Marietta’s cars

On the Bernina Pass in Switzerland | Photo © Horst Neuhaus, PHOTObutMORE

Triumph TR6

Part Three Chapter 2

Teardrop sunglasses, a blonde ponytail, a Triumph TR6 with its soft-top down: At the wheel she sits, a girl with a glowing smile, as russet leaves filter golden light and vines slope down to a lake.

̶  That’s near Neuchâtel again. It was the day I got my driving licence.
̶  You learned to drive in a TR6?
̶  Yes. My Dad’s always had sports cars.
̶  No wonder you thread your way through traffic like you do! I bet you were playing with plastic cars in your crib!
̶  Not quite that early! But as a kid my favorite toys were free rollers—you know, Hot Wheels—Mustangs and Camaros.
̶  So you were never into Barbie dolls?
̶  Never. Loop-the-loop and racing, that was my thing!

Gravity and speed, the slope of the free fall: The physics of danger.

̶  Just looking at this picture, Sprague, I can feel the warmth in my legs.
̶  The warmth in your legs?
̶  Yes. In the TR6 your legs are right behind the engine. You feel the heat.
̶  So that’s where you got your hot legs!
̶  Yeah, and learned to do a lube job.
̶  And how about bodywork?
̶  On the TR-6 you learn everything. That’s why I liked it, last week, when you said you don’t like perfection…

Mini Cooper

Part One

Look! In a parking strip before a newspaper kiosk, a woman swings closed the door of a white Mini. Tall beside the squat car, she radiates elegance. The ghost of electricity sifts the moondust in her hair; her boots grind the gravel as she reaches into the car.

In your little box car you are in command, the streets of Paris belong to you: Not content to merely go with the flow, you cut a path through the traffic to our destination: Along the quais to boulevard Saint-Germain, then rue de Buci, rue de Seine, and a lucky parking spot on rue Mazarine.

Peugeot 205 GTI

Part Seven Chapter 1

Nellie was not her name, nor was she anchored in an estuary. Nightfall was not the time, nor autumn the season. No, our vessel was the 205 GTI that you’d bought when you sold your Mini, and as we sped along the highway, hemmed in by the Forêt d’Ermenonville, the winter morning was luminous with our night’s afterglow. Still, as we headed from Paris to Amsterdam, there was a bit of Marlowe in me, and something dark and African. Oh love, what tender days we had that December! Serene days of separation, wild nights of celebration, days of communion distilled in night’s incorruptible core! How shall I take up our story, how shall I resume? Let’s stay in that sprightly car, let’s regard the horizon from its intimate atmosphere. Are you ready? Clutch up, throttle open: Let’s go!

Instantly the gears engage as you ride the lever through the ratios, leaving the péage behind. A smile lights up your face as the highway opens out.

̶  You like your new car, don’t you?

The silence resounds in affirmation as you cast your glow upon me.

̶  Can’t you just feel it, Sprague—how creamy the engine is? And so torquey!
̶  Torquey?
̶  Yeah, high torque at low RPM. That’s why she’s so nippy coming out of the gate!

Mazda MX5

Part Five Chapter 18

OPEN QUESTION 1: It’s not a Flight de Ville. What is it?

Vroom, vroom! Did you hear that? I’ve got a bright yellow sports car, bright as the one in Written on the Wind. Can you guess what it is? I’ll give you a clue: It’s Japanese. Another clue: It’s a throwback to the British and Italian sports cars of the sixties… Well, did you guess? I’ve got a Mazda MX-5, and what joy it is driving it around Otago! The little beast handles brilliantly, changes direction like a go-kart. Her touch is divine—just a nudge on the stick and she shifts. And what a looker! Lean and petite and sexy as hell. Vroom, vroom! You can’t catch me!

Photo: Wheels of Steel, Classic Cars

Alfa Romeo Spider

Part Five Chapter 1

Forest trail, blanket of snow; bare trees, druid stone: Forests are sweet when the world does not enter them; there the saint may find his rest. Soft, soft, the back of my fingers along your cheek; subtle, subtle, your lips on my fingertips.

̶ I like your new baby.
̶ Well, if you like this one, you’d love Matteo’s.
̶ What does he have?
̶ An Alfa Romeo Spider!
̶ Did you drive it?
̶ Of course.
̶ And what’s it like?
̶ Pure pleasure!

And thus you came to tell me of how, driving that classic Italian droptop through the twisting roads of the Tuscan countryside, you felt imbued with its power, your double-clutch shifting making its twin-cams purr, your body and its chassis in ecstatic communion. And when you’d had enough of riding through the gently rolling landscape, you’d return winter to its quiescence and enter Matteo’s family hearth.

Saab 900 16S

Part Ten

Morning, pale sunshine, leaving Reykjavik. You’re driving your dream car, a Saab 900 16S, a black three-door hatchback with a tan interior. Again, my little petrolhead, I delight in your pleasure behind the wheel; the car’s traction may secure you to the earth, but the glow of your face says you’re in heaven.

In the cockpit of the Saab you are in command, the radiance of your face lighting up the landscape; forever renewed, your pleasure at the wheel amazes me: You were born to be in motion.

The ergonomics are perfect, everything falls easily to hand: Woman and machine are one as you marry the curves of the coast, threading the car through the mountains. Under your command the Saab is not a bull abiding the yoke, not a stallion sustaining the bit: No, it’s a falcon obeying the falconer, in perfect intelligence: Along the unbarriered cliff it soars with confidence; upon a seaward vista it pauses to perch. And thus to the exercise of power and control you bring elegance and finesse.

̶  I’m looking forward to Reykjavik, Sprague.
̶  Me too! But won’t you miss driving the Saab?
̶  No. I love my MX-5. But I’ll probably miss the Saab’s backwards-sliding bonnet, the key in the floor, the crazy sweep of the windshield-wipers.
̶  You’re a funny woman, Marietta.
̶  Am I? I’ve grown fond of all that. Not to mention how everything behind us gets small very quickly when I shift into high gear!