Saturday, January 27, 2007

Rendezvous avec 450SEL 6.9

As I waited for three hours in a Tallahassee office lobby for an appointment that never materialized, my eyes caught a quick blurb in a dog eared car magazine about Rendezvous, a 1970s cult film lasting a little more than eight minutes.

When I came home, I learned more. C'etait un Redezvous was shot by filmmaker Claude Lelouch. He had just finished shooting a film with a gyro-stabilized camera mount. With the mount and ten minutes of film left, he decided to install it onto the front of a car and have it race through the streets of Paris at breakneck speeds. When French authorities turned down his request to close the streets down to make the movie, he took it upon himself to do it-- at 5:30 in the morning in August-- when traffic and pedestrians were at a minimum.

The film is surreal, sublime, and outrageous. The reckless disregard for human life exhibited is matched only by the skill with which the driver propelled his car through the streets of Paris. The Arc de Triomphe, along with anonymous, windy, and narrow cobble stoned streets all make their cameo appearances. The movie can be found with a quick search on youtube or google video.

For decades, this underground cult film has been the source of much rumor and speculation. One of the key questions is-- what kind of car was used? A Ferrari 275 GTB, an Alpine, a Benz 450SEL 6.9, and even a LeMan prototype, possibly a Matra, have all been suggested.

The leading theory is that Lelouch's own 6.9 was used with a Ferrari V12's engine sounds and tire screeches dubbed in. Although I would like to think that it was a 6.9, there are too many inconsistencies. First, the 6.9 was equipped with an anti-dive, anti-squat hydropneumatic suspension. Even with the gyro-mount, the car in the film dove and squatted too much like a conventional car, albeit with a tuned suspension, especially during turns and hard braking.

Second, although automotive journalist extraordinaires like David E. Davis likened the 6.9's agility to that of a Mini, the long wheelbased uber-saloon simply could not be as spritely as the car used in the movie. I had the privilege of learning to drive in a 1978 450SEL, sans 6.9, and it was like driving a bus. It would have been almost impossible to toss something that BIG around like a rag doll.

Ronin 6.9
Finally, despite its prodigious 6.9 liter V8 with 286 horsepower and 405 lb-ft of torque, and a zero to sixty time of 7.4 seconds, I don't think that it was quick enough to be the car in the movie.
Of course, all of this is speculation and conjecture. A recent photo popped up on the net showing Lelouch working on a gyro-mounted camera in front of a W116 bodied Benz. This may have resolved the question once and for all. If a 6.9 was indeed used in the movie, I must say that the movie just got even better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Might be a little late to comment, but since I'm here...
There was a small documentary made about C'etait un rendezvous with the filmaker in 2007-8 and he actually did say it was his mercedes he was driving