Clarkson, mangez votre coeur

The Jewish Chronicle Online, 06/01/2012

One morning in June 1990, I walked into a sports car showroom in Wandsworth,

“Hi, I’m Peter Rosengard.”

“Like the car?” The owner asked. “There’s a French car called a Rosengart.”

“That’s unbelievable!” I said. Naturally I had to have one. So what if it was one letter out. Rosengart, Rosengard, who cares? “I’ll take it!” I said. “Where is it?”

“They stopped making them in 1952. Lucien Rosengart, one of the original designers of the Citroen, set up his own business in 1928. I hear of one for sale perhaps once or twice a year.”

Six months later, he called me. “Mr Rosengard? I’ve found you your Rosengart! It’s in a village two hours drive outside Lyons.”

A very old man with no teeth and a battered blue beret answered the door. A young man appeared behind him: “My uncle doesn’t speak English; he’s asked me to translate.” The old man poured us each a glass of rough red wine and slowly started to talk. He’d bought the Rosengart in 1936, when he was 19. When the Nazis invaded, he joined the Maquis. The Gestapo came to the village and took the wheels off his car.

My car fought the Nazis! It was a Jewish war hero!

“He loves the car,” his nephew said, “but he says he wants it to go to a young man like you who can make it beautiful again.” We walked over to a barn. It took the four of us to get the door open a few feet, and there it was — a very, very rusty little old car. There were two ducks fast asleep on the half-eaten back seat. Cobwebs hung from the windscreen.

“Elle est tres belle, oui?” said the old man.

“Back in the kitchen. I asked his nephew the price. It was £1,000. From the window, we saw his uncle standing with his hands on the bonnet in a silent farewell.

The restorer said it would take six months and cost £2,000 to restore. Five years and £20,000 later, I was having breakfast at Claridge’s when Roman, the commissionaire, came up to my table: “There’s a car been delivered for you, sir. It’s got your name on it.”

Parked outside the main entrance, in front of the line of chauffeur-driven Rolls Royces, was a very small, highly polished, dark-blue car with two enormous gleaming headlights. My Rosengart! It looked like it had just left the showroom. On the bonnet grille, black metal letters spelt out the name, “Rosengart”.

I jumped in and turned the key. Nothing happened. It took Roman and three young luggage porters to get it rolling down Bond Street. I stopped at the red lights on the corner with Grosvenor street. “Morning Mr Rosengard. What a lovely car! What is it?” Harry the newspaper seller called out.

I leant out of the window. “It’s a Rosengard, of course.” I accelerated off to a dizzy top speed of 15 mph.

I’ve still got it; we celebrated its 75th birthday last June. “Darling, you know the Rosengart will be yours one day,” I said last week to my daughter Lily, aged 16.

“Thanks, Dad, that’s lovely of you but, if you don’t mind, I think I’d prefer a Fiat.”