The end of the road on our inaugural trip with our Citroen La Dalat came in the town of Tan Phu, Dong Nai (don’t look, it’s not mentioned in your Lonely Planet: there is nothing to see in Tan Phu). We did manage to find a truck, put the La Dalat on it and we made it back to our factory in the middle of the night.
For a while the old car lingered in front of the factory, like a somewhat overpriced and oversized prop, and we started asking around us for anyone with a La Dalat connection that could help us find a mechanic to bring our pride and joy back on the road. The answer as often when it comes to old cars in Vietnam came through Nathan Redfearn, the curator of the very good classic car Vietnam group on Facebook.
Nathan knew of someone who knew of some crazy Frenchman living in Bien Hoa with a collection of old Citroen. After a few emails exchanges we got hold of the phone number of Stéphane, the Citroen aficionado from Bien Hoa. Stéphane is a living encyclopedia of old French cars in Vietnam and he took us to his mechanic, a fellow with a big laugh, a mischievous air and a few missing teeth by the name of An. We quickly decided to nickname him André (like André Citroën!).
With a newly charged battery and much anxiety the same LaDalat that had left us stranded in Dong Nai managed the 15km from Thu Duc to Bien Hoa on small backroads, it wasn’t a pretty ride but we were secretly impressed that the car had started at all and that we didn’t have to rent another tow truck.
When we got to André’s garage, he smirked between his missing teeth and pointed at the carburetor: “This is a Peugeot 404 carb”, then to the gearbox: “this, not a Ladalat gearbox”, we were slightly puzzled, but that was not all the news, “the front train and the gearbox, not Ladalat, from a 2CV 4!”. By then André’s eyes were crying with laughter, we had just bought the mother of all lemons, a bastard car clearly made from bits in a scrapyard. We were bracing ourselves for an offer to buy it for scrap metal, but instead André took a piece of paper and listed all the things that should be changed: gearbox, front train, a full overhaul of the engine, it would be costly by Vietnamese standards but still surprisingly affordable and we were promised it could all be done within 2 weeks.
Importing spare parts from France? THe suggestion generated another hearty laugh from André: he told us there’s a small foundry somewhere in District 4 in Saigon that can redo every single piece from a Ladalat engine and that’s all that would be needed.