Riding with Beckett

By Roger Boylan

01.18.2008

A while back I was browsing automotive websites, as is occasionally my wont, and I came across an online ad for a well-maintained 1963 Citroen 2CV, a car I’ve always admired for its quirkiness and personality and simplicity of design. A normal car of that type and vintage–it must have been 40 years old at the time, with 80K+ kms. on the clock–would have fetched little more than pocket change, regardless of its condition. But this was no normal car. It had belonged, said the online tout, to “the Irish author Samuel Beckett, who wrote Waiting for God.” (Well, close enough.) Beckett died in ’89, following his wife Suzanne by a few months. They were childless; the car was their sole survivor. And there it was, online; hence the startling starting price of several (five, I think) thousand euros. And it sold, too, within days, to an anonymous buyer, who has remained anonymous.

Not Beckett’s car, but rather one similar used as an example

Beckett, an Irishman who lived in Paris, was raised on long walks in the Dublin hills and preferred that method of locomotion to all others, although as a boy he wrecked a motorbike. He owned no vehicles for the first twenty years of his lifelong residence in Paris; with his feet and the Metro, he didn’t need one. Anyway he was broke, or virtually so, despite–or because of–having written a couple of brilliant comic novels (Murphy and Watt). Then came his famous play Waiting for Godot, but it was more of a critical than a financial success, at first. Not until he was well into his fifties could he afford a car, and by then he needed one to drive from Paris to his newly built country house at Ussy, about thirty miles away. With his working-class sympathies he unhesitatingly went for the French blue-collar workhorse: the 2CV. He bought a new one in 1963. The color suited him fine. To paraphrase Henry Ford’s comment on the always-black Model T: You could have any color you wanted, as long as it was gray. Beckett liked gray. It matched the Paris sky most days, except in summer, and it suited his temperament.

Beckett drove his “Deuche” for 20 years, mostly to and from his country house (a very modest place, more like a cottage than a manor), and to the train stations and airport to pick up visitors. He maintained the car meticulously, and once sprained his arm when he fell into the oil pit at a local service station because he’d just thought of something the mechanic should check for and, in his haste, lost his footing. Another time he drove from Frankfurt to Amsterdam at such (relatively) high speed that he was stopped in Holland by a policeman whom he initially addressed in German, only to find himself threatened with a hefty fine; after switching to French, he received nothing but apologies and wishes for a pleasant journey. “The Dutch still don’t like Germans,” explained his passenger, a German.

In the early 1980s, the garagiste in Ussy who routinely serviced Beckett’s car, who was also the local Citroen dealer, tried to persuade his Nobel-Prize winning customer of the virtues of trading in the old motor for a newer model. Beckett’s 2CV was by then 20 years old and getting a little creaky, but still ran well, and he was attached to it. When the dealer offered him a good trade-in price, Beckett warily inquired what color the new car was. “Yellow,” was the response. Beckett recoiled. “I could not drive a yellow car,” he said, firmly.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant.net – All Rights Reserved

Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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8 Comments

  1. It seems just about right that Beckett would have a 2CV and even more right that he would hold on to it for so long.

  2. Fascinating piece. Would you have any objection to it being reproduced in 2CVGB, the monthly magazine for 2CV owners in the UK who are also members of 2CVGB? The source would be prominently attributed. Many thanks.

  3. Korner –

    No objections at all, as long as you attribute properly and put in a live link back to the original piece on this site.

    And thank you for the praise.

    Editor

  4. Indeed. I saw this website when browsing, and used the same 2CV picture. But this isn’t the same website as the one I referred to; I saw that years ago, I think in 2003. And it made no mention of Swiss registration, I’m fairly sure. (However, I notice the 2CV in the picture is registered in the French department of the Ain, which borders Switzerland.) A bit of a mystery.

    Thanks for the clarification.

  5. In 1957 Waiting for Godot was performed at San Quentin prison in California. The prisoners loved it. They and Beckett seemed to be of one mind regarding the absurdity of life.

    This is an interesting little article about one of my literary heroes although I’m not sure what value the link to the original ad has to the rest of it, but I guess that’s sort of interesting as well. The real point is Beckett’s disdain for material goods and the cultural value of consumerism. For that alone he has my respect.

  6. Interesting bit of writing about an interesting writer.

  7. I’m surprised Beckett’s car lasted as long as it did: by all accounts, he drove pretty recklessly, and i thought he’d been in a couple of crashes.

    However, perhaps the worst accident was when Beckett took his car in for a service in February 1967.

    “The amiable garagiste told him that this would not take very long and that he wuld attend to the car straightaway,if Monsieur would care to wait. Grateful for such prompt attention, Beckett said that he would go for a short walk. As he turned to leave, he took a few steps forward and fell straight into the deep garage pit.”

    (James Knowlson, “Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett” (London: Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 1996), p. 547.)

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  1. I could not drive a yellow car | JJ Pollet - […] Twintig jaar lang reed Samuel Beckett met deze 2CV. Hij droeg er zorg voor als voor een kind. Toen…

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