PCH, Deconstruction Edition: One Panhard or Two Renaults?

Illustration for article titled PCH, Deconstruction Edition: One Panhard or Two Renaults?

The plan was to have the PCH superpower whose vehicle won yesterday's Choose Your Eternity challenge pit one of its finest, most hellish machines against an offering from the remaining PCH superpower, France. Unfortunately, the Gawker poll thingy appears to have been designed by Joe Lucas, and the 2-0 tally in favor of the Austin Gipsy seems even shakier than Kennedy in Illinois, 1960, or Bush in Florida, 2000. Anyway, it's been a month since our last all-French matchup, so let's just postpone the showdown between Italy, Britain, and France for another day.


Back when I was a young college hoon with a lifetime-unemployment-ensuring art/English double major, my state-funded university went ahead and took a bunch of California taxpayers' money and bought Yale's English Department. They got the works, right down to the office furniture and some French dude named Jacques Derrida. Suddenly, being an English major meant that you had to get serious about literary theory in general and Deconstruction in particular. Nobody has ever been able to explain what the hell Deconstruction is- which is a huge part of its appeal- but it boils down to something like this:

1. All meaning is political.
2. Your politics are wrong, buddy!

Right. So, to explain my role in all of this, we must first learn about the Legend of the Shit Tank:

PCH, Deconstruction Edition: One Panhard or Two Renaults?

Back in the day, I lived in a little-known on-campus trailer park, which was as close to Slacker Utopia as you're ever going to see in this world. A couple miles from the Pacific, perfect weather, $75/month rent and free utilities, you could build your own tarpaper shack next to your trailer, you could do engine swaps on the gravel outside your front door (many did, including me and one guy who had a Hemi Dart race car), and nobody got all in your grille about hippie notions of "community" unless that's how you wanted it. In fact, the only serious drawback for me was the sewage system in my '66 Roadrunner trailer (not to be confused with the Plymouth of the same name). Thing is, camping trailers aren't meant to be lived in for long durations, and the idea of having a tank for your sewage that you drain at some approved location isn't a good one when your trailer sits in the same spot with a permanent sewage hookup. This tank, known to trailer experts as the "Shit Tank," was, in my case, a fiberglass nightmare measuring about 4x3x1 feet, and it would get backed up in a manner that would horrify any female who, upon visiting my trailer, discovered that she had to piss in a Prestone jug with a transmission funnel in it and defecate in the public restrooms 100 yards away. So the Shit Tank had to go.

Meanwhile, some more taxpayer money was spent building an opulent mansion on the hill overlooking the trailer park (the other side of the house had a view of the ocean), so that Mr. Derrida could live in the style to which he had become accustomed at Yale. I knew that Jacques would shun the view of the ocean and concentrate his attention on this weird middle-class shantytown he could observe out his windows, and we frequently observed a shadowy figure in the big window, watching our trailer lifestyle with high-powered binoculars. Did he envy us? I couldn't ask him personally, because undergrads weren't allowed access to the Great Man himself (instead we simply bathed in the glow his ideas cast over the English Department), but I could show him how to deal with a recalcitrant Shit Tank!

So, one day I gathered up the necessary Shit Tank removal tools: a Sawzall with an extra-long "Debris Wood" blade and a 12-pack of Brew 102. Boldly plunging the blade into my trailer's sagging bathroom floor, I hacked and cursed and cut through dry-rotted wood, PVC plumbing, and metal braces until, finally, the Shit Tank fell to the gravel beneath the trailer. It was completely full of various unpleasant solids and liquids, so it weighed several hundred pounds. My next move- with Derrida now glued to his binocs for the drama unfolding below- was to crawl beneath the trailer and tie a rope around the Shit Tank. I then went into Pack Mule mode and dragged the stinking thing out into the space between the back of my trailer and the back of my neighbor's trailer. Using a broom handle, I stuffed an old bedsheet into the inlet and outlet holes, dropped a piece of plywood on the whole mess (see illustration, above), and allowed the forces of evaporation to lighten the weight of the tank enough that I could haul it over to the nearest dumpster. This took six months, and every day I could see Derrida up there in his mansion, taking careful notes. What did he learn from all this?

Well, I can't say for sure, but what I can say is that the same tradition of incomprehensible French philosophical theory that led to Deconstruction was also behind the ideas of the French engineers and designers who make French vehicles. That means that those vehicles are so cool that one staggers back in awed disbelief from the best of them, yet so maddeningly impossible to maintain that one simply staggers, period. I'd like to think that it's possible for an Italian or British car to compete, but we'll need to discuss that question another day.

What's even better than a 58-year-old French car? How about a French car from a company that hasn't made civilian vehicles since 1967? Yes, we're talking about Panhard here, and not just any Panhard- we mean the Panhard Tigre! Think you can't afford one? Think again! How about a 1960 Panhard PL17 Tigre with a current bid under two grand? It's got suicide doors! The seller claims it has only "surface rust," a claim we take with many grains of Kansas road salt, and he or she "was told the engine ran." What more do you want? We wouldn't blame you if you kept the original two-banger, but we'd award you the coveted Jalopnik Légion d'honneur medal if you Hayabusized it. Thanks to UDMan for the tip!

It isn't easy to find a car that can compete with a Panhard for sheer PCH-osity, even if we're looking at other French cars, so we're going to drop a 2-for-1 deal on the other side of the scale to even things out. The thing about having two related cars in your Hell Garage is that the Evil One starts telling you to forget the parts-car idea and fix 'em both up instead. Remember that when you see these two Renaults; you get a '72 Renault 15 and a seriously Malaise-tape-striped Renault 17, with a Buy It Now for both cars of a mere $750. Can you believe it? Now, neither one really runs (well, both cars "run"), and the seller has done enough half-hearted parts-swapping between the two that it might take some doing to untangle things. Even though the cars are in Alaska, the seller claims there's no rust... and it's possible that's true, given that a car needs to drive in order to collect road salt. Hmmm... think the drivetrain out of a Fuego Turbo is a bolt-in? We're guessing non, but there's only one way to find out!


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Rob Emslie

The Panhard because despite never being able to make a dent in the project short a trip to the land of smug and petulant frogs, at least you'll have the personal satisfaction that, Sisyphus-like, you are working against the odds, and pushing that damn Panhard up that mountain.

What's the old joke; First prize is a Renault, second prize is two renaults.