The Tintin adventures are not only about the courageous globe-trotting boy reporter, his pals and other memorable characters. They’re also about some amazing cars.
A call from a friend who is writing a book triggered this column. He wanted to mention a car from the Tintin adventures in one of the situations in his book and called to ask me which one would be apt. My answer to him was unequivocal and instantaneous. However, I pulled out all my books on Tintin under the guise of doing some crucial research for my friend’s book and started browsing through my collection. As it often happens in my life, all earth-shaking, life-critical and ultra-essential work – including sending this column to autoX on time – were pushed aside as I deep-dived into the brilliant world created by Hergé.
Tintin? Hergé? If you don’t know about them, then please proceed – let me not stop you from TikToking or Fortniteing, or whatever.
Automobiles (and planes) were integral to Tintin comics. A great enthusiast of cars and racing, Hergé gave importance to the role of the automobile in his adventures, with about 79 models having an important or significant presence in the albums. The Belgian master, whose real name was Georges Remi, was a pioneer of ligne claire or ‘clear line’ in comic illustrations. The draughtsmanship and attention to detail in his work are exceptional, without losing out on its simplicity and crispness, making him a huge influence in the world of comics, advertising and modern art. As the 24 Tintin adventures unfold, the cars get more detailed and identifiable and are a treasure trove for classic car spotters. That, combined with the situations that they are put in, make the comic panels highly memorable.
Some even made it to the cover. The identical-looking detectives, Thomson and Thompson, go round-and-round in the desert in a red Jeep chasing mirages in Land Of Black Gold, while Professor Calculus ‘acts the goat’ by driving a Jeep-like sports car at the sprawling Sprodj Atomic Research Centre in Destination Moon. An ancient ‘trans-Saharan’ Ford Model T in the second Tintin adventure – the much-derided Tintin In The Congo, which was first published in book form in 1931 – was also featured on the cover.
Some sequences with cars are outrageously funny. For example, a panel in The Calculus Affair has the two detectives bump their heads against the canvas top of the 1949 (to be precise!) Citroen 2CV, as they come to a screeching halt in front of Marlinspike Hall. In fact, the adventure of the kidnapping of Professor Calculus has quite a few interesting cars and driving sequences – the best one, of course, is the 1953 Lancia Aurelia B20 GT2500 driven by Arturo. Arturo who? Well, Arturo Benedetto Giovanni Guiseppe Pietro Archangelo Alfredo Cartoffoli da Milano, of course (‘Italian car, Italian driver, the best in the world, no?’) who ‘flies so low’ that Captain Haddock’s teeth chatter causing Arturo to think that something is wrong with the Lancia’s pistons or valves. As also the 1938 Cadillac Fleetwood convertible taxi in Delhi in Tintin In Tibet, which Captain Haddock gets unceremoniously dumped into after hitching an involuntary ride on a furious cow. In The Castafiore Emerald, there is a superb sequence featuring a Citroen Ami 6, in which the house doctor forcefully exits along with his paraphernalia through the passenger door as Professor Calculus in a wheelchair comes hurtling from the mansion and into the car. Every now and then, I think about all these situations and laugh, making the people around drift away from me discreetly.
A dramatic thing happens in a car in the very first Tintin adventure, Tintin In The Land Of The Soviets. The boy reporter and his faithful dog, Snowy, pinch a late-1920s Mercedes-Benz Type S right from under the noses of the German police who are out to get him. He accelerates hard, the rear wheels spin as they seek grip, the front of the open-top sports car lifts in the air, Snowy is thrown into the rear seat… And something which will forever be identified with the boy reporter comes alive.
The sheer acceleration of the mighty supercharged Mercedes lifts the tuft of hair in front of Tintin’s head, and after 23 more adventures spanning the ends of the Earth (and even the Moon!), it still hasn’t come down! Today, all you need is that quiff to identify the world’s favourite reporter and you’ll have to thank a vintage Mercedes for that.
If you found this interesting, well then, there’s more on the Tintin cars next month – including the ones that Hergé owned.
Srinivas Krishnan writes about classic and vintage cars for various publications. He is the former Editor of Business Standard Motoring & former Head of Press, Porsche India.
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