June and end-of-year exams – a translation, a composition and the oral judged on grammar, pronunciation and conversation. Yea! I pass with the equivalent of a B+. I even get a diploma. Then it’s time to say goodbye. That is hard. Our little band has grown close and none of us can believe our year together is about to end. There’s no time for mourning, though, as I’m leaving for Italy with Anne from London in her aged Deux Chevaux – two horses- two cylinders, that’s all the power this baby’s got.
Citroen’s Deux Chevaux, developed in great secrecy, was meant to be introduced at the 1939 Paris Auto Show, but France declared war on Germany in September. No more auto show. Citroen managers secretly hid or destroyed the existing models of the Deux Chevaux because they feared such a vehicle would be too useful to the Germans. Some of the little cars were even buried
The Deux Chevaux is finally introduced in 1948 as the affordable car for a largely rural France. It is designed to hold three small farmers, with suspension good enough to transport a cargo of eggs across a plowed field without breakage. Because it’s so light, it gets 78 miles per gallon in precious post-war fuel. Additional features are its canvas roof and hammock seats suspended from metal tubing. It’s called the umbrella on wheels.
Anne offers to take me as far as Turin – after that I’m flying blind. There is no way I can afford a train, so my prayer is that I’ll find someone in Turin to hitchhike with. I’m feeling flush with 50 cents a day for youth hostel accommodations and $1.00 for everything else.
It’s foggy when leave early on a June morning, and the fog only gets denser as we climb. We’re crawling across the Alps and Anne’s aged little car is not happy.
By the time we reach the snow line, I’m having doubts about making it to Turin. The road gets steeper and finally the Deux Chevaux comes to a complete stop. When Anne takes her foot off the brake and steps on the accelerator, we go backward instead of forward. This is scary. I get out and push, joined by good Samaritans in the two cars behind us. It’s just enough to make it over the final pass. Weak with relief, we coast into Turino.
I will see Italy after all!
By the way, if you make that trip today there are a couple of tunnels that make it a lot easier – even for a Deux Chevaux. If your stomach is up to it, have a look on Youtube at ‘Grenoble to Torino ALPS passage in 7 minutes’.