At age 18, against my dad’s wise advice, I purchased my first car, a beat-to-shit, sun faded red Camaro. Truth be told, I bought it to impress the hot guy selling it, in a lame attempt to appear cool. I soon learned that this car was my personal version of Stephen King’s killer car, Christine. It quit running when it rained, attracted rabid dogs (seriously…but that’s another story), developed enormous cancerous holes where it had been bondo-ed, left me stranded more times than not and consumed my entire savings in futile repairs. When I sold it, I had to exit from the window as neither door would open. I felt angry, like a failure and a sucker: anything but cool. I couldn’t afford to buy another car, so I rode my ten-speed everywhere and wore my tough girl, “I don’t care” attitude instead of a bike helmet.
After a year of the “bike ride of shame,” my dad suggested that we find a “good car” for me. I felt like I was being offered a rewind and replay of my Camaro fiasco. My dad had a penchant for auto-exotica (at least for those times) and I grew up appreciating everything from a Studebaker, a Fiat 124 and learned to drive a manual transmission in our Opel Kadett. We diligently scoured used car lots looking for my redemption car. Road weary and mildly disillusioned, my father first spotted “her.” I remember dad’s words, “now that looks interesting.” I remember desperately hoping this car would be the one I took home. As bad-ass as I pretended to be bombing around on my Raleigh road bike, I was sooo over pedal-power.
We were holding our breath as we apprehensively approached the lovely lady. I heard my dad’s breathing change slightly before he softly uttered “Mmmmmmmmmm…! Lor, it’s a Peugeot!” All I knew is that it was love at first sight. From her glossy, cabernet exterior, rich chamois-like interior and most excellent sleepwalking lion logo, I was hopelessly smitten (if this wasn’t fabulous enough already, the manual tranny and old school crank-open sunroof sealed the deal for me). When I was finally able to divert my gaze from her awesomeness, I saw my dad wore the same dreamy, goofy, lovestruck grin I felt on my own face. He winked and told me, “Now, Lor, THIS is a great car,” and of course, I soon drove it home.
I soon found the Peugeot 504 to be in a league of its own and took every opportunity to uncover the provenance of “mon amour.” I learned that the 504 was considered the French Mercedes, noted for its advanced suspension, comfortable ride and good handling and its design by Pininfarina, who I now knew to be a noteworthy Italian design firm. I particularly remember one picture of me in my 504, taken by my dad (sadly lost in one of my moves) which shows a girl in her early 20s, long hair slicked back in a fishbone braid, aviator Ray Bans, goofy grin, her hand placed lovingly on the steering wheel. My dad–my hero–had helped me find my cool.
I am sorry to say I do not have any actual pictures of my Peugeot to share with you. My time with her was over three decades ago and anyway, I didn’t have much of a chance to gather many snapshots. After approaching a year of driving bliss, it became apparent that the Pug needed a brake job. My dad and I took her for a quote at a European Auto Repair shop he frequented with his cars. I knew since it was an unusual car that the cost would probably be steep. Neither of us were prepared for the brake job to exceed the cost of the car. My dad turned white as a sheet, I was numb and paralyzed. “No way,” we uttered in tandem. “Way” was the service manager’s unemotional, blasé response. We consoled ourselves into believing that maybe this place was just crazy expensive, but the mood grew heavier with every additional quote.
The ride home screamed in silence. I looked at my dad hoping, praying he had a trick up his sleeve, but I was shocked to actually see tears running down his handsome face. “I’m so sorry, Lor, I really messed up. I had no idea it would cost this much to fix. I know how much you love her…..I do too. I’m so sorry.” As we pulled in the driveway, both our faces strained with grief. The only option was to sell. The day our Peugeot 504 resumed life in the hands of another was devastating in many ways. I was destined to resume pedal-power, believed I had forever lost my cool and was jolted into the realization that my dad was as humanly flawed and prone to failure as I was.
Thirty-four years later, tears of heartfelt memories and beautiful failures, interrupt my writing flow. I still have a Raleigh for pedal-power, if needed, though I’m not concerned about maintaining my cool persona. I drive a sweet, fun, MX5 that is as reliable as the road is long, but the 504 still managed to pay off as a wonderful talking point on my first date with the diehard car guy who I now call my husband. My dad has unfortunately been gone for over 24 years. I will always remember the day shortly after his death, when I pulled into a service station to gas up and noticed a man that bore an uncanny resemblance to my dad a few pumps away. He caught my eye, winked and drove off in a Peugeot 504.