Flying Jaguars and Roaring Cadillacs: Reflections on My History With Cars

 Image by HarryFabel at  pixabay

Image by HarryFabel at pixabay


Last updated July 24, 2018

"Art on wheels" is how my husband refers to beautiful cars. But not me. Although I've had some car adventures in my life, including one with a flying Jaguar, I much prefer a cozy space where I can sit and think. And you'll never guess what I did to my grandmother's Cadillac. 


I’ve never understood the obsession with cars. In my mind, they are nothing more than a contraption for traveling from point A to point B. And cars are a hassle: just one more trap to steal your time and money. Though I know my views run counter to most.

The "can you guess that car" game

I learned I was an automobile oddball when I was six years old and the girl who lived across the street invented the “can you guess that car” game. It was the perfect activity after a long day of jump rope and hide-and-go-seek, a lazy way to spend the last minutes of daylight before the adults called you in for dinner. The object of the game was to guess the makes and models of passing cars before they rolled out of sight. I didn’t know a Ford from a Chrysler. But the other kids did. And it was telling that they could nail them and I couldn’t.

After one or two rounds, though, I discovered I couldn’t care less about leveling up; I couldn’t care less about makes and models of cars; I couldn’t care less about cars at all! And, in retrospect, this was a defining moment — the catalyst that severed the friendship between me and the girl who lived across the street, especially after she became smitten with Barbies. Thankfully, I soon moved to a different neighborhood, which was fortuitous because breaking up with six-year-old girlfriends over cars and Barbies is tricky. That was a close call.

Art on wheels, and walls

My husband says cars are “art on wheels.” Whatever. “But you can’t see the art when you’re in it,” I say. I admire other people’s “art on wheels,” painted blocks of metal zipping over highways and byways. But what does that have to do with me? The art — the very cool car — passes in an instant. So what.

On the other hand, my “art on wheels” is my living space, minus the wheels. It supplies a rich environment for creativity, thought and imagination. But that’s just me. My husband, in fact, calls me a woodpecker because I put so many holes in the walls from rearranging artwork and photos. Eventually, though, I get it just right.

My grandmother's Rampur Green, 1969 Cadillac DeVille

But when I was in junior high, the family car was more than a contrivance; it was a source of embarrassment. During those years, my grandmother would often pick me up from school in her monstrous, Rampur Green, 1969 Cadillac DeVille with a gold vinyl roof and plush upholstery. The local General Motors dealership had to special order it on account of the gold accents. And to make matters worse, I was the rich kid at school. So the ostentatiousness of the whole affair was mortifying.

You can’t blame me, really. When one of your classmates wears the same shirt to math class every day and that shirt is made of old bed sheets, riding home from school in a gilded Cadillac is disgraceful. And, on top of that, the Cadillac roared. Given that my grandmother wasn’t the smoothest of drivers, every time she hit the gas — I think she got a thrill out of doing that— the engine rumbled in that way that makes car enthusiasts go weak in the knees. My grandmother and her Cadillac were larger than life. And my classmates were mesmerized, inventing a sundry of reasons to snag a ride home in the roaring, green monster.

Though one sweltering, humid day in the summer of 1972, I threw up all over the Cadillac’s gold, plush upholstery. That car was never the same again.

The flying Jaguar

There’s only been one car in my life that I’ve ever truly loved. And it was a Jaguar: my father’s beat-up, black, secondhand Jaguar that took flight when you pushed the unmarked button on the walnut dashboard. I was convinced that car could fly. And one clear, winter’s day, my father casually mentioned he might fly it over my preschool during recess. So I rounded up every gullible kid I could find, lined them up by the fence, and we waited, watching for signs of winged, black elegance streaking across the sky. He never showed.

Of course, I forgave him for that. Who could be angry? Our little game created a memory the two of us would never forget. And I will always remember the anticipation and excitement I felt when my father’s hand would reach for the fly-mode button: “No, Daddy, please don’t push the button, not today!” I believed in the magic of the flying Jaguar. I still do.

I would rather have a cozy room than a snappy car

I’ll take a cozy room over a snappy car any day. Though I know what you must be thinking: Some people appreciate both stylish cars and artfully designed spaces. That’s true. And I don’t judge.

But cars are awkward to get in and out of; tedious to park; a drain on my bank account; and complicit to the nervous breakdowns I have while driving my kids to school. It’s the drop-off loop; it gets me every time. Besides, “art on wheels” is meaningless when you’re driving it.

But a room filled with floor-to-ceiling bookcases, even the faux wood kind from IKEA; low-light lamps; a mishmash of art and family photos arranged just so; stacks of magazines and books on end tables gleamed from thrift stores; windows for daydreaming; and a quiet place to sit and ruminate while sipping coffee?

I’ll sign on the dotted line, even if there’s no walnut dashboard with a fly-mode button.  —Laura