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BRUCE MALE, car collector extraordinaire, vintage race driver and fellow Arizona Copperstate participant (www.wp.me/p2ETap-VS), offered me the codriver role in his Maserati A6G Zagato for the Tour de France Auto, April 26-29, 1995.
By its finish, we had driven blind at 90 mph, appeared on French national TV news and, maybe, seen an apparition.
A good adventure, this.
The annual Tour de France Auto (http://goo.gl/BTqwT6) has heritage dating back to the 1950s. The idea is an array of competitive automotive events throughout France interspersed with open-road transits (the latter, at enthusiastic pace).
The four-day 1995 event started at the Fountaines du Trocadéro, just across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. Race circuits and special stages included Montlhéry, La Châtre, Mas-du-Clos, de Moyrazes, Nogaro and d’Ascain. The finish was in Biarritz, on France’s southwest coast.
It rained our first day, but the high banking of the classic Montlhéry circuit still held magic.
Fortunately, the rain stopped the first evening. A good thing, too. Early the second morning, we were traveling about 90 mph, in the midst of passing a support vehicle and trailer. A flying stone turned the Maserati’s windscreen into an opaque mosaic.
We figured there was no Maserati dealership nearby, particularly one carrying parts for a 1956 A6G Zagato. So we punched out the windscreen, put on our helmets and continued on.
From then on, it seemed perfectly natural to rise before dawn—after a late-night gourmet celebration—don a driving suit and helmet, strap oneself into an unmuffled coupé with no windscreen, and drive hell for leather across France.
The organizers, evidently enthusiasts of the highest order, inspected the car and passed it as fit to continue. In fact, checkpoint officials would whip out handkerchiefs and polish our imaginary windscreen. At one check-in, I got a thoroughly Gallic welcome by being kissed on both cheeks.
That evening at dinner, Bruce and I were given a special award for “best displaying the true spirit of the Tour de France.”
This is when we came up with the idea of Equipe Banana. We had taken two bananas on which to snack en route—only to realize the absolute futility of eating a banana while wearing a full-face helmet.
On the other hand, the bananas made perfect windshield wipers, sweeping in unison as we rolled up to each checkpoint, the bananas’ automatic rest after three swipes carefully orchestrated.
The French—being Jerry Lewis fans, after all—loved the wipers. That evening, national TV news had a brief item on our specially equipped Maserati.
There was historical precedence for our Tour de France sans windscreen. In 1956, Fon Portago won the TdF after his Ferrari 250GT Berlinetta lost its windscreen to a flying stone.
Portago finished with a sheet of plastic screwed into the frame. I guess he couldn’t find any bananas. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013