Full confession, first. I called them Freedom Fries. At West Point, we giggled at the Maginot Line’s bureaucracy-bred haplessness. I too-often insert an ungainly Honnhh Honnnhhh Honnnnhhhh when a social situation calls for a Frenchman’s laugh [c’mon – don’t we all encounter such scenarios?]. But that’s all a form of betrayal, as our Peugeot 205 GTI was a French jewel among the the myriad, multi-cultured automotive gems that sparkled throughout our three year tour in Germany. I’ll even go on record as naming it as our all-time favorite car. Thus, whatever we may think we think of the French, my opinion shall forever hold a very large asterisk because of our excellent Peugeot period.
The gem’s cave was our nearby Peugeot-Talbot dealer in Bremen-Lesum, Autohaus Manfred Haensch. Looking back, Herr Haensch’s sometimes-gruff countenance may have reflected how many, uh, berets he wore. He sold us the car, then handled all of the tax-exempt paperwork. He was the service advisor and cashier, and probably even did some wrenching. It all added up to multi-tasking, before such was invented. And blessedly, Googling the dealership reveals a still-active store, giving hope that a small dealer can still exist in today’s increasingly mega-dealer world.
But what of the joust? Let’s just say that it bore similarity to a certain storied duel, in that a Merc’ was involved, as were top speeds. But my situation required double-divine intervention. Ralph only needed to have a 190E 2.3-16 pull alongside his Mustang GT on A-27 so they could race to the end of Germany. My extra blessing came from Haensch, on a providently sunny Saturday morning in May 1988. With the return to CONUS less than two weeks away and the 205 already sold, for some reason I had to make one last visit to the dealership. In my best German, I thanked Herr Haensch for being a great dealer, and I think he replied with acknowledgment of my three years of loyal patronage. I couldn’t script what happened next. He motioned me around the corner of the wee dealership, where a black on black 405 MI-16 sat, in a suitably sinister Gallic pose. Then things went into slow motion, because the next thing I recall was having the keys in my hand, and interpreting that I be back before zwoelf (the ubiquitous noontime Saturday closing time).
I had one road on my mind, of course, and Bundesstrasse 74 wasn’t it; however B-74 was the red carpet leading to the ball, plus it allowed me time to warm the 405’s fluids appropriately before reaching A-27. There, from the Einfahrt onward, the dreamlike sequence continued. The 405 was considerably heavier than our less-than-a-ton 205, but the extra .3 liter displacement seemed to help with grunt, while the 16-valve head definitely made the 5,500+ rpm range a lest restricted place. So fairly quickly, I was moving along at 200 kph, feeling that my last real drive on A-27 was perfect. But perfecter became apparent when I came up on an E-class. I think the trunklid script was deleted, but the subtle twin-tip exhaust suggested a six-cylinder version. Who challenged whom is a long-lost detail, but the next thing I knew, I was a pre-Twitter Dale Jr., right on the MB’s bumper, with the speedo inching past 210 kph. This close to Bremen, we should have encountered traffic plus wind gusts, but neither materialized. As 225 kph arrived and the middle-sausage still couldn’t shake me, I knew that it was a 260E, and that we were about done with further speed. Nonetheless, the drafting effect let us eke out another 5 klicks or so.
What triggered the initial return of my senses, I can’t recall. It was probably realization was that I was around a month from becoming a first-time father, and was in way over my head (with the drive, too!). I therefore let off, returned to a more reasonable 160 kph, then prepared for the Ausfahrt. There might have also been a bit of trembling. The next thing I remember is pulling into the dealership, and handing Herr Haensch the keys with profuse thanks. Had men hugged back in 1988, Herr Haensch would’ve been a bear’s recipient. As it was, he acknowledged my silly grin with a knowing look of his own gratitude.
That, my friends, concludes my Seven Fables of Autobahn 27. For those of you who followed, I offer thanks for your time.