Opinion: Remembering my worst car

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Someone posted a link on Facebook recently, listing the 50 worst cars ever made. I owned a couple of them, but one in particular stood out.

The 1956 Renault Dauphine was the French attempt to bring Europe into the post World War II era. The designers believed their country should be represented in the automobile world by something more dignified than the boxy Citroen 2CV, a contraption that looked like a Cracker Jack prize, made from flat sheets of metal bolted together at odd angles.

I bought mine the day after arriving in Hawaii during my tour in the navy. Someone at Pearl Harbor directed me to a back street car lot, which specialized in selling castoff cars to desperate military folks in need of transportation.

The right front fender had been damaged in an accident, the front bumper was held in place with wire, and the right headlight lolled aimlessly in its socket. It was a bargain at $300, the salesman assured me. Moreover, he had a friend in the body shop business who could repair the damage for another $150.

The body shop guy, it turned out, worked out of a battered Volkswagen Microbus at the rear of a parking lot. He ran his power tools off a long extension cord plugged into the rest room of a gas station next door.

Considering what he had to work with, the car looked pretty good when he finished. The fender had been repaired with copious amounts of Bondo and sprayed with a thin coat of gray primer. The bumper was bolted in place, and the headlight now focused more or less on the road.

While driving back to the hotel where we were staying awaiting assignment to base housing, I discovered the front seat bracket was broken, causing the seat to crash forward when applying the brakes, and slam rearward on acceleration. It was like riding a jerky roller coaster, first crashing into the dashboard with my knees up under my chin, and then holding onto the steering wheel for dear life to keep from winding up in the back seat.

I fixed it by jamming a piece of two-by-four into the seat bracket. It was still holding when I left the island two years later.

It wasn’t all bad. Since the engine was in back, we filled the front trunk compartment with ice and beer whenever we went to the beach.

When I was reassigned, I took the car back to the lot where I had bought it only to find it dust blown and empty. The night before leaving Hawaii, I parked it on the base with the title and a note telling whoever found it could keep it.


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