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With thee, Bug, I plight my troth
Robert Campbell
November 09, 1970
Being an account of one pilgrim's journey toward True Reality with the object of his adoration, a Bugatti car—than which no woman could be more fickle or imperious—and of the terrible price he pays, and pays, for his grand amour
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November 09, 1970

With Thee, Bug, I Plight My Troth

Being an account of one pilgrim's journey toward True Reality with the object of his adoration, a Bugatti car—than which no woman could be more fickle or imperious—and of the terrible price he pays, and pays, for his grand amour

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"Not so good."

"What happened?"

"You know that long, slow grade up to the George Washington Bridge?"

"Yes."

"Burned out a bearing."

This time it was my turn to whistle. I returned to the city, got to the shop as soon as I could and looked at the fine-mesh wire screen that forms the car's oil filter. It was completely covered with a kind of gooey slop. The recommended solvent had dissolved the glue, all right. But Charlie had not gotten it all out of the engine. The residue had clogged off all oil circulation, which is as good a way as any to burn out a bearing. Charlie took the hood and fenders off again.

I made the next road test myself, down the West Side Highway, around the Battery and up the FDR Drive, where I knew I could keep moving and the car would not overheat. But at the Battery it began to overheat. And by the time I reached the 96th Street exit it was boiling. I pulled off and stopped. The car spat out several quarts of boiling water. I sat there waiting for it to cool down. "Charlie made me a nice, tight engine all right," I thought, "and it'll take about 10,000 miles to break it in."

I speculated briefly on what people would think of an ad in the Times that read: "Owner says must go!" I rejected the idea as being unfair to the Bugatti—humiliating, even. After all, it was not its fault that it had become involved in some affair of the halt leading the blind into one cul-de-sac after another. It was not its fault if it became overheated. To hell with élan and all that. To hell with my ego. What about its ego? The car deserved better than this.

At this point, unaware as ever, I was beginning to move from the Second Level to the Third Level, where the split occurs between Bugatti fanciers and Bugatti lovers. I very well might have decided that the car was just too much trouble, persuaded Charlie to get it running somehow and unloaded it on the next unsuspecting fancier. I imagine quite a few Bugattis change hands at this stage. But I couldn't do it. I cared about the car and wanted to see it functioning properly. And, despite the hangups, I had learned enough to become convinced of something that is the definition of the Third Level: No matter what anyone says, there is a Right Way.

"Bugattis run hot," Charlie had said. I was quite certain by this point that only sick Bugattis ran hot. After all, the engine was designed to run wide open for 24 hours straight in a race like Le Mans, for example. So why should it boil over tooling around Manhattan at 35 or 40 mph? Charlie had obviously made the pistons too tight. And there were probably several dozen other things wrong with the engine that I didn't know about. But I was quite sure by now that there was a Right to it and that in some ultimate way a Bugatti engine did make sense. Further, I was hooked on the thought of one day knowing what that engine would be like.

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