Our first outings
together were a success, both socially and sonically. Driving along to the
supercharged whine of the engine was pure joy. It was also marvelous for the
ego. Pedestrians stared. Crowds gathered. Notes with messages and phone numbers
were stuck under the windshield wipers: "Call me immediately!
Desperate!" "Take $6,000 cash?" A Britisher with a highly
pinstriped suit, a spanking-new Rolls-Royce and a complete Arthur Treacher
accent pulled alongside one evening:
"Oh, I say!
Booghhatti, isn't it?"
Mahhhvelus to see one. Simply mahhhhvelus. Luck, old chap!"
There are, one
should admit, sexual overtones to such an ego-expanding machine. "Good
God!" exclaimed a friend's wife at her first sight of the car. "Thai's
the biggest phallic symbol I've ever seen!" A stop at a favorite French
restaurant one evening produced similar results. Guy the bartender, the patron
and his wife and half the clientele poured out to the sidewalk to admire this
particular piece of French pastry. Guy drew me aside and whispered with an air
of Gallic savoir faire, "She eeez gude for getteeng zee girls,
I began to venture
out on longer trips, explaining to my wife all the instruments, levers and
buttons on the dash, the trick of revving up the engine, double-clutching and
shifting down just at the right sound (which, if missed, produces a
nerve-shattering grind from the gearbox) and other features of the car. I even
let her drive it (she's a good driver). She accepted the hangup with a kind of
serene confidence that I wasn't totally balmy or worse and even came to enjoy
the car to some extent, I think. That's important. For, short of bringing some
young thing home to live with you, I can't imagine anything that could break up
a marriage quicker than a Bugatti. It is totally impossible to explain the
hours over at the shop doing little things like polishing the brake drums or
repacking the water pump or searching through store after store for some
obscure kind of grease that hasn't been made in 30 years. In all that time who
knows what you've been up to?
A notice appeared
once in the sports section of the Sunday Times advertising two Bugattis for
sale. It concluded with: "Wife says must go." I couldn't help feeling
that if that was the way it was with them the fellow would have been better off
keeping the cars instead.
On the open road I
developed a facile habit of turning small defects into large virtues that, at
the least, must have been mildly infuriating. One Christmas we started out for
Maryland in a light snowstorm to spend a few days with my mother. We were
hardly under way when the windshield-wiper motor quit. "Ha!" I said to
my wife. "Now you'll see that Mr. Bugatti thought of everything." I
reached for a walnut knob on the walnut dash. This knob connected directly with
the wipers and by turning it left right, left right the wipers did the same.
For 250 miles I worked the wipers by hand. A pessimist might have said that the
car needed that knob because the wiper motor was none too reliable. But I
didn't look at it that way. I couldn't afford to, emotionally.