My buds and I were discussing old cars this morning--as old guys are wont to do, but my buds think about bankruptcy, and the old cars we had in mind were things like the Topolino, Mickey Mouse, the Fiat 500. One thing led naturally to another and I found myself remembering the Renault Dauphine--the first new car I ever owned (and the last, until I latched onto a Toyota Corolla ten years later). I bought it in about January of 1959. Fresh out of the Army with a new wife and a new job, I figured I needed an adult set of wheels, and the waiting list for VW Beetles was just too long. I think I paid about $300 down and financed $1,500 at $89 a month for 18 months; this pencils out to an annual rate of about 9 percent, which seems about right.
As I remember, we both liked the car, my then-wife and I. At least I did:it was a fey robin's-egg blue and there was something vaguely French about it that struck me as a good deal cooler than the sensible, responsible, Teutonic competitor. It had its quirks: the fuel pump kept giving out. But a mechanic explained to me that the problem was a set of gaskets that cost about 39 cents, and that could be changed with a screwdriver: I took to packing a few sets in the glove compartment and it made me feel like a swell fellow to be able to pop out and reconfigure in mid-voyage, just like at the Indy 500 (I think my father rather rolled his eyes).
In retrospect, it was a hell of a lot more than quirky. It weighed about as much as a canned ham and was prone to glissading on an icy highway--and this was in Mentor, Ohio, on the Lake Erie shore (hey, it probably made me a better driver). A bit later--this one really horrifies me now that I think of it--I can remember my baby daughter--she would have been two--standing on the back seat for an entire 134-mile road trip from Louisville to Dayton, gleefully waving at the cars behind us: these days I assume they would have me busted for felony child endangerment (in fact she survived to adulthood without obvious impairment, although she is a tax accountant).
But it gets worse. Wiki informs me that the Dauphine ranks high on the Post Office "wanted" board of all-time bad cars: per Wiki, Car Talk named it ninth worst of the millennium, and Time Magazine called it (I love this) "the most ineffective bit of French engineering since the Maginot Line," noting that it could actually be heard rusting.
At the time, I knew none of this. I suppose you could write my ignorance off to general infantile dopiness. But in self-defense, I'd observe that, compared with the $50 beaters I had owned before, the 1959 Renault looked pretty good.