16 September 2011

Never Cry Woof

Canine companions are the ultimate classic car accessory

In the 1930s, Concours d’Elegances in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris featured stylish  models whose haut couture complemented the colors of the dashing convertibles they were presenting. The cars’ real owners were often immensely wealthy, though not particularly photogenic, and understood the value of victory at any price.

An exception was English-born Folies Bergere dancer Stella Mudge (later the Maharani of Kapurthala) who had her own Talbot-Lago T150 SS teardrop coupe painted to match her favorite couture, leaving no doubt whose film she was in.

In the same vein, pets would be chosen to match the Delages, Delahayes, Hispano-Suizas, Isotta-Fraschinis, Minervas, Alfa Romeos, Lancias, Bentleys and Mercedes-Benzes. You might see the occasional ocelot, or young jaguar on a leash, but most companions would be dogs, preferably slinky, lean and leggy, like their minders.

This is something of a lost art these days, but dogs may be seen occasionally who just absolutely suit their owners and vehicles. They are part of the show. Here are a few:

Winston the English Bulldog

Winston is brown and white and at seven years old, he doesn’t get around as well as he used to. But he loves riding with his owner Ascoigne d’Ascoigne in his 1927 3-Liter Bentley Le Mans replica, around the village of Newington Bagpath, in Gloucestershire. Winston has his own flying goggles and a white silk scarf, a tribute to handlebar-mustachioed d’Ascoigne’s record as one of “The Few.” Neither of them sees very well, so they wave and bark at everyone.

Monsieur the Standard Poodle

Monsieur is black and almost 30 inches tall at the shoulder. He is devoted to retired Foreign Legion Parachute Regiment Capitaine Henri LaValle, who has an apartment in Paris and an estate in Southwest France. LaValle drives an immaculate 1974 Citroen DS23 Break and Monsieur sits very straight beside him. The two hunt wildfowl in the Camargue wilderness together. The only attempt by the Capitaine’s late wife Marie to trim Monsieur to a show clip was quickly abandoned at a rumbling growl.

Destiny the Afghan Hound

Destiny belongs to fashion designer Arabella (nee Mary Ann Walchovsky), known for her “gypsy fortune teller” style of clothing. Destiny is a gold Afghan frequently seen around New York’s garment district, riding in Arabella’s yellow 2012 Fiat 500 convertible with the top open, so that she can see out. Destiny’s hairdresser Fabrika (Diane Wattenberg-Ramirez) is often seen socially with Arabella and has conceived similar hairstyles and coloring for the two women, to complement the dog. As a sight hound, Destiny is not to be trusted around small animals.

Prince Charles the Old English Sheepdog

Prince Charles belongs to well-known Scottish rock star David Slade, who is now a country gentleman, having disbanded The Raging Filth. With his German-born wife Erika and two children, Slade bought rundown Craigievar castle in the Highlands, where he practices golf and single malt scotch. In tweed jackets and plus fours, Slade drives a rundown 1963 Aston Martin DB6 shooting brake that came with the property. Now gray-haired, Slade no longer shaves his head and he and 100-pound Prince Charles (“friendly but not too bright,” says Slade) look somewhat alike in the car.

Sparkplug the Jack Russell Terrier

Sparkplug is the lifelong companion of desert racer Terry “Mad Man” McIlhenny, of Bakersfield, Calif. White with a brown patch over one eye, he was first filmed riding a piece of carpet on the tank of McIlhenny’s 500cc scrambler, during the Baja 1000 Mexican race. Like his owner, Sparkplug made the jump to racing dune buggies, then Ford pickups. The two can often be seen in McIlhenny’s 1977 lime-green Jeep Wrangler, with its 24-inch lift kit, giant tyres and roll cage. It has no windshield, so they sport similar dark goggles. Luckily, Sparkplug is still agile enough to jump up to the carpet-covered right seat.

Harris the Yorkshire Terrier

Harris accompanies rural postman Steve Yost on his daily deliveries in Yorkshire’s North Riding, as he has for 14 years. The black and tan, seven-pound dog “is better known than me,” says Yost, who says the biggest problem is stopping little old ladies from feeding Harris dog biscuits. “That, and he won’t get out of the van, when it’s snowing,” says Yost, whose 2009 Peugeot Bipper postal van takes him onto the moors and into villages around Whitby. Yost’s solution is to stuff Harris into the front of his coat on snowy days.

Sabrina the Miniature Poodle

Sabrina spends warm evenings in Modesto, California cruising with Walt and Mabel Merryman (Class of ‘63) in their pink and white 1955 Ford Sunliner convertible, complete with continental spare. Sabrina has developed quite a taste for In-and-Out hamburgers and the veterinarian says she will have to go on a diet (along with Mabel). Walt says he’s just robust, and cracks that when he can’t get under a sink anymore, he’ll quit being a plumber. They’ve had their car for 15 years and it’s won a shelf-full of trophies, especially since Mabel’s white curly hair now matches Sabrina’s coat, complementing her flounced skirt, with its embroidered poodle design.

Satan the German Shepherd

Steve Deeds (not his real name) has lived in a battered caravan in Northern Idaho for three years, ever since his uncle died and left it to him. He’s off the beaten track, which is why he flies a controversial Confederate flag. He got Satan (then called Dave) two years ago from a friend who had to leave the country suddenly. He was hoping to train him as an attack dog, but Satan is too smart for that, and Steve is aware he is too big to threaten one-on-one. An uneasy truce exists between the tattooed, pierced skinhead with his permanent wrap-around sunglasses, and the coal-black dog, but Satan loves to ride in the back of Steve’s battered 1961 Dodge step-side pickup and bark at everything.

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