I think I understand what he saw, driving down the road, as he described it. The sun on the crosses and the buildings.
But by the time he stopped, set up the camera, and took the shot, the moment was gone. His attempt to recreate that magic
from a negative that was poorly exposed (his assessment) and lacking the required contrast was not entirely successful (IMO).
We've all experienced that moment when the sun's reflection is perfect, and the subject lights up as if on fire, then it's gone.