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GIVEN THAT R&T had been accused of being Anglophilic and traditional, what more appropriate test than that of an 18th-century sedan chair? And, as was our custom, we performed this analysis extensively; typical of the magazine at the time, we spared no expense.
Well, perhaps we spared a little. At first we thought we could rent an 18th-century sedan chair from some uptown movie-prop rental outfit. However, what with Hollywood being between Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Jack Sparrow, there was nary a sedan chair to be had.
No problem. We’d build our own.
However, scouring the vast R&T research library, our only information on sedan chairs was a postage-stamp-size illustration accompanying a three-line description in a New World Dictionary. Apparently someone had made off with our Anglophilic traditional Old World.
The job of constructing the sedan chair fell upon Steve Kimble, Cycle World managing editor, and the only one in the building to be trusted with a saber-saw. In four days, he and R&T feature editor Peter Egan transformed $140 of plywood, planks, wood screws, dowels, paint, wallpaper and velvet into the ultimate urban transportation, c. 1720.
Such a stylish conveyance required a proper driving suit and in this we scored big time—and XXL—at a local costume store. For $43 I rented the full regalia of velvet suit, waistcoat, cravat, frilly shirt, silk stockings and a full bottomed wig. Don’t ask.
A line was drawn in the matter of livery for the sedan chair lackeys. What with traditional Anglophilic union practices and all, feature editor Peter Egan and contributing editor Kim Reynolds put their collective feet down and bargained for wearing modern athletic gear in lieu of silk stockings.
Some guys are just unsure of themselves.
The sedan chair weighed 119 lbs. Without getting too personal, its as-tested weight, including driver, instrumentation and lackeys, was 688 lbs. Initially, the lackeys opted for carrying the trimmest person on our staff, associate art director Lil Fox (a sylphlike 5 ft. 2 in.). However, our penchant for consistency of testing put me in the velvet driving seat.
The swap of Fox/Simanaitis was of no import, because I brought along a bronze-tipped walking stick as an encouragement. A good thwacking replaces a heavy throttle foot.
As was customary in R&T road tests, history of the marque was not overlooked. We traced the origin of the sedan chair to the French city of Sedan, 150 miles northeast of Paris, near the Belgian border. Throughout the 18th century, sedan chairs proved excellent means of getting about town without having to rub elbows or anything else with the great unwashed. However, these conveyances lost favor in 1789 when the French took to carting their aristos around in tumbrels. As we noted in the test, “… ostentatious means of transport lost favor with nearly everyone until the 1958 Buick.”
We concluded by noting, “No, the sedan chair is not for everyone and it is not perfect. But compared with the horse-drawn travois, a used Hillman Minx, chilled salad forks, Reaganomics and the third chapter of Finnegan’s Wake, it makes a lot of sense.”
It is not often that road test conclusions hold up so well over time. This was April 1983. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016