The Test Drive to Beat Them All

By Geoff FitzGibbon…..

Who ever thought selling Citroën cars in 1970s Britain could be such fun?

It was a very busy Saturday in the UK Citroën dealership where I worked and the sales staff were fully occupied with customers. A new visitor was becoming agitated at having to wait, and so I called over to the GM’s office for help. The GM, Roy, appeared straightaway and introduced himself to the impatient fellow. They left the showroom together shortly thereafter and I continued helping my customers.

Fifteen or so minutes later, Roy reappeared alone. When the buying rush had died down, he described to all of us what had happened.

His customer had asked to drive a DS Pallas. Roy showed him our demonstrator, which had leather seating. The first clue that something was amiss came when the customer said – with disdain – that the leather was not good enough. He hurried off to his car, returning straightaway with a brown paper package. He removed a complete hide of tanned leather and told Roy he would want the entire car re-trimmed with this leather, which he claimed was superior to anything Citroën had in the factory.

Roy assured him that we could have the work carried out, at a price, if that was what he wanted. Satisfied, the customer returned the parcel of leather to his car and the test-drive began. As was our practice, the sales person drove first, explained the major controls, warned about the brakes’ power and unique feel, and changed places with the prospect.

The next clue was the customer’s asking Roy if the seat reclined past 45 degrees, because he felt that was the best seating position for driving. A trifle perturbed, but still game at this point, Roy showed the driver how to get comfortable, which resulted in his eye-line being just about level with the top of the dashboard; and so seated, away they went.

According to Roy, the next 5 minutes were as scary as it gets: with gas pedal seemingly pressed right to the floor, the driver shot through the gears, screamed around several roundabouts at close to the very high adhesion limits of the DS, and almost drove another motorist or two off the road. 

Roy asked the driver to pull over, as he needed to show the customer some other features. The customer complied.

Roy walked around to the driver’s door, opened it for the driver to exit the DS. Roy then got into the car, cranked down the window and told the customer to watch what was going to happen next. Roy then started the car, put it into gear and drove back to the dealership without another word or backwards glance.

We never saw the lunatic customer again, although his car was gone from our parking lot by the time we closed up.

I am pretty sure Roy thought we sales guys had engineered the whole thing as a set-up but, as far as I know, the crazy prospect was just that; a very strange man.

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