MMR Blog

My Word: Like a Child

Posted on July 24, 2014 Comments (2)

By Denise McCluggage

When Niki Lauda berated Sebastian Vettel for “screaming like a child” while on the radio to his pits I had an aha moment. Seb was grousing to his pits about the way Fernando Alonso was conducting himself in the pair's remarkable dice at Silverstone.

“Child,” Lauda said. That was the key.

This Formula 1 season, one of the best for some serious racing never mind the obvious dominance of Mercedes-Benz, keeps scratching at something in my memory. And the remark by one three-time champion (Lauda) about a four-time champion (Vettel) and his extraordinary mid-pack 14-lap set-to with a two-time champion (Alonso) put me—zap!—with my big sister in the backseat of a 1936 Oldsmobile on a hot Kansas highway headed for Colorado’s mountains. (“Mama, make her move her foot. She stuck her foot on my side on purpose!” “You touched my arm!” “You touched mine first!”)

Sebastian Vettel    Niki Lauda

Both the champions were complaining to their pits. “Screaming like a child” Lauda said. We were children screaming at a beleaguered Mom in the front passenger’s seat. So “child” fits the scene. But still that wasn’t the element that had been bothering me a few weeks before as I watched a petulant Lewis Hamilton snub a suddenly luckier-than-he Nico Rosberg. “Child” covered that, too.

But Lauda’s remarks swirled it all into focus. These grown men treat competition like children. Just read a few articles by child psychologists on childhood and competition. Some have written books on the destructive effect competition has on little developing egos. You’ve probably seen protectors of self-esteem introduce prizes-for-everyone at kiddy parties—which I certainly don’t object to. Parties are parties. And if you’ve seen kids you’ve seen tears when losing a game is something they can’t quite handle.

Today’s drivers started racing as tots, with helmeted heads barely balanced on reedy necks. Probably their hand-eye coordination developed faster than the neighbor kid’s did. And probably they had the sort of parents who noticed who had greener grass or played more holes of golf on a given weekend. Not competitively really, just noticing.

Kids just notice, too. Particularly how doing something better or earlier or faster or more often can put that special look on Dad’s face. Competition seems to produce the most varied reactions in similar people as anything I can think of. Kids learn early and easily what’s important to parents and that is a guidepost to behavior. Even parents who don’t overtly push their kids in competitive situations (my sister when she was a director of a children’s theater group in California called those parents “Dancing Mothers”) can communicate crushing disappointment to a child. Some kids can handle it, some can’t.

I had two nephews, brothers, who responded as differently as possible to competition. One was blithely oblivious to the pressure. He swam as well as he could that day and sometimes did better than most, but he always had a great time. The water got them equally wet but his older brother would brood the rest of the day if he didn’t win. Yet both as young adults and in different years won a title setting them apart as the best trombonist in all of California. Guess which one—retired from a marketing career now—still plays his horn. And owns a sweatshirt that reads “I may be old but I heard all the great bands.”

The little brother of a friend of mine was a star Little League pitcher. Made the newspapers and local TV. He loved the acclaim. Then he outgrew Little League. The new baseball program he was eligible for found him at the bottom of the heap starting over. Not for him. He simply quit playing baseball. The son of another friend, after he finished second in his first ski race, announced he didn’t like it and would never do it again. And he didn’t.

My own childhood competition was a lot of ping pong with my Dad. And we both were serious. Bright-eyed and eager. When Daddy won he shouted: “Game. Set. Championship of the Wor-r-ld!” That didn’t seem extreme to me. So I’d do the same thing. Girls were not supposed to be competitive and the rules for women’s basketball then allowed only one bounce per dribble. Yes! We could use only half the court (lest we perspire in an unladylike fashion) so we played either defense or offense. Stupid dumb game. Driveway backboards were common enough so after school I played HORSE with the boys. New kids might have to get used to playing with a girl but the regulars were fine with it.

I think I had a healthy attitude toward competition.

Briggs Cunningham Time Magazine cover

But the most unique, and I think healthiest approach to competition I ever encountered was that of Briggs Cunningham, a Corinthian in the original sense of sportsmanship, particularly of yachtsmen. On the water is where Briggs first excelled and he was the skipper of the Columbia when the America’s Cup competition was revived in 1958 after the prewar era of the huge 12 Metre boats.

I was racing some of Briggs’ cars at that time—OSCAs, Formula Juniors and Porsche Spyders. The Columbia was taking on the British yacht in Long Island Sound. And was beating it all hollow. This bothered Briggs terribly. “It’s no fun if the competition isn’t close.”

It was said that the British boat was confounded by the light air; all would be different if there was some serious weather. Yet came a big blow and the Columbia beat the Brits as badly as ever. Now here was Briggs in all seriousness suggesting that to shake things up the American and British teams should swap boats. Maybe the results would be different.

Can you imagine Ted Turner, an American team captain a few years later, suggesting that? His idea of competition was to leave the opponent bloody and pleading for mercy. Nor could Dennis Connor, long an America’s Cup skipper, be called a “sportsman” in the sense Briggs exemplified. Yes, he wanted to win, but mostly he wanted to compete. A challenge.

Here were Vettel and Alonso at Silverstone competing tooth and nail. And complaining to their pits about the driving tactics of the other. Or at least Vettel was “screaming like a child.” What I had felt through this season was an unpleasant tension that made me wonder if these people were actually having any fun. Were they hating what they were doing and who they were doing it with? Is racing only about the boundless money they are pulling in, the rewards, the accolades. I recall falling in love with everyone I had close dices with. At Meadowdale near Chicago Don Yenko (Corvette) and I (250 GT Ferrari) had a terrific go. The race was red-flagged because of some serious incidents among smaller cars also in the race, and we had to stop on the course. Don and I jumped out of our cars and grabbed each other like bears and danced about in what might best be described as glee. That was maybe the most fun I’ve ever had in a race.

Denise McCluggage    Don Yenko

I know racing stopped being a sport and became a costly business when Bernie and his moneymoneymoney culture took over. I was trying to pinpoint just how racing differs today from the days when I was following the scene more intimately and indulging in it myself. Lauda’s “child” remark gave me the answer.

As I said, most of today's drivers started their careers as children—Vettel began his astonishing collection of helmets especially designed for him when he was just eight and already a star. Children like attention, like being told they are wonderful, but they rarely really like competition.

The Formula 1 drivers I was watching weren’t enjoying themselves. Nor were they loving each other. They were doing hard work, displaying great skill. But experiencing pleasure? Not until the flag dropped and they—yippee—won. Children.

Fernando Alonso

But then I had a glimmer. Was Alonso having something of a good time? Even in that Vettel scream fest. And then in the next race, the German Grand Prix, I swear Alonso downright enjoyed himself. And drove fantastically well. 

He and Daniel Ricciardo, the Red Bull rookie from Australia, gave a workshop in tight competition, the art of dicing. And the delight—yes, delight—showed. In both of them. Actual smiles. Maybe a little love.

Now I know who to watch. And enjoy.


My Word: Being 16 at Le Mans

Posted on June 26, 2014 Comments (1)

… and elsewhere.

by Denise McCluggage

A useful capability for those who write for “publication” on the internet is the ease of correcting errors, typos or the God’s-truth you just now discovered was really not true. Try to do that with a newspaper or magazine. Even then the internet’s first incorrect version floats its way through cyberspace in parallel inaccuracy to the corrected piece. Bother.

Alas, too often no one bothers to make the changes anyway. And because many Google-it, researchers on a hasty harvest of facts choose the first source they come to, they seed their new columns and articles with old errors. Thus do the weeds of inaccuracies proliferate and are blown farther afield.

(I’ll be getting to Le Mans soon.)

I think of my mountain-side house in Vermont where I lived with my heavy typewriter and a lighter cat and mailed (mailed!) stuff I wrote to editors in New York and elsewhere. I had to drive at least 30 miles to a library of any serious use where I fingered through card catalogs; lugged bound magazines to those things called “carrels”, or fiddled with microfiche in search of Facts.

Now in Santa Fe I stay at home office-chaired before a computer, which is quicker and grabbier than a host of human searchers, and dumps before me indiscriminate information with facts, factoids, suppositions, misapprehensions, simple blunders and purposeful lies. Some of these are recognizable to me for what they are. Some require more tracking and sourcing. Throughout I wonder if truth and accuracy are really better served than when I wheeled a Land Rover, yellow like a school bus, over snowed-on New England roads to Dartmouth or the University of Vermont campuses to a library where I could check things. Were facts a truer blue then for my efforts?

In any era, GIGO.

I was brought to this rumination by an article on the internet by a colleague of mine at AutoWeek—Anthony Peacock—whose name and writing I like. It was about a 16-year-old yclept Matt McMurray who this year, 2014, became the youngest driver ever to compete in the 24-hours race at Le Mans (aha!). I read it for several reasons: For one, to me 16 is an age larded with meaning. The difference between going to bed a child and waking up with the door swinging open to adulthood. Or, more limited to my gender but of significance as you shall see—the difference between wearing high heels or flat shoes.

Anyway it was I who at 16 one late summer day boarded a Union Pacific train in Topeka KS and click-clacked across half a nation to Oakland CA. There I disembarked more or less ready to begin my first of four years at Mills College, a highly regarded women’s college for which I had landed a scholarship. I had never been to California. I was all by myself. Alone. There was a war on, as we were constantly reminded, and common knowledge had it that the Japanese were certain to bomb the West Coast any time. People thought my parents were totally bonkers to turn me over to the Union Pacific.

The train rollicked about in its mostly forward intentions, but I walked the passageways secure in 16-year-old balance and my flat shoes. However before leaving the train at the Oakland station I changed into my high heels. Nothing extreme—just workaday high heels, for those who worked days and wore high heels. I think I could count on one hand the times I had worn such shoes, but I was being met at the train by someone from College. Childhood was over.

The image I have of my disembarkation was of my portable Zenith radio, at the time the smallest version of such devices was the approximate size and weight of a Buick battery, flying halfway across the platform. I had flung it thus when I caught one of the unfamiliar heels in the top step, ripping it off the shoe, scattering everything in hand and upsetting any hope of a near-adult’s smooth arrival. Luckily for me I was dumped into the arms of a handy and helpful Pullman porter on the platform.

He then helped me find the heel, collect my belongings and dig the sensible-for-a 16-year-old flat-soled shoes from my bag. Down a peg but no bones broken I proceeded to meet those from college—now without a capital letter—who were to meet me.

Thus 16 has been an age I pay attention to.

Almost fifteen years after that I was at Le Mans, camera in hand but also hoping to be allowed to race there the car I had been offered by Luigi Chinetti. There, too, was a pair of teen-aged brothers from Mexico who had the motor racing world agog with their good looks, keen spirit and uncommon talent. Ricardo at 16 was two years younger than his brother, adorable and spoke little English. Pedro, only a tad less dashing, had been to school in the United States and his English was fluent.

Ricardo Rodriguez Pedro Rodriguez

Ricardo (left) | Pedro and his little brother

I knew them both, raced at Nassau with them … was even photographed for Sports Illustrated with Ricardo. The title of the piece was “Look Who’s Racing” which meant a girl and a child. (Oy. What are we coming to?) Ricardo was also hoping to be allowed to race at Le Mans that year. Officials had dithered over his age despite his extraordinary experience.

When I spotted the brothers on the pit wall the day before practice was to start I had just come from the inspection site where I had watched Luigi plead my case to M. Acat, head of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, forever the race organizers. Luigi had some clout at Le Mans having won the race at that time more than any other driver (three). I watched him across the way, shoulders shrugging, his mouth shaping French words for this imperious little man before him who had a profound power over my life for the next few days. Camera or car. Then Luigi came to where I, unbreathing, awaited. He shrugged another shrug. “Monsieur Acat says, ‘This is an invitational race and we do not cho-o-se to invite women.” With Luigi’s accent it came out “sh-o-oes”.

Simple. No. You cannot race at Le Mans. Stock up on film.

I asked Pedro if he had a ride. Yes, he did. And you? No. Ah-h. He was sympathetic. And Ricardo? Head shake. Too young. So, said I: no women or children allowed. He laughed and translated for Ricardo, who smiled his so-sweet smile. After that all the weekend whenever he saw me he would smile it again and pipe in English: “No ladies or babies!”

The next year—1959—Ricardo was a year older and was readily accepted at Le Mans. I was still a woman and remained uninvited. The Rodriguez boys shared a 750 OSCA. A car like the one I was to drive in 1958. Through the years of my racing my being “uninvited” at Le Mans kept me out of a Briggs Cunningham Corvette and a Porsche factory drive there. Wouldn’t that have been cool?

Oh, dear. This piece seems to have become about me. Probably because I am writing it. But it was meant to be about a 16-year-old driving at Le Mans and Anthony Peacock writing about that. In Peacock’s article he said that Matt McMurray had supplanted, as the youngest ever to drive Le Mans, one Pedro Rodriguez who had previously been the youngest at 17 in 1959.

That was very un-Peacock. I’d always found his accuracy admirable. If he had just checked the Le Mans line-up for that year—available with a few clicks on Google—he would have seen that Pedro was driving with Ricardo. And quick click to the 1958 entries and Pedro was there with someone else’s brother: Jean Behra’s sibling Jose. No Ricardo as a starter in any car. Even if he had not known it was clear who was the elder.

I tried to email the author so he could use the internet’s post-publication ability to allow corrections, but when I searched for the story again I found another Peacock article about the youngest driver neatly correct to the right Rodriguez hermano—Ricardo—and his age now to the day (17 years and 126 days) compared to Matt’s (16 years and 202 days.) My colleague hadn’t disappointed me after all. (Check out his Mark Webber story and others on AutoWeek.)

I noticed two things. For one, the earlier Peacock story about the 16-year-old was still floating about with its error intact despite the new correct piece. And for another thing, according to my calculations, if the “no ladies or babies” rule had been overridden in 1958 by M. Acat—or the babies part at least—and Ricardo had been okayed to drive he would still hold the youngest-driver-at-Le Mans title. By 76 days.

But what if I’m wrong? (I don’t get along well with numbers.) Then I can chase all this down later with the “real fact” and have antithetical stories dancing together in the clouds. Facts may be facts but you can believe what you choose. Most everyone else does these days.


My Word: Do You Know Your Tire’s Birthday?

Posted on June 12, 2014 Comments (0)

by Denise McCluggage

When one writes a weekly syndicated newspaper column as I did in a previous life that writer looks forward to the special weeks someone has devised, such as the recent Tire Week. A special week hands a writer a subject and means one fewer had to be dreamed up to fill the quota of 52. Yippee for tires.

I particularly liked Tire Week because I believe sincerely that tires are as important as you can get in a vehicle. Yes, they keep the bloody thing off the ground, but that’s not what earns them their kingship. What does that is this: Tires serve as the sole communicator of all drivers’ hopes, wishes and intentions from the vehicle to the surface of the earth. Nothing else can do that.

Want to turn? The steering wheel merely aims your rolling front wheels. It is the tires taking little bites of the road in that new direction that result in a turn. Want to stop? The brakes slow the turning of the tires. It is the tires’ friction with the road’s surface that leads to a stop. Want to get rolling? Apply pressure to the gas pedal and the car’s running gear turns the drive wheels. Again the friction between the tires and the road surface causes your vehicle to get underway and keeps it rolling as you feed it fuel. If that grip on the road is absent because of ice, gravel or too much speed you do not do what you intended. Tires and friction are necessary.

I felt a bit guilty not writing something about tires this past Tire Week so I decided to do a column, if not for a newspaper, at least for the medium gradually strangling newspapers. And I decided to concentrate on an aspect of tires that most people are surprised to hear about.

Tires have a birthdate. Tires have a use span. Tires have a shelf life. And it behooves tire users to know about such things so that they can be wise buyers and safe users of the most important items on their cars.

Many people know enough to keep their tires inflated to the proper pressure, checking no less than once a month when the tire is cold—maybe driven a mile or less to the service station. But it’s really nice to have an accurate pressure gauge at home and even a neat compressor to pump up a non-compliant tire. These people know how to check to the depth of the tread with a coin (or how to Google it) and to look for damaging curb strikes on the sidewalls. And for cracks on those sidewalls.

I applaud them. But they are often at a loss when I say “How old are your tires?” Oh, put on three years ago. Big sale. Saved a ton. Did you? How old were they when you bought them? They were new!

To your car, maybe. But when were they born?

Blank look. Just ask the tires.

Right off the rack a tire can be ready to be scrapped. Maybe. Did you ever buy a packet of shiny new yellow pencils with round red erasers only to get them home and discover the erasers are as hard as little rocks? Good for smearing the mark of a #2 pencil but not for erasing anything. Pencils are cheaper than tires but their rubber is subject to similar time limitations. Tire rubber gets hard and that grip to turn, stop and start is dangerously compromised. The tread—as sharp as it looks, as deeply as it measures—is not what counts. Age is. And history.

Controversy reigns. Tire dealers have their own policy of how old a tire needs to be before they will not sell it. Tires warehoused in controlled climate and humidity are “younger” than tires mounted and in use or displayed in sun-struck racks at a shop. Be aware that laws have been discussed governing maximum tire ages but none have been passed. A tire living outdoors in a hot dry climate may be ready for replacement in five or six years. Seven is probably a limit for such a tire to be safe. For a garaged car in a kinder atmosphere you might get moderate use for another three to four years but I’m fond of seven. Which, comes to finger-counting, means my lightly-used 21-year-old Suzuki Sidekick living in New Mexico is probably ready for new black rings at each corner.

Let me go check their birthday…

OK. I’m embarrassed. My lovely Bridgestones which I still think of as “newish”—and they look it—carry this code—3403—on the sidewall following DOT and other numbers not relevant to me now. I’m not going to tell you what 3403 means but let you “look it up.” My daddy always said that would mean more to me.

What Daddy meant was go through card catalogs and pull down heavy tomes from library shelves. Certainly character-building. I mean go to this Tire Rack link and look at their illustrated way to read the age of your tires. And mine, if you’re the nosy kind. Tire Rack also has a wealth of tire lore that is worth several years of Tire Week. You can become an expert and dine out on tire information for months to come.

Belated happy birthday, Tire Week.


The Last Supper

Posted on May 29, 2014 Comments (0)

by Denise McCluggage

The Brits call it a recce, short for the pre-rally reconnaissance run teams do to make the pace notes that the navigator reads to the driver—“crest, straight, max; 30 yards blind-left, max.” etc. (I once had a look at Timo Makinen’s pace notes. Everything was “max.”)

After their recce for the Liege-Sofia-Liege several rally duos met by chance at a restaurant near the Yugoslav border and joined for dinner. As one of the group told me later the intent of all was to spend as much of the local cash they could. It turned worthless at the border and they were forbidden to take it out of the country anyway.

Eat up, everyone. And they did. But they still had wads of the currency left after the bill was paid. Everyone cleaned out his pockets. They called the waiter over and presented it all to him as his eyes widened. He left and came back with his boss. The rally guys assured the proprietor that it was all for the waiter, they were leaving the country and could not take it.

As they were finishing their coffee one nudged another and all followed his look. Their waiter was removing his apron, took his jacket off the hook and shrugged his way into it as he headed for the door. My informant told me there was even a spring in the old guy’s normal waiter’s shuffle and a prideful finality in the way the door closed behind him. One of the rally guys whispered: “Cor. How much do you suppose that lot was worth?”

Liege Sofia Liege


My Word: The Lotus-Etc I Left Behind

Posted on May 22, 2014 Comments (2)

By Denise McCluggage

There were two of them on a recent cover of the British magazine Octane. I smiled. Two mid-‘60s two-door sedans, simple and appealing, with narrow racing green stripes leaking from the side of the headlights to fill a little channel in their swelling sweep—door-handle high—aft to the taillights. Surely you’ve seen pictures. Imagine a wheel in the air, maybe two, with Jimmy Clark placidly sweeping his way to a saloon car championship (to go with his Formula 1 pair).

Jim Clark

Three names involved—Ford, Lotus, Cortina—used variously in differing order. My smile was in memory of these toothpaste-fresh cars and the fact that I walked off and left one in Yugoslavia. That was in 1963. It’s still in Titograd as far as I know except that Titograd is gone. They call it Podgorica now. As they had for centuries before.

I was one of few American drivers who got involved in rallies at the works-team level in the 1960s. Mixing rallies and races was common in Europe but American rallies were then, as the saying went, run by watchmakers and mathematicians. Racing folk were not drawn to them. European rallies were races with check points. I was to drive a number of them for BMC, Rover, Ford America, Ford of England and a few privateers.

In 1963 I was asked to share a Ford Cortina in the incredible Liege-Sofia-Liege with Anne Hall, one of England’s great rally drivers. The event really started at Spa, the race course, near Liege, aimed generally eastward over various routes including some famous rally sections and thence into the Balkans and on to Bulgaria’s capital—Sofia. There we had our first official rest stop.

En route we slept while the other driver was at the wheel or grabbed clumps of minutes if we managed to be early at a check point. But in Sofia we were each provided a hotel room in a grand but weary old hotel for a lie-down sleep of one full hour. You think Edison was a proponent of sleep-deprivation, try rallies. Then it was back toward the west, out of Iron Curtain countries, headed “home” to Belgium. Or so ran the plan.

The Cortina Lotus, Ford Cortina or even ‘Tina—call it what you will—arose out of cooperation between Colin Chapman of Lotus and Walter Hayes, a British journalist brought into the Ford public relations department to perk things up. He did. Delightful guy. The car with its assorted quirks—Chapman was involved after all—proved to be a newsworthy project and the various manifestations of the car made their mark on race courses and rally routes wherever they appeared. One of those chance happenings in car development that enliven the sidebars to history.

The rally had once been the Liege-Rome-Liege but the increasing traffic in Europe on roads straining to meet post-war demands was making it clear that open-road rallies were in for some restrictions. The destination was switched from Rome to Sofia to use the less-trafficked Eastern Europe.

Switzerland had already banned many such events from crossing its borders or imposed strictly enforced limitations. The organizers of the Liege-Sofia-Liege had placated the Swiss authorities by showing them the rules and route book which specified truly moderate average speeds in the high 20s at most. Ah, but there was a hidden catch, as we drivers were to discover. Maybe 20-something mph was the average called for on a certain leg, but not so obvious was another rule: the specification of a time range for each car in which each check point would be considered “open” for that car. As progress was made eastward those time ranges constricted like a boa until there was one “open” moment to check in. And that demanded the fastest motoring you were capable of. It was “whew” time in spades. Sorry Switzerland. (They must have caught on. The rally lasted just one more year.)

Anne and I had a great time pushing the Cortina to its max and getting a willing response. We made all the check-points in time, the car’s sides heaving appropriately as were our own. We pulled into Sofia for our lie-down rest still error-free. Maybe ten others were similarly clean.

Back across Yugoslavia. It is said when God made the universe He dumped all the leftover rocks in the mountains there. I’m sure of it. We laced our way up and over in long slightly tilted traverses with hairpins at the end. Children were at roadside selling fist-clumped flowers and waving. Many minutes later was another bunch of grinning kids. It took three such clusters before we realized they were the same damn kids! They climbed up the steep, rocky but short way and easily beat us to the next level.

Titograd, capital of Montenegro, was a major service spot for us. The station wagons loaded with parts, tires, oil and whatever else a rally car or crew might need took shorter routes when they existed or started earlier and drove like the clappers. Whatever, they were always parked and ready for us near the check point. We had a latish starting time out of Titograd and watched the service guys pack up and sweep off northward toward Dubrovnik on the Adriatic coast. We would catch up with them beyond that. Ha!

Why our start time was so late I don’t know but we began our climb out of Montenegro following the crowd and feeling great. “Anne,” I said, “We’re going to win this.” She was horrified. As though I had uttered a forbidden name in a sacred place. “Don’t say that! You’ll jinx us!” Maybe I had gone through childhood carefully avoiding putting a foot on a sidewalk crack thus protecting my mother’s back from a break, but superstitions did not plague me. I shrugged and shut up.

Was it five or fifteen minutes later that the engine quit? Not a rarity among early Cortinas particularly, but a brutal shock to this rally team. Anne, to her credit, never even cast an accusing look in my direction. I flagged down a motorcyclist heading back toward Titograd and hopped on behind in the buddy seat. Maybe a Ford service vehicle was taking a late start. I’d look. Or I’d send a tow truck for Anne and the Cortina.

Nothing is so ended as a motor competition when the car dies. It’s as if it never existed. Zap. Total erasure. Passing-through becomes stuck here. And were we ever stuck. Nothing related to Ford was left. Nothing connected to the rally was in evidence.

Yugoslavia had several religions, a handful of languages and two quite different alphabets but somehow through all this I got someone to fetch Anne and the car. I also found a place to stay the night (plus plus plus as it turned out) and started looking for a way to get out of there.

Yugoslavia had strict rules as one might expect for a Communist country, particularly for one which wasn’t trusted any more by the Soviet Union than it was by the western nations. Tito was sui generis and I admired him for that. We were allowed to come in but we were expected to get out. And we signed promises to take everything—cars, jewelry, art, fur coats—we brought in with us out with us. Everything except money. We had to leave any unspent Yugoslav currency behind.

So how do you get a disabled Cortina, struck into immobility while as far from a permissible border as possible out to the world known as free?

Hire a tow car? Put it on a boat? Order a new engine? All costly and beyond our pay level to authorize. Remember, too, the world was technologically deprived in the early ‘60s. No computers or internet. No cell phones. Even land lines were sparse, particularly where we were. The fact that we didn’t show up for the next check point was the first indication that we had met with something untoward.

I don’t remember how we communicated with the folks on their way back to Belgium. Maybe Anne did that some way. Some moments are very clear from those Stranded in Titograd days. More have eddied away outside of memory.

I recall we had only the clothes on our backs so mine were dunked in a sudsy bathroom basin nightly. Fast-drying nylon was with us and my bright blue pants, styled in the then fashionable manner of ski pants complete with elastic stirrup that hooked under one’s heel, were of that fabric. Rinsed and dripping, I hung them in my open window to hasten drying until one morning I found them whipping in the wind about to take flight at tree top height. I hated to think what the crisis of being pant-less as well as car-less would be like so I took to completing the drying cycle with body warmth.

And, happily, we did have some great good luck as well: two Brits had suffered the same fate de la route we had. Their car, a Reliant Sabre 6, had also been towed lifeless into Titograd but they did not seem as concerned as I did that our names had been scrawled on a piece of paper with a wax seal that we had come with a car and would take one with us. Their Reliant was already in someone’s home garage as he rubbed his hands in glee.

The driver of the Reliant was no less than Raymond Baxter, former RAF pilot who now had one of the best and best known voices on the BBC. I had met him several times before and liked him a lot. His co-driver was Douglass Wilson-Spratt. Can one get more British? They were delightful companions and Titograd became almost a resort. We watched the nightly courting scene around the plaza as the young men strolled in one direction and the young women in the other in that universal manner of ignoring with rapt attention. It was good theater if rather plotless.

I don’t know why the task fell to me but on the first morning I went to see a state official about the car and how we could repatriate it. I had little experience conferring with officials of Communist states in their lair. What to expect? Most certainly not what I got. Immediately as I entered the office a thought simply presented itself as the most sensible thing to do: I should stay in Titograd with the car until Ford figured out some plan. And maybe with luck they never would. This guy who stood, smiled and gestured me to a chair was the singularly most attractive man I had ever seen. I did a quick check to make sure my mouth was not hanging open, smiled, nodded and sat.

I’m not sure what language carried our ensuing conversation. Maybe the Cyrillic alphabet was involved. But I got a quick impression this lovely man was less interested in what happened to the car than I was. Or rather than I had been. We did discuss the wounded car and the important signed papers but the sub-text was airier, more important and more fun. It was charming. But it ended.

I did leave with a decision about the car which could be summed up with so what? The Brits weren’t concerned about their Reliant, and as I later discovered lots of rally cars were left behind in strange garages in distant countries. And given the cost of recovery, why not?

I can’t say for sure how the now-four-of-us stranded rally drivers left Titograd except for a brief scene in the Zagreb airport involving not enough seats. Worked itself out I suspect because we were soon in London. I was more drifting in my recently richened fantasy life than paying attention.

Cortina

No one said much about the lost Cortina. Eugen Bohringer, a Stuttgart innkeeper who really knew what roads were for and how to direct a Pagoda Mercedes 230 SL over them, won the rally. Indeed, he did it twice.

The next January—1964—Anne and I kept a Ford Falcon running (and I never uttered the word “win”) and won the Ladies Cup in the Monte Carlo. We left the Falcon in Monte Carlo but with the Ford America people.

Speaking of fantasies, which I was somewhere, I like to imagine that the darling Communist in Titograd and the Ford-Lotus-Cortina we left there somehow found each other.

Well, it’s something.