When an American car club heard a member had stopped coming to meetings because she had cancer and feared she would not live to have her own car they resolved to do something rather different – they restored a car for her.
But first they got Stéphanie Guégan to help with the work without telling her.
Stéphanie, from Quimper, Brittany, was one of the first to volunteer when the American Breizh Car club called for helpers to restore a car for a man who had lost his job and his wife “Martine” who had cancer.
Although passionate about American cars she had stopped attending meetings and, as she had recently become a mum, everyone assumed life was too busy.
“In fact, she had had intensive cancer treatment. She wanted to come along but felt she wouldn’t live long enough to have her own classic car; which set us thinking,” said club co-president Yvon Le Saoût.
When a wrecked 1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme came up, the club bought it for €450 and started ProjectMartine, inventing “Dom and Martine” so people could help without Stéphanie guessing the truth.
Volunteers worked for 700 hours, replacing €4,000 worth of parts, with many being donated, and Stéphanie joined in: clearing a mouse nest in the ventilation, getting rid of rust and polishing the car to a gleam.
Stéphanie, 38, added final touches with a ribbon on the bonnet and a special keyring. She was even asked to give a speech on behalf of the volunteers and scanned the crowd to finally meet “Martine” – before being handed the keys.
At first she did not understand what was happening and then, when she realised Project Martine had only ever been for her, she burst into tears. She had been hoping “Martine” might take her for a spin but instead she had the car of her dreams, plus insurance and a full tank.
“It really was the biggest and most wonderful surprise of my life. I didn’t guess, even when I was working on the car! I’ve been out in it a few times but the weather hasn’t been great so I’m waiting for some sunshine to really get the best out of the car. I love it.
“My cancer treatment has now finished and I’ve been given the all-clear. It’s been a really difficult time but now I just have to have check-ups every six months.
“I’m so thankful France has such a great health system. I’m feeling much better in myself now, and the car has really helped and been part of that.”
Speaking for his three co-presidents and the club’s 109 members, Mr Le Saoût said: “She always does so much for others, it was time someone did something special for her.”
- The American Breizh Car club wants to “share the American dream in Brittany’s Wild West” and car owners and enthusiasts can use its forum for free, or join up – membership is €20. Details at www.americanbreizhcar.com