking my hand in his huge claw. "The 1500 is the Simca of Kings. Its roofline is pitched so the driver can wear a Homburg hat while driving."

He was in and out of the driver's seat and then in a blur under the hood.

"I have in the back," he said closing the front of the car, "A three-liter straight-six from a 2002 BMW that will fit. Also, a five-speed manual from a 1979 Saab 90. And four slightly-used run-flat Continental tires from a 2006 Infiniti G20."

I nodded as if I knew what language Lothar was speaking. I had barely a clue.

"The whole kit and canoodle," he said calculating on an old piece of plywood he had picked up from the ground and ciphering with a fat lead pencil, "the whole kettle of frogs will cost you $3,500. And your Simca will be like a top it will run."

We shook hands again and Lothar drove me to a nearby bus-stop in his two-toned (black with red-highlights) 1963 Rambler Coupe.

"In three weeks back you come to me and I will be finished. You will have a Simca that purrs like a mitten," he said to me with confidence. 

We shook hands again and I wrote him a check for $1750, half the amount for the work he had promised. In just moments, an old Jersey Transit bus blowing viscous blue diesel exhaust pulled up to the stop. We wheezed back into the city in well-under three hours.

Since that initial meeting, my Simca 1500 has treated me like royalty. Though the heater never quite worked, and despite the new transmission that lacked a first gear, I loved the car like some men love a woman, maybe more.

However, coming back from the country this weekend on New York's version of the Aleppo to Damascus highway (Interstate 95 in the Bronx) we were engulfed by the pothole you see below. I couldn't swerve to avoid it having been hemmed in on each side of me by massive eighteen-wheelers.

My run flats got me home, but I'm afraid the stress of New York-living may now be too much for my old machine. The front axle seems bent like a Bachman's and from the concussion the exhaust system is hanging just inches from the asphalt, waiting to spark as it scrapes the road.

It's a new year.

And it might be time, I'm more than a little sad to say, for a new car.

I mean a new, old car.

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