Behind the White Wheel

Behind the White Wheel

Friday, April 30, 2010

A No Man's Car

Hit by the female-appeal craze in 1955, Chrysler introduced the Dodge “La Femme”, the first and only American car marketed solely for women. “By Appointment to her Majesty…The American Woman” exclaimed the brochure. Though short lived, the 1955 -56 "La Femme" can’t but be considered a unique car reflecting a prosperous and beautiful era.

(Source Wikipedia)

In the 1950’s GM (Chrysler’s main competitor) introduced many models of cars having a certain feminine appeal. The Cadillac Eldorado Seville Baroness, Pontiac Pink Parisienne and the Chevrolet Impala Martinique were some of these cars.
Hit by the virus in the spring of 1955, Chrysler introduced the “La Femme” a two doors Dodge Custom Royal Lancer with some additional trim and accessories costing 143.30$ by the 1950s standards. The price of the Custom Royal Lancer was $2,543 back then.

“La Femme’s” exterior color scheme was Sapphire White and Heather Rose. Gold colored “La Femme” scripts replaced the standard “Custom Royal Lancer” scripts on the front fender.

(Source: Wikipedia)

The ultimate touches which personalize “La Femme” are its special feminine accessories. Two compartments located on the backs of the front seats are upholstered in Heather Rose Cord grain. The compartment on the driver's side contains a stylish rain cape, a fisherman's style rain hat and an umbrella which carry out the Jacquard motif. The other compartment holds a stunning shoulder bag in soft rose leather. It is fitted with a lighter, a lipstick and a cigarettes case.

(Source: Wikipedia)

"La Femme" was dropped for the 1957 model year, mostly because of a fairly high price for the options it had and maybe a lack of good promotion by Chrysler.

I tried to browse the internet looking for one for sale but in vain. These cars have become extremely rare. Though the “Custom Royal Lancer” might still be found on eBay (for example), its “La Femme” version has completely disappeared. Some estimates state that only twenty cars survived (one of them is in the displayed pictures).

These cars reflect the role women had in the 1950’s in the US: Back then, most of them had already joined the workforce. "La Femme", with its colors, options and shape, in addition to trying to add a certain feminine aspect to the extremely mannish cars’ environment, came as a scream for women to distinguish themselves from men on this particular side. The Europeans, in my opinion, did not tackle this issue in the same manner. They either introduced extremely small cars (such as the Citroen 2CV, or the Renault Dauphine) and marketed them as cars that would be “preferred” by women or simply pictured a woman driving a Mercedes-Benz 220S with the semi automatic Hydrak Clutch, for instance, implying that this car was easy to drive.

I strongly believe that the cultural and social differences between the US and Europe reflected extremely well on the automobile industry. The designs and the size reflected it most. In this posting a new dimension is observed: The Americans (Chrysler is this case) tried to completely differentiate between cars for women and cars for men. A certain marketing strategy I would say; bad in terms of sales results apparently, but extremely successful in terms of cultural heritage and originality.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fifteen Years…

« J'ai rencontrĂ© quelques peines, j'ai rencontrĂ© beaucoup de joie. C'est parfois une question de chance, souvent une histoire de choix. Je suis pas au bout de mes surprises la dessus y'a aucun doute. Et tous les jours je continue Ă  apprendre les codes de ma route. » Grand Corps Malade

On the 23rd of April 1995, I took the first two pictures of my then newly acquired Mercedes-Benz 180. It was Easter day and my birthday! I had just turned fifteen!

Today, it’s the 23rd of April 2010. I’m turning thirty. As you can see, those are the latest two pictures of my car.

Fifteen years have gone by since the 23rd of April 1995 and I still own this car. As I wrote in the first post on this blog, “I have restored it, I have learned how to maintain it, and I know every single detail in it, every single wire, every single bolt...” well, I will say more this time…For fifteen years this car has been accompanying me…I used it whenever I could…Now that I think of incidents, funny stories etc… I imagine a movie running on the fast forward in my head. I see a lot of pictures, I hear engine, wind and all types of noises, and I smile when I glimpse the faces of my friends and loved ones sitting next to me in the car… It’s simply the movie of my life where this car has been, as I always wanted, a major part of it.
I admit I haven’t thought in 1995 where I will be on the 23rd of April 2010, nor in what condition the car will be. Today, I know I have made and was sometimes obliged to make many choices in my life. I do question some, not to the extent of feeling regret, but I am glad I made all the others. I’m pleased I kept the car in a very good shape and crossed many important milestones in its never ending amelioration process.
On the other hand, I’m gratified I kept my friends around me, met new ones and did my best to create harmony between them all. I’m thankful I belong to a family and to a village I go to whenever the pressure of the daily life becomes unbearable and I see myself as a unique reflection of the crazy society I live in. Those fifteen years shaped my personality; they made out of me the person I am now. The coming years hide surprises, bad ones and good ones, they will shape me again without being able to change everything in me…especially my love for classic cars…
I’ll stop here. You will feel that I deviated from the original objectives of this blog, but I assure you, dear readers, I haven’t; I simply never dissociated myself, and my friends have never dissociated me either, from my car. It simply comes with me… a freaky approach? Don’t push your thinking too far…take me as I am or read the "Behind the Freak: lifestyle and perceptions" blog…

See you again in a similar post in 2025…till then I’ll be discovering the coming chapters of “les codes de ma route”…

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

To Travel is Better Than to Arrive (Jeff Miller)

Nothing is better than a weekend escapade to the mountains away from the stress of the daily life. I chose to spend this weekend alone in Kafarhata Al Koura to relax and enjoy the beautiful spring weather.

Taking my classic Mercedes-Benz 180 is a must for such trips. I left home early in the morning, had breakfast with Nathalie and drove straight to Koura. The trip was amazing with very little traffic on the highway and the car cruising smoothly at around 90km/h. I enjoyed the amazingly calm sea, the clear weather and the blue sky along with beautiful Brel, Brassens, Piaf and Sinatra songs diffused by the old Becker Mexico tube radio. I crossed the Chekka tunnel, took the first exit and started climbing the different hills leading to my village. On my way, I was continuously sharing the small countryside roads surrounded by burgeoning olive trees and wild yellow flowers with several “young classics” most of them W114/115 and W123 Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot 504, Renault 12 etc...

The weekend was amazingly calm and serene. I read a lot, and enjoyed walking on the small roads of my village.

The greatest particularity of this weekend was that in addition to relaxing and detaching myself from the routine, I enjoyed every aspect of my car. Going out of the city for a weekend in a classic car is extremely special and enjoyable to an extent I believe that it’s the journey, not the destination that is most enjoyable!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Parked and Forsaken...

When I completed the restoration of my 180b in 1995 I was left with some small unfinished details. Among them was the missing outside mirror that was considered an extremely rare item!

One day in 1999 I detected by chance in Achrafieh a gray 190b still being used as a cab. The first thing I noticed was the original mirror on the front left fender. I parked next to it, looked at the driver and asked him if he would sell me the mirror of his car. The old man, surprised by my freaky question said he would give me the mirror only if I could get him any other one. Without hesitation, I went to a used car parts store and got him a Peugeot 504 mirror. I helped him install it, took my newly acquired mirror straight to the re-chroming shop and “hop” within a week the mirror was installed in my car.

Later on, in 2004, I saw the same car and driver waiting for a “client” at the same place…This time I decided to use his taxi services…I jumped out of my (now ex) girlfriend's car (I paid the price for leaving her alone) and asked him to take me to ABC Achrafieh. The ride was pleasant, the driver funny – a typical old service driver – and the car was running smoothly though it was relatively “tired”; something normal for a 40+ years old car…

Years passed by, and I started seeing this same car parked in Karm El Zeitoun next to my friend’s house. I wondered what happened to the driver since the car seemed to be disintegrating under the sun and the rain…I asked Youssef (since he knows the neighborhood) to check if the car is for sale…I had, and continue to have, a strong desire to acquire it and restore it!

As I expected, the owner of the car had passed away…Normally the ownership would have been shifted to his heirs – his wife in this case, since he had no children – unfortunately this did not happen because of some legal and financial disputes the owner had with the previous mayor of the region who also passed away…!!!
A bit out of reality story…but until now, the car is sitting at the corner of the street…waiting to be junked or to find a new owner…I’ll do my best to find the new owner or to be the new owner myself…my desire to restore it is getting stronger every day…

Follow me; the journey has just started…