No one is capricious about the Caprice

Love comes in many styles and colors, but in our clan it is the venerable 'gray whale' that sets masculine hearts aflutter.

I t's official. Following a year of research and analysis, my husband and his cousins have come to the irrefutable conclusions that they'd best stick with the 235's. Of course, the 255's were a serious contender, right up until the final days of the debate. Case in point: A last-minute summit had to be convened to address the unresolved issue of the speed rating. Still, the guys have, at last, reached an accord they can all live with.

I, on the other hand, have developed some serious doubts about the wisdom of living with any of them; men, I mean.

For those of you outside the limits of our family landscape, let me explain: My kinfolk have been discussing tires. Not just any old set of tires, mind you. These tires are for The Caprice.

While love comes in an assortment of styles and colors, it rarely takes the shape of a Chevrolet. Yet in our clan, the venerable gray whale, often seen drifting along like a visitor from a bygone era, is precisely the form that sets their masculine hearts aflutter. Purchased in the 1980s by Cousin No. 1 for his "little" brother, a young police officer, the car was destined for greatness even before it left the lot.

Since this was No. 2's first brand-new car, the Caprice came loaded with every imaginable accoutrement: an extra large engine, a heavy-duty frame, a transmission cooler. Even the speedometer was specifically certified for precision. But beyond the complicated mechanics of the beast, there was its sheer, resplendent beauty. After its weekly wax and buff, the Caprice was primed, ready to take on any and all emergencies that an unruly life might throw its magnificent way.

And they came all right.

But this is not a tale of late-night chases or heroic roadside rescues; no, it's just a reflection on love that, in the details of its expression, simply boggles the female mind.

Imagine this: Unbeknownst to me, my husband had, for years, secretly longed for his cousin's imposing vehicle. In hindsight, all the telltale signs were there: admiring glances, furtive meetings, even a quick wax job or two. No doubt my husband would be pining for it still had No. 2's very pregnant wife not put her foot down a few years back, insisting that they get a more suitable car for a growing family. And so, with a heavy heart, No. 2 picked up the phone one night and called the one person he could trust to care for his beloved car.

On our end, my husband was transported instantly into automotive ecstasy.

Still, it wasn't long before the three-way talks began. Right after the title was transferred, our days fell into a regular pattern of car-related phone calls, with discussions lining up into three broad categories: maintenance, trouble shooting, and, of course, crisis. Let's see, over the years we've debated shock absorbers (KYBs give the car a "nice posture," whatever that means), ignition wires, throttle bodies, manifolds, and dash pads. We've even installed a tachometer where once there was none (don't ask why). Curiously, the guys have also been inclined to mull over - dare I say it - cosmetic concerns. For instance, they argued endlessly about the sundry merits of hubcaps vs. lug nuts. As it turns out, Cousins No.1 and 2 stood uncharacteristically united in their firm preference for the sleek-looking Caprice hubcaps, while my husband held out for a peculiar, if not bold, combination of adorning rims and shiny lug nuts. On and on they went, these fervent dialogues, peppered by the sound of breakout giggles as the hour grew steadily late.

I had to remind myself, not infrequently, that there were far worse things for a middle-aged man to be doing than planning car-related conferences with his cousins.

Recently, however, my husband has begun to make noises about a topic that no one wants to acknowledge, much less talk about. Yes, the Caprice, turning 16 this year, is finally succumbing to Detroit's age-old nemesis: rust. Late at night, no phones ring. I'm afraid a certain painful decision may be in the offing - soon, and alone. And yet, in this atmosphere of preternatural silence, I've come to recognize the truth behind the Caprice era. Engines fail. Wiper blades warp. But the feelings of love that my husband and his cousins convey to one another are ageless, rustproof, and guaranteed to last a lifetime.

So I say: Let the men argue about tread design, traction, and performance. So long as they can whip out their bottles of Windex, competing to see who has the cleanest windshield, we're still in business, Caprice or not. It's not about the car.

It never was.

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