Coupe with a wink

ADULTS love nostalgia. Their eyes sentimentally shine when recalling high school, a first date, first football game, the most embarrassing moment... And the first car they ever owned. The choice might have been wise, or unwise, but it was mostly memorable. In June 1964 I found a car I wasn't even looking for. There was $275 in my pocket ready to be spent. The dream at best was to acquire a six-cylinder Rambler. What came home was a 1955 Cadillac two-door with every accessory known to mankind. My father was on the surprised side. I bought a huge can of wax and, after hours of labor, brought back the shine.

Owning a Cadillac at 17 had side effects. Kids my age were coming up to me and applying for loans. The 1964 minimum wage was $1.15 an hour, and I was driving to work regularly in a Cadillac. My supervisor looked at my arrival and departure with some puzzlement.

Adults were tickling me with Cadillac jokes. How many gallons did I get to the mile? and was I looking for a private chauffeur?

The sofa that was known as the front seat moved back and forth automatically, as well as up and down. All the power windows worked, except the driver's one, of course, so I had to pass my drive-in movie money around the rear window to the ticket taker. On the left dash, peeking out the windshield, was the electric eye. This was the automatic light dimmer. In night driving, this all-seeing eye would see approaching headlights and obediently dim the beams to low. But the Cadillac could not distinguish the difference between an oncoming car and an overhead streetlight. The Coupe de Ville winked politely at every lamppost in town.

Girls were suddenly introducing themselves. To a shy person such instant friendship was indeed awesome. But teen-agers were not saying ``awesome'' in 1964. ``Groovy'' was a term just coming into existence. I never quite understood what it meant, unless one was discussing wall paneling. The term has vanished into obscurity along with love beads.

But the Cadillac and its driver did not appear to go together. There were looks from townspeople as the automotive monster paused at a Dairy Queen. Out stepped a string bean in T-shirt, shorts, and thongs, accompanied by two blondes. A Beatle song would be blaring from every radio speaker.

The Cadillac lasted for two years, but internal engine wear eventually forced its retirement. The sad note is I haven't seen the two blondes since. A lasting truth is American cars have largely lost their American looks. When I see someone driving a Cadillac 20 years old or older, something inside wants me to say ``Hi'' to them and wish them well.

I like to think some collector found the Cadillac I once owned and kindly fixed it up. There are times when I would like to have it back. But my $275 today would buy only the handle off the door.

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