A Love Letter - Faine 397
How often has a car broken your heart?
About 15 years ago, I was visiting a now long gone garage in Melbourne’s inner-city Collingwood. My 1975 rattle box D Special – the Kingswood of Citroens – was in for a bit of specialist attention. There, gleaming in the workshop was the most stunning of the iconic DSs you could wish to find.
Not only was it the super luxury Pallas DS, it was fully imported from the UK, Webasto sunroof, glorious patinated original black leather seats, fuel injected, – in 1972 – also boasting the complicated but mercurial clutchless manual gearbox.
The BVH (boîte vitesse hydraulique, if you remember your high school French) has an hydraulic actuator replacing the clutch pedal. You engage gears manually but there is nothing for your your left leg to do. For us Citroeniste purists it is the most desirable DS of all – the full expression of the engineering vision behind such a design breakthrough – also the most complex.
In magnificent metallic peacock blue, it was shimmering and winking at me and I was smitten. Now for the sucker punch: it was bought new by Judith Durham of The Seekers. With her late husband Ron she toured Europe in this very DS before privately importing it to Australia. After many years of happy ownership, they sold her. On several occasions I have quizzed Judith personally about the car to verify its authenticity.
I tried to buy it on the spot that day, there and then. The owner was not interested. I tried to press my business card on him, assuring him that when he was ready to sell he ought call me before advertising her. He was not interested. I asked the garagiste to let me know if it was ever offered up for sale. He was not interested. Despite this I vowed that one day she would be mine.
Over the years, as DSs of various kinds and specs have passed through my slippery hands, I have always lusted after just one car. All the others were interim dalliances until the Durham car finally came my way. But where did it go? Whose shed or yard was harbouring the best DS of all?
And then last week someone asked me if I had seen the peacock blue DS with sunroof that had just been listed for sale online. My heart skipped a beat. Looking somewhat dishevelled, there it was – the very car – in such a sorry state.
A peeling rego sticker confirmed that she was last on the road in 2003, not long after I saw her in tip top condition. But now, after sitting under a tree in a workshop yard, where it has apparently festered for at least five years, with only a torn car cover for protection, it was heart breaking.
Rust, mould, perished rubbers all around, torn boots on the steering rack and the driveshafts, suspect suspension hydraulics, rotten leather seats, the foam disintegrating on touch, electric wires corroding, sunroof peeling, carpets sodden… Horrible all around. Rotten door skins, engine undertray missing, hints of rats nibbling through the engine bay vitals. No doubt at all the sensitive 70s EFI electronics would not have survived. Tyres, roof-seal, exhaust looking like swiss cheese… My back-of-the-envelope list grew and grew.
It took little to work out the full extent of the catastrophic neglect. My inventory started with professional rust repairs to doors, floor and boot and a complete respray, then add in an entire seats and interior re-trim. Ballpark is $30k - $40k right there. For suspension pump and spheres rebuild, rubber unions and expensive boots all around, add on a few more dollars. Factor in a rebuild of the EFI… Some parts unobtainable… And that all assumed motor and gearbox to be in fine fettle internally. Add on brake discs and kits, radiator, complete exhaust system... Replacing pitted door and boot handles and hinges needing re-plating, every window and door rubber, electrics… The full extent of the task became clearer.
The fact that the faded beauty is complete is little consolation. The resto parts – mostly obtainable but needing to be imported from Europe – would alone cost more than she is worth, and then there’s labour – your own or a professional’s. The rebuild was not economical.
After 15 years, the search was over. While no other DS has such a solid gold pedigree, no amount of romance disguises the cold hard inescapable economics of the task. By now, someone will no doubt have taken her on. One day they will have a magnificent car. Maybe they have a donor car to mine for the broken stainless steel front bumper, the headlight trim, the disintegrating seat foam, the split leather door trims and so on. Maybe they have deeper pockets. Maybe they are Seekers fans. Maybe they have been searching too.
So I found my dream car. And she turned into a nightmare. Now my carnival is over. And I know I’ll never find another you.
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