Memory Lanes: The Ford Taunus
By Roger Boylan
Post-war Germany’s well-deserved hangover was fading by the mid-fifties, when the three-decade-long Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) got underway. Literally and figuratively, shoots of green were everywhere amid the ruins. As a kid I made my first trip there in 1957, to Mannheim and Heidelberg, with my father. Germany was (and is) an atmospheric place, or maybe I was (and am) unusually susceptible to atmosphere–I think both.
I’ve been back many times since, mostly to promote my books, which are more widely read there than here, God bless the Germans; but my early memories stay with me. Rain, and dimly-lit restaurants thick with cigarette smoke, and the reflections of tungsten streetlamps in the rain-slicked streets, and miniaturized electric trains in shopwindows, and moldy red-brick apartment buildings, and rubble-strewn city blocks. And everywhere the ghosts of the Third Reich, of which I was then only dimly aware. New office buildings, many of them blocky towers aping Manhattan, were going up, especially in Frankfurt and Stuttgart. Soon every bürgerlich residence had a telephone and a television–and a car in the driveway, for the car industry was once again coming into its own.
The car of choice for Herr Burger’s driveway was, of course, the VW Beetle, mostly gray or black. They scuttled about everywhere. Porsches were no longer rarities, and one or two were even bright red: the Italian influence (Ferrari). There were things called Borgwards, and NSUs, and Glas-Isars. Mercedes-Benz ruled the taxi and executive-sedan markets, and was heading skyward with its gull wing 300SL and opulent 300SE limousine. Opels were common, mostly Rekords and Olympias, many in a peculiar khaki hue inherited from the wartime Wehrmacht. DKWs, the quirky but oddly appealing ancestors of today’s Audis, filled the air with the put-put of their two-stroke engines. And there were the German Fords, named Taunus after the mountain range that overlooks Frankfurt/Main. Ford had been in Germany since 1925, and made uniquely German models until 1967, when Ford Germany and Ford UK merged to form Ford Europe and the same Fords were assembled in Dagenham and Cologne under different names.
But when I was young, and a budding car guy, Ford Taunuses were sui generis. The one that first caught my eye–the one I still think was the best-looking of them all–was the so-called “Baroque” Taunus, the 1957-1960 17M, an American-inspired family car available as both a 4-door sedan or as a 2-door coupe (such a choice was rare back then) with diminutive tailfins and abundant chrome that brightened up the still-grayish streets of postwar Germany like a starlet visiting from Hollywood. (Hard to remember how impossibly glamorous America, and especially California, seemed, in postwar Europe.) Baroque the car was, too, boasting an extravagance of design reminiscent of the great churches of Germany’s Baroque era: Ottobeuren, for example, all cherubim and gilt scrollwork, corresponding to the 17m’s tailfins and two-tone color schemes and abundant chrome. It provided much-needed sparkle in a still-austere time.
My father, who spent a lot of time in Germany inspecting the interiors of churches, Baroque and otherwise, for suitable locations to install electronic carillons, was taken with Taunuses too. So much so that, later on, one resided in our Geneva garage for awhile: a 1966 17M. Then an unpleasant fender bender when Dad was at the wheel caused it to be sent away and never referred to again, as if it had been the guilty party. (Circumstances remained murky, but probably involved beer. Its successor was a Peugeot: nice car, but not as comfortable.)
I missed that Taunus. For one who had known nothing but Renault Dauphines, Fiat 600s, and Simca 1000s, the Taunus was a big car, and a handsome one. Ours was pleasantly pistachio in hue, with a 1700-cc engine making (so Wikipedia tells me) 70 hp and capable of propelling this rocket ship to 150 km/h, or 94 mph. We had it long enough to complete one road trip in it, appropriately enough to Germany: Konstanz, on the border of northeastern Switzerland. The car was a sturdy traveler, easily accommodating a small family. Its gearshift lever was on the steering column; thus did I first learn how to drive, shifting the four-on-the-tree configuration of this Taunus, and later Peugeots. It was simplicity itself, much easier than the usual four-on-the-floor configuration of most European cars then; somehow one felt more in command. Even if one was only 15, and driving without a license, along country roads, in the dark. No seatbelt, no airbags. Ah, those were the days. We’re lucky we survived them.
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