At the intersection of Routes 202 and 206 in Bedminster, NJ, an insignificant Texaco gas station served as the home office for Walt Hansgen, one of the best road racers of the 60’s. Notably, the station also featured the U.S. Senator Harrison Williams/John Z. Delorean memorial telephone booth. Locals were accustomed to seeing long black limousines parked close to the phone booth as their famous, notorious occupants made calls from the presumably tap free pay phone.
Despite their public image, FBI agents are simply not that dumb. Not only had they tapped the residential phones of these local ne’er do wells, they also had all the local pay phones tapped and had a photographer capturing their furtive images inside Hansgen’s phone booth.
A horny high school student hitchhiked home from liaisons with his long-legged heartthrob along those same roads on a regular basis. Those experiences would have been forgettable, had it not been for the time that the free ride was provided in a late model, British Racing Green Jaguar “saloon” piloted by a raven-tressed, dynamic and spirited lady who stirred the manual gearbox with the alacrity of the Wicked Witch of the North’s potion preparations.
The Jag (not to be confused with “the car,” “the vehicle,” or any other mundane term) sang an ecstatic response to the driver’s delicate stroke: surging, pausing, surging, braking, leaning, gripping, diving, leaping with a fluidity of motion that belied it’s majestic proportions. This exotic, mysterious siren seemed to thrive on the energy she was able to coax from the highly refined driving machine.
Awestruck in the presence of incredible beauty, mesmerized by the intensity of pure passion, a young man who would in the not too distant future have all vestiges of innocence ripped from him in the violent struggle of military combat, could only sit silently and strive to understand inputs from senses that were on overload.
No gold and alabaster chariot pulled across the heavens by a team of 8 driven by Zeus himself could have elicited a more profound memory for this young man. A Jaguar was the ultimate expression of luxury and performance. That was a given in the minds of every boy over the age of 15. A Jaguar with a manual transmission was a mark of driving decadence. Only drivers addicted to performance lust for rising and falling engine tones played to the cadence of swift gear changes.
Who was this incredible vision of beauty and sexuality, this ethereal expression of all that is feminine and delicate who clearly thrived on danger, speed, and power? As in all singular moments, the answer came too late: my personal vision of pure perfection was the widow of one of the truly masterful, truly great sports car drivers in the world.
While others lust for wealth an power, the overriding goal in a long life containing innumerable successes and personal accomplishments has been to somehow capture the same raw emotions that filled a young man’s heart on that fateful day: to connect through heal and toe, hands and fingers with a mechanical thoroughbred, a purpose-built, refined automobile with the heart, power, and grace of a champion. Forty years later, every flick of the wrist, every whine of the synchros, every crisp and distinctive metallic click of the shifter brings light to a reality that seems more like a dream.
While Mrs. Walt Hansgen is long gone, her memory lives in the heart of a now old man as he strives in some small way to capture that oneness of man and machine, that synchronicity of thought and action which propelled us through the countryside with an impossible fluidity nearly fifty years ago.
This true story was first posted on 11/2/2009 at http://anothercasualobserver.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2010-01-15T15%3A29%3A00-05%3A00&max-results=7