Vintage French Drivers Ed? Cest Bon

Code Rousseau Cover

I find odd things at yard sales.; Case in point?; I stumbled across a 1972 edition of Code Rousseau - a French driver's ed textbook - at a local garage sale.; As odd - or dumb - as that may sound, it's actually a fun read - even if you're not proficient en Francais.

Let's start with the graphics.; Although it's not Tintin Goes to the DMV, the illustrations are remarkably clear and true-to-life.; Think of it more as a softbound form of the Mille Borne card game, if you will.; Virtually every road sign imaginable - at least in circa 1972 France - is illustrated with great detail.; So too is that sexy Fiat Dino that graces the rear cover.; Score. On that note, you can keep tabs of your progress through a series of self-tests.; Sure, they read a bit dry, but they're also somewhat fun.; Don't believe me?; Here, I've translated one for you...

Number 18:; If the Marchal electicals on your Peugeot 504 go to hell, will staring at a Michelin map in the middle of the road help you even in the least? Well, maybe it doesn't say that.; I blame Babelfish... Outside of feeding my fetish for French vehicles, I'm most impressed with this book for the piles of information deemed "need to know" for student drivers.; Many of Code Rousseau's chapters are chock full of tidbits essential for motoring, but absent from many modern driving courses.

Oddly enough, this includes using a manual transmission.; Rousseau starts with a handy diagram of shift patterns for a host of French iron (good to know if you're saving for that vintage Renault 16) and follows through with a good six pages of how to shift a stick.; That's - oh - five and three-quarters pages more than my personal textbook supplied.

Given that my class was taught to drive on a war-torn Pontiac Grand Am with a Hyrda-Matic 4T60E on its very last legs, anything more than a basic definition of a manual transmission was deemed non-essential.; "If you want to learn stick", our teacher once barked, "go **** up your parents' own transmission." (I did, and I dare say it was well-worth a the smell of burnt clutch and a look of fear on my father's face.) But the fun doesn't stop there.; Also included is a nice 10-page section, which carries on into detail about driving commercial vehicles.; Yes, big rigs, buses, tractor-trailers and the like.; Double-clutching, exhaust brakes, engine retarders... you just can't find this stuff in today's classrooms.; Perhaps that's for the better, as a 16-speed Spicer 'box, three-speed Eaton rear axle, and a three-axle air-brake system may be a bit much for a 16-year-old to manage. Tips on driving articulated buses may be irrelevant, but the section on maintenance - and, for that matter, how motor vehicles actually function - is a great include.; Granted, I knew the difference between four- and two-stroke motors before I reached driver's ed, but my textbook never even touched the subject.; Code Rousseau actually walks students through subsystems like carburetors, radiators, and lubrication - that last point an important one in avoiding costly mistakes.

I won't know anyone enrolling in driver's ed here in the 'States for a few years yet, but once they're of age, I'm loaning them Code Rousseau.; They may not understand a single word of it, but by giving them the book, I am - at the very least - trying harder than their instructor ever will.

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