Sunday, March 31, 2024

May 1946: My grandparents' first car? - a Fiat Simca 5

My grandparents didn't own a car before WW2 started, and they didn't have one during the war, either.  But, after the war ended, my grandfather started working for the French government, helping to rebuild France, and they provided him with a car for use in his job. It was probably this car:

Source: Par Pantoine — Travail personnel, CC BY-SA 2.5 

Ok, I probably shouldn't say it was their car, as they didn't own it, but the family photos below give me reason to believe they were allowed to use it for personal use, to visit Grandpa's father and stepmother in Belgium.  

He told me about the car in 1988 when I recorded his oral testimony about the war:

Arthur: The administration of France was restarting as an independent country, and we were a section of the department of rebuilding France. I became a, not a civil servant, but a temporary agent of the Ministry of Urbaine. Urbanism and reconstruction. You know what is urbanism do you?     

Me: City.

Arthur: City, yes. Designing cities. And so I work as a, in charge of the city of Valence, of this as an agent of the ministry.

Arthur: Yes. I got a car and gasoline coupons. You say coupons [pronounced: “cue-pons”] or coupons [pronounced: “coo-pons”] ? How you say?

Me: Either one.

Arthur: I … gasoline coupons, in large numbers. Well, France was a country in a complete mess after the war. Gasoline was nearly in-existant and Roma could exchange those gasoline coupons against a lot of food and shoes and I don’t know what else. That’s the way it worked over there. And, ah … But I have a car, and to drive to the mountains, to take care of the workers. 

He mentioned the car again when he told me about my mom's birth:

     And the car I had, which was not mine, I was given because of the reconstruction, and used it as much as I wanted. It was difficult to start in cold weather. So every couple of hours, I went down and walked half a mile to where my car was parked in a porte cochère [carport], and started the car, heated the engine for five minutes, and go back ... So when it became apparent she was supposed to go to the hospital, I went and got the car and drove her to the hospital, and Paul remained with Lillian who was at the time, well, five-and-three quarter. 

I didn't think much about the car, until I was re-reading my Aunt Lilly's autobiography Across the Ocean Bars which she wrote for school when she was 15:

     During September 1945 we moved to Valence, a city of 50,000 inhabitants. Are (sic) home was a tiny apartment and through good fortune we obtained a car or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Our car was a two passenger vehicle named the “Simca Cinq.”

With a bit of digging (and the help of my historian friend in France), I found out that she was referring to a Simca 5, and she was right that it was a two-seater, and it is absolutely adorable car:  

Par Arnaud 25 — Travail personnel, CC BY-SA 3.0

Source: Par Arnaud 25 — Travail personnel, CC BY-SA 3.0

Then, I remembered there were a couple of photos that included a car in the photo album:

May 1946, Antwerp, Belgium
L-R, Arthur and Roma Lubinski,
Felicie Turska, Lillian Lubinski (on car)

Note: I know the probable date and location from clues on other photographs.

Looking at the front of the Simca 5, it's clearly the same kind of car shown in the family photos. But ... it had no back seat! And the photos were taken in Antwerp, Belgium ... which means my grandparents drove about nine hours from Valence, France to Antwerp (about 850 km/528 miles) with their two children (my mother would have been about 5 months old at the time) all crammed into this tiny car!  

I do wonder when Arthur learned to drive, though.

L-R: Lillian, Roma, Arthur
May 1946, Antwerp, Belgium

L-R: Lillian and Roma Lubinski
May 1946, Antwerp Belgium. 
This is the photo that allowed me to identify
that it was 1946 (not '47) and Antwerp - it's written on the back.

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