Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Paradigm shift: n. a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.
(definition courtesy of the New Oxford American Dictionary)

Paradigm Shift, or How does the Heart cool in it's ardor? How do you start out loving old Cadillacs and end up loving old Jaguars? It is a long and winding road.

Photo source: E bay
I was a grammar school kid in Oakland Ca. in the mid 1960s. As I walked to school I would pay very keen attention to the cars I saw parked along the street. I especially remember when I was in fifth grade. There was a very clean 1959 and a 1960 Cadillac sedan parked near each other at the curb. This was in 1966 and these cars were only six or seven years old. These Cadillacs were imposing in size. The other cars on the street were large also, downsizing was not a concept that even appeared to be on the horizon. But they paled in comparison. They were like new, the paint was glossy and the interiors were immaculate. As I walked by I would peer into the car and marvel as the fancy chrome trimmed instrument panels and plush leather and cloth brocade seats. I would marvel at the radio with the "more stations" signal seeking wonder bar. What, does the radio manufacture more stations? My Dad's 1964 Pontiac Tempest wagon was only a couple of years old and it had a regular push button radio with a speaker in the dash. The Tempest had a spiffy red vinyl interior but it was sadly lacking in comparison to these incredible De Villes. Sometimes I would run my finger tip along the bright trim that outlined the curvature of those amazing tail fins.

Talk about imprinting! These experiences instilled in me a desire to own and drive one of these beauties someday. These were real cars, anything else would be an incredible step down. This era was the heyday of the Cadillac mystique. If you could not afford to own the newest Cadillac, then the next best thing was a clean older model. This was the fulfillment of the American, and Afro American dream. These cars became the treasured and pampered prized possessions of their owners.

Fast forward several years to 1968 or so. I accompanied my Father to a trip to an auto parts store that was located in East Oakland's Chinatown. As we walked to the store from our parked car, I saw an incredible sight parked in the gas station alongside the auto store. A long, low, ferocious yellow beast that looked like a resting monster. Now even today I cannot truthfully say that I think these cars are beautiful. With their scowling visage and protruding tusks they seem petulant and aggressive, more like a rhino than an antelope. But somehow this car, while not a sleek jet age wonder like the 1960 model I had marveled over earlier, became the object of my budding automotive desire.

When we left the store I asked my Dad if we could take a look at the car, which had a for sale sign in the window. My Dad, great guy that he was, went over so "we" could inspect this monstrosity. A 1956 Cadillac Sedan de Ville four door hardtop. The massive hood that towered above the headlights with those eyebrows would have looked more at home on the front of a truck. The bumper over riders, those pointed chrome tusks seemed like something that would be displayed by an angry walrus. My father opened the hood and I peered down into that cavernous engine bay where an oily blue cast iron lump was adorned by a black air cleaner that sported two intake scoops along each side. The rocker arm covers were proudly emblazoned with the marque's name in script.

photo source: E bay

The smooth roof sloped down to a curved rear window that was framed by the "Florentine curve" of the "C" pillar. The kicked up tail light became a forward leaning tailfin that crowned the protruding exhaust outlet, the contour that was faired into the side of the quarter panel. I slid inside, behind that thin steering wheel and gazed at the tombstone shaped instrument panel. As I gripped the wheel I was enveloped in that great, musty, funky old Cadillac smell. This was a machine to drive to ends of the earth! I think the sign was asking 400.00. "Buy it Dad, Buy it!" I implored. My Dad was nice enough to let me look and sit in it, but he had no need for an aging dragon, so the answer was no. Back in the last year of the 1950's my Dad had let me inspect, believe it or not, a Model T that was on a used car lot only a couple of block's away from our old house. I had also begged "Buy it Dad Buy it!" then, and of course he didn't buy that one either.

                                                               photo source: e bay

The point of this rather long fanciful anecdote is that due to this encounter I became obsessed with owning an old Cadillac. This desire was later translated to include newer models, and I owned a string of them. I was known as a Cadillac guy, and I finally did own a turquoise and white 1956 Sedan de Ville hardtop sedan of my own! It would be an almost thirty year wait.

As I approached the age where I could get a driver's license my focus moved over to motorcycles. I had also been obsessed with two wheels for a very long time. That's a whole nother story. I ended up owning thirteen different motorcycles over the 35 years that I was a rider.  Where did that first two wheeler come from? Who facilitated the move to two wheels? Why my Dad of course!  My Mom told me that my Dad was bringing home a surprise.  I couldn't believe it when my Dad showed riding a little 1965 Honda 50. A black 1965 C110 scrambler. "It's not a big motorcycle, just a groovy little motor bike!" This is a story for another time. Let's finish up my Cadillac journey.

My Father did not want me to buy a Cadillac as my first car. He didn't want me to buy an old man's car. He encouraged me to buy a Mustang or Camaro. So I did, a '65 Mustang hardtop with a 289 and four speed. I just never really liked this car. I fixed it up a bit but kept my eyes open. One rainy afternoon I was taking the bus to my karate lessons at the dojo on Broadway Blvd. in downtown Oakland. It had been raining so I didn't want to take my Kawasaki Mach Three 500cc motorcycle. Right next to the bus stop was a used car lot and I saw this big gold car in the back. I only looked at the back rows of car lots in those days! The car I saw looked exactly like the one in the photo below. A 1964 series 62, (not De Ville) convertible. Wow, it looked really nice, straight, clean and it fired right up. The price on the window said 325.00. I already had the money. I had sold the Mustang the week before, that's why I was riding my bike all the time. I didn't tell anyone, but took the bus back a couple of days later. I paid the man a total of 340.00 and drove that gold beauty home. It wouldn't be the last time that I showed up with some automotive surprise, but my dad was always a good sport. He got used to the Cadillacs.

photo source: Wkiipedia
 A long string of Caddys followed. I will just show pictures of the different models. I owned them in a non chronological order. I didn't start out with older models leading up to newer ones. I just bought what appealed to me at the time.   Next in line: a white over gold 1970 Coupe de Ville. With it's high compression 472ci.  motor that thing could run!

photo source: pinterest.com

This was followed by a Pontiac Astre?  Astre? Really nothing but a badge engineered Vega.  Then I came to my senses. I was driving down Mission Blvd in Hayward when I saw a '57 Cadillac on a used car lot. I think that they were asking 299.00. The deal was made and then this 1957 Sedan de Ville hardtop shows up in my driveway. Actually my car was white over tan. I drove this while I finished up my classes at San Jose State. I also had a Harley Sportster. Life was good.

photo source flickriver.com

Filled with anticipation of upcoming success after graduation. I put my beloved '57 up for sale on a consignment lot on Winchester Blvd. The owner of the lot decided that he wanted my '57 but he didn't want to pay me in cash. "Pick out a car on the lot and we can make a deal". There was a Naples Yellow 1977 Coupe de Ville sitting on the lot. "Could we make a deal on that?" I asked. I didn't put any money down, I didn't know or care what the interest rate on the loan was. I was getting that '77! This was my dream car. When it came out three years before I told myself that this is the new apex of the Cadillac marque. The crowning achievement of Cadillac evolution. I have never enjoyed a car more than I did this Coupe de Ville. I would like to say that this car changed my life, but of course it didn't. It couldn't. It's just a car. But it's ownership coincided with the big changes that were coming in my life. College graduation. My start in my long time occupation, my marriage (I met my wife while driving this car). I was well into the "dress for success" ethos. We must forgive the boundless enthusiasm of the young.
photo source: GM

I enjoyed this De Ville for quite a while. Though I found the need for a new car because I was often driving up from Southern California on a very tight time frame. I bought a new 1984 Mercury Cougar. A nice car, but my Cadillac dreams were placed on hold for awhile. Until this car debuted. My 1994 was also all black, with sunroof and chrome 1997 wheels. It had 27,000 miles when I got it.

photo source: cadillac motherauto.com

A Cadillac for the modern age. In many ways it reminds me of my '97 Jaguar XJ6L. This Seville STS is a design that is currently underappreciated. With 295 hp this car was a rocket. It handled great and was supremely comfortable. My wife grew to love driving this car. We bought it when it was three years old and kept it for another ten. Unfortunately it had it's share of problems as it aged. In the final years of it's ownership I got the itch for that '56 Caddy that I never got. I looked around and found a white over turquoise hardtop Sedan de Ville. It had the gold trim package. Pretty nice, fairly clean, no rust. I got it into decent running shape though it was never a daily driver. My wife took a great photo of my Seville and my '56 backed into our driveway with me standing between them. I wish I could include that shot here as it is a great summation of my Cadillac journey. It's in a box somewhere. I will poke around some more looking for it.

photo source: pinterest.com

My '56 looked pretty much like this. And no, I don't own it any more. It had to go to make room for my new love, the Buick Riviera. Even after all this time, I will still occasionally pine for an old Cadillac. Before I bought my XJ6 I semi seriously considered looking for a 1963 Sedan de Ville hardtop. However, there is someone at work with a new Cadillac ATS coupe. I keep admiring it as I pass by it most days, maybe the flame is still smoldering.


  1. Great read! You're a terrific writer. So, how did you get into Jaguars? Or is that the next chapter?

    I drove a '49 (I think) Cadillac once. Man, that thing was a beast. Steering a small, 3 bedroom duplex would have been easier. Comfy, though.

  2. Thanks for the kind words Rhett. This was written as a somewhat fanciful but true account. The intent was to show how deeply I was into old Cadillacs, so that the change of my automotive interest would be more dramatic. My uncle had a '49 fastback Caddie coupe, no power steering, no power brakes until the '51 or '52 model years. I was too young to drive back then. I hope that further installments will make my point. Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff.