We all remember them, the motorcycles, the little vans, in their recognisable colour scheme and lettering. A board our saviours in times of distress, the Roadside Assistance.
This article won’t be an ode to the Roadside Assistance and yet again it is. For this story I will not go decades back in time, looking for heroic adventures of men in old fashioned uniforms working their nightshift along muddy motorway banks, no, this time I’ll only go back in time a few weeks. Let me explain. Like every year this spring I was seduced to take Raymond and my nearly 70 year old automobile to take part in Le Citron Pressé, a regularity rally solely admissible for Citroëns that are no longer in production. Tempting enough to appear at the start in a cheap C5 or Xantia, but in reality every year we find an impressive field of 2CV’s, GS’s, DS’s and more of the sort on display. Our 1949 Traction Avant may well be the oldest in the field, that doesn’t make it less of a competitor. Or does it…
About five kilometers before I reach the départ in Landgraaf, the needle of the aftermarket cooling temperature gauge trembles painstakingly close towards the red end of the scale. It hasn’t been right the entire ride here, at speed the temperature rose higher than it was supposed to, once on idle everything was just fine. Worrisome, of course, but there is a rally to be competed, what can I do? I leave the motorway and park the car in the grassy bank. The smell of freshly mowed grass is tarnished with the aroma of flung around doggy poo. I try to ignore it. Under the bonnet an echoing emptiness inside my radiator tells me something isn’t quite right. Before I can close up the radiator no less than three liters of water have disappeared inside the cooling system. Heavy hearted I finish the last kilometers to the starting location. Will it all end here? I hope not. Turning on to the parking lot I instantly notice the oh so common yellow livery of the Roadside Assistance 2CV Van. My heart leaps in relief.
The 2CV Van of the Dutch Roadside Assistance, who remembers it? When the ANWB, the Dutch automobile club, switches from motorcycles to cars, Citroëns practical little van is the ideal choice. Lightweight, spacious, economical to run and purchase and virtually unbreakable. From now on the Roadside Mechanics are dry and kind of warm while awaiting their next job. Compared to the luxury of the contemporary VW van, it might all be a bit spartan, but that doesn’t keep real men like Thijs Schieving and Pieter van Asselt from providing four long days of assistance during Le Citron Pressé. Thijs and Pieter are part of a group of official Roadside Assistants who, besides their regular job, every now and then take the original Roadside Assistance 2CV from the ANWB collection out in the field. Of course they do maintain the car by themselves as well as taking it to several one day events across the country regularly. And during Le Citron Pressé, where the Roadside Assistance 2CV Van bounces criss cross through the French countryside to provide the participants with help when needed.
A firm handshake, debonair and cordially as ever. What’s wrong, what do I think is the problem? Less then half an hour later the fail is located, a loose paddle inside the water pump. It isn’t the first job for the boys of the ANWB and it sure won’t be their last. That night at the hotel they arrive late, we see video’s of rattling engines and other mishap. For four long days they are busy keeping the ageing cars of the competitors going. Their own 2CV performing the toughest job, hauling tools and parts in the slipstream of the rally. We ourselves are pretty crap this year, but thanks to the boys of the Roadside Assistance we know one thing for sure, it wasn’t the car that failed us.
tekst: Marc GF Zaan foto’s: Raymond van der Meij