Boylan’s Dream Garage
By Roger Boylan
Many of the most beautiful cars in the world sit in my dream garage on the fantasy Mediterranean: Facel Vegas, Jaguars, Ferraris, etc. Now it’s time for some homeliness, with a little practicality thrown in. I call them utilities: vehicles built primarily to be practical and/or utilitarian, but which also have personality, even presence. Some of them recall my youth, and a dash of nostalgia covers a multitude of sins.
1) 1996-99 LaForza Magnum V8 4X4
SUVs have their uses, on the trail, in heavy rain, or at the home improvement emporium, and in their way they’re almost as much fun to drive as sports cars, especially under the right circumstances. In real life I’ve owned two, both Nissans, and I’ve driven many others, mostly Jeeps and Fords; but for my dream garage I’ve chosen something a little more original, with the Verdiesque name LaForza (The Force). Yes, it’s somewhat ridiculous, like many large SUVs, but impressive, too. It’s elegant inside, and, as a former military vehicle, it’s downright indestructible. Originally built in Turin for the Italian army, this is basically an Iveco truck with leather seats and a walnut dashboard and, in the Italian versions, an Alfa 6-cylinder engine. Although I’m sitting above the Med in my dream garage, I’ll take the late ’90s American version powered by the GM Vortec 6.0 V8 with Eaton supercharger (earlier export versions got a Ford 5.0 V8), just for extra punch. The LaForza sold almost not at all over here, and in Italy the military had a near-monopoly. But the truck’s toughness is legendary. So is its thirst, positively Hummer-like; hence the smaller Alfa engine in Italy, land of $10-per-gallon gasoline. But this is my dream world, so hang the expense. I’m off to hit a couple of Alpine trails.
2) 1996 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon
A magnificent coda to the family-wagon epic, harking back to the American suburban paradise of the ’50s and ’60s that I missed, growing up abroad, and that probably never existed, anyway. Never mind; this Buick’s appearance in my dream garage is a way of recapturing what I never knew. The Roadmaster Estate survived well into the age of the SUV, now waning, if not quite as fast as its diehard opponents might wish; still, despite the untimely demise of the Dodge Magnum, the station wagon’s time seems to be coming again, although future wagons will certainly not be on the same scale as the venerable Roadmaster, which was sui generis. It was a station wagon for the upscale suburbanite, sheathed inside in acres of leather and faux wood, with ample room for six. The signature rear-facing bench seat, when deployed, provided the kiddies with a fine view of the traffic behind–or pursuing highway patrol, for this Buick in its final incarnation was powered by the same 260-hp V8 that booted the Impala SS and the Corvette along.
3) 1978 Citroen Acadiane
A streamlined 2CV light van, of the type dear to those movie buffs who remember Henri-Georges Clouzot’s thriller Les Diaboliques (1955), in which a duplicitous corpse is transported in a lurching 2CV camionette from Niort to Paris, with a chain-smoking Simone Signoret at the wheel. That old-line 2CV fourgo was a fixture in French lumberyards and factories for about 30 years; back in the ’60s I hitched a ride in the cargo area of one, intending to go only 20+ miles, but so gentle was the rhythmic up-and-down of its suspension along the long straight routes nationales that I was lulled to sleep amid the pallets and wicker baskets and woke up in the suburbs of Paris, about 150 miles away.
The old 2CV trucklet evolved into the more elegant Acadiane, a Dyane with a raised roofline that from 1978 until 1987 plied the highways of France, lurching less than its 2CV forebear, thanks to a suspension redesign. It was entirely practical if hardly exciting, although its 700-cc engine did its best (a burly 35 hp and top speed of 100 k.p.h.), with a maximum payload of 350 kg (770 lbs), to keep things moving. The Acadiane was adept at carrying gardening supplies, crates of fruit and vegetables, off-the-rack clothes, and the like, and would do so with only occasional visits to the local Elf or Total filling station, and it seldom or never needed the attentions of a mechanic. Many were owned by countercultural types, who love to suffer in the name of solidarity. I don’t, but I admire simple elegance, and I need something like this in my garage as a foil to the Ferrari, so here it is. I can make runs–well, waddles–down the coast to load up on beer, baguettes, and Brie.
4) 1998 Land Rover Defender 90 50th Anniversary Edition
The last of the traditional Land Rovers, directly descended from the Series I–III made famous in such movie safari classics as Hatari and the Born Free trilogy in the 1960s.
The original trans-Zambezi bushwhacker, the Series I, was a bare-bones classic that endured forever; some estimates say that 75% of all Series I, II, and III LRs ever made are still running. One reason for this longevity is the fact that the early LRs were made of Birmabright, an ultratough alloy of aluminum and magnesium spawned by steel shortages and a surplus of aircraft aluminum in postwar Britain. The alloy’s resistance to corrosion justified the original LRs’ reputation for durability, a reputation that has, alas, not attached itself to recent, more upscale Range Rovers heavily dependent on engine computers and elaborate wiring. Wartime leftovers also accounted for the original car’s snot-green uniform; in the ’40s there was a lot of drab camouflage-green airplane paint sloshing around for suddenly superfluous Lancasters and Spitfires. The LR Series I-III model acquired the name “Defender” in the late ’80s, and in 1998, in honor of the marque’s half-century, the most luxurious version to date was produced, with air conditioning, auto box, V8, and leather upholstery. This is the one I have chosen for my garage, and for stately progressions into the foothills of the Alps, where I might bag a chamois or two–on film, of course.
5) 2003 VW Eurovan
Yes, some version of the old magic bus was inevitable, but I’m not going to risk life and limb in one of the old T2 Grateful Dead/Ken Kesey buggies, with their 32-hp engines, inch-thick forward panels and tendency to scuttle laterally in a stiff breeze. Your knees are your security system in one of those beauties, to paraphrase the estimable Tom and Ray Magliozzi; the safety factor is akin to sitting in a lawn chair in heavy traffic. The Eurovan, the burly descendant of the original, inspires more confidence. Essentially a giant German bread van, this VW made a convincing mini-RV, with flip-out dining table, bunk beds, kitchenette (stove, sink, cupboards), and overhead canopy, and in ’02 it finally got a decent powerplant, the 201-hp VR6 used in the peppier VWs, notably Golf GTIs. The Eurovan had a towering driving position, superb all-around visibility, pretty decent mileage, and gobs of space for family and friends; in short, it inherited all the atavistic character of the T2 with none of the quirks, except for a tendency to wiggle a little in crosswinds. I’m not big on camping, but it’s fussing with tents that annoys me the most. Sleeping under the canopy of this big Brotwagen somewhere in a chirping forest glade might just recapture a moment of pure childhood bliss–until the witches begin to arrive for Walpurgisnacht.
6) 1956 Ford F-100
I see this classic pickup as a piece of American industrial art, a sculpture on wheels. I’ll have mine in classic red, please, with the Ford-O-Matic transmission and the not-inconsiderable punch of the 173 hp churned out by its “Y-block” 4.5 L V8, a wildly innovative combination for a small farm truck back in ’56 (a/c, too, would soon be available). But this little utilitarian’s raison d’être is practicality, not performance. Built for hauling American goods, it would be at its best with a few crates of chickens clucking in the bed, cruising along a straight prairie highway rolling to the edge of the vast horizon under a billowing Western sky, a landscape à la Thomas Hart Benton. Incongruous in my Mediterranean dream garage? Not really. Pickup trucks are widely admired in Europe, as are most intrinsically American objets, but they aren’t common because of fuel costs and the widespread availability of more economical local products (see the Citroen Acadiane, above). But the unique artistry of this Ford’s lines would be apparent against such anachronistic surroundings, in much the same way as a 2CV stands out more as an artifact than as a car in, say, Texas. And you could fit an abundance of wine and cheese in the cargo bed.
7) 1944-48 Jeep CJ
General Eisenhower’s and Field Marshal Montgomery’s car–and Sergeant Boylan’s. My father served in the signal corps of the 29th Infantry Division of the National Guard, first part of the first unit to land on Omaha Beach on 6/6/44, as any who have seen The Longest Day will recall (and will also remember Robert Mitchum playing the 29th’s commanding officer, Brig. Gen. Norman Cota). Dad got to drive around equipment and probably an officer or two in one of the first CJs (the CJ-2), introduced in that same year, 1944, by Willys. The same basic concept lives on today, after 7 versions and 3 corporate parents, as the Wrangler, top of the pops with tanned college kids in the American Southwest. The postwar CJs were commercial versions of the wartime Jeep, with some improvements, such as a larger engine, vinyl seats, and a single-piece windshield, designed to make them more livable. It’s still pretty basic, though, and therein lies its charm, as with the Citroen Acadiane. This marvelous old machine would be the centerpiece of my dream garage: a monument to the heroes of WW2, to the beauty of basic things, and to old-fashioned American know-how. (The origin of the name Jeep, by the way, is as mundane as the vehicle: “G” meant government issue; “P” indicated an 80-in. wheelbase reconnaissance vehicle–voilà, “GP,” which evolved into one of the best-known names in the world.)
8) 1978 Renault R16TX
This fine family car was designed by Philippe Charbonneaux, who was one of the designers of the original Chevy Corvette. The R16 is the ancestor of the popular Renault multi-purpose vehicles, the Laguna, Mégane, and Scenic, and it was one of the first feasible family hatchbacks, offering both comfort and a reasonable degree of performance. The R16 was one of my favorite cars in the ’60s and ’70s. I thought they were well-styled and chic, but I could never afford to buy one. My amateurish enthusiasm was matched by no less an authority than Stirling Moss, who praised the car as “the most intelligently engineered automobile I have ever encountered“. The R16 won European Car of the Year in 1965. The version I’ve chosen, the TX, was the ritziest, with several features, such as power tinted windows, central power locking, a sliding sunroof, and air conditioning, that were uncommon or nonexistent in most European family cars of the day. The leather seats, garnished with automatic seatbelts, folded flat into beds. The gearshift lever (5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic) was mounted on the steering column; the R16 was the last production car in the world to have this feature. The 1647-cc engine, 93-hp engine was hardy and frugal and permitted a sustainable top speed of 105 mph. All this, taken together, explains why, between 1965 and 1979, every other vehicle on the roads of France seemed to be an R16. After all, during that period, nearly 2 million were sold.
9) 1965 Fiat 600 Multipla Taxi
OK, so I rejected the original VW Microbus on the grounds of safety and here I am proudly driving around my dream garage in this flimsiest of ’60s concoctions, with only my kneecaps for protection against collisions. Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.) But please take note of the “Taxi” designation, for this Multipla is an exercise in purest nostalgia, a souvenir from an increasingly distant past. When I was an American bambino traveling in Italy, green-and-black Multiplas lined up in droves outside train stations and grand hotels and stood to attention at taxi stands. They swarmed down the avenues and snarled at pedestrians and raced each other across the broad piazze. In the good times, when we could afford taxis, many a Multipla transported me and my parents across Rome and Milan. They did so at a modest pace, not being capable of much more than 100 k.p.h. (60 m.p.h.), which was why one seldom saw them on the autostrada, but inside they were voluminous and could easily swallow an entire family and its luggage and have room left over for the shopping. In mine in the early morning I drink my cappucino and listen to “Yesterday” or “Volare” and I pretend it’s 1965 again.
10) 2007 Mercedes-Benz Gelaendewagen 55 AMG Kompressor
Precisely what the real-world utility of this thing might be I have no idea, but several major militaries, including the German and the French, use it or one of its many derivatives, and the U.S. Marines swear by the Interim Fast Attack Vehicle, or IFAV, which is a modified G-Wagen built, as are all G-Wagens, by the venerable firm of Puch in Graz, Austria. Never mind, I had to have a Benz in here somewhere, and this Benz is egregiously over the top, so to speak, with all the architectural elegance of a storage crate and a wildly politically incorrect 500-hp V8 engine that imbibes its premium five-star with the ferocity of a dipsomaniac. Just the thing, eh? Throw in the magnificent leather- and dark-wood-shod interior, the three locking differentials that will let you drive straight up the side of the Matterhorn, the solidity of a concrete bunker, and a price tag ($75,000+) guaranteed to keep the rabble at bay, and you have the ideal millionaire’s plaything, especially if his local rambles take him occasionally into the rugged hinterland of the Alpes-Maritimes to inspect his vineyards.
Note also, incidentally, that the Holy See, as mentioned in a previous Autosavant dispatch, has found a use for its own version of the G-Wagen. If it’s good enough for the Pope, it’s good enough for me and my dream garage.
And here the curtain falls on the little stage of my dream garage. In it I’ve conjured up 30 of the vehicles I’ve known or would like to know better, and which I would seek out immediately, if I ever had the means. I’ve called them the Standards, the Sportives, and these, the Utilities. I hope these little automotive fantasies have provided some pleasure. Few will agree with all my selections, and many will find some of them ludicrous or even offensive. Fair enough. C’est la vie. Let us all design and stock our own dream garages, and never mind the detractors. Dreaming is an art form, too.
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