A Car in Four Stories

By Robert Goldman

I’m not a horror movie fan, but I have read Stephen King’s novel, Christine, the story of a demented Plymouth Fury. Think of that car as a slightly darker, automotive equivalent of the blood-sucking plant in Little Shop of Horrors. Somewhere back in the ’80s, Nels Miller sold my family the grief fed version of Christine, a Jaguar XJ12C. The car doesn’t kill. It merely prefers treasure over blood.

Almost 20 years since it last caught fire ran, I’m getting my turn to feed the beast. Allow me, in four brief stories, to recount my relationship with the car.

Late Night Call
“This is your father. Your mother and I are on the side of the freeway between off ramps X and Y. Bring gas.” Those in the know will tell you the Series II XJs had two distinct gas tanks, with a dash switch to swap fuel supply. The tanks are not interconnected. To run both tanks dry takes a special perversity of character. The old man had what it takes.
The payoff pitch was “your mother.” I may well have left him to work it out on his own were Mom not in the car, and most likely a good deal of angry.

Pop the Bonnet
Grandpa Louis was a Cadillac man, from Detroit. He didn’t place much stock in those foreign jobs. He also had no desire to fly in the family airplane, so we were driving him from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles…on a hot summer day. The car began to overheat. Go figure.

Owners of British cars with front tilting bonnets know the last ditch cooling gambit. Pop the hood and let it float.
Air pressure will keep it from rising up in your face, and hot air from under the hood now has an additional place to escape. Grandpa didn’t know any of this. “Why is the hood open?” “Because the car is over heating.” “My Cadillac never does that.”

I thought there was gonna be a fist fight right there on the side of the road. Thankfully, on this occasion we made our destination without needing a phone. Funnily, I can’t recall driving back.

You Get to Drive the Car
This was it, my big chance to drive the beast, head to LAX, and pick up the folks on their return from an overseas trip. You cannot imagine how desperately a twenty-something kid wanted to drive that lovely V12. I hadn’t made it across Santa Barbara before the alternator light came on. I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid. The SS Titanitwelve wasn’t going to make it there and back. Mom would be both tired, and super very angry when the car died.

My other grandfather, also a Cadillac man, lived along my route. I stopped at his place, explained the situation, and he was thrilled to loan me a proper car—his Cadillac V8-6-4. If you don’t know about that infamous machine, look it up. It ultimately cured his Cadillac obsession. I drove that soul crushing box to LA and back, all the while dreaming about what could have been.

“I Think Your Car Is On Fire”
My mom drove to the market one day, her big, golumphing Bernese Mountain dog in the back. It was a mild day. She rolled down the windows, and headed in for a quick purchase. Someone stopped her and pointed out the car appeared to be on fire. It was, but only a little. In those pre-cellphone days, she got the dog out of the car, and ran in to the market to find a phone.

It wasn’t as easy as that because of a leash problem, however, this isn’t a dog story. The fire was put out before engulfing the car, and repairs were made. Soon after, the transmission developed some form of transmission fluid incontinence. It got parked after that.

Once I saw a UK based ad for a Peerless GT. The owner literally stated in the ad, “Step forward, you brave young man.” Now there was a guy who knew what he was selling. I’m a guy who thinks he knows what he is buying. Being in my peak earning years, I am in hope of resurrecting the beast long enough to commute in it now and then, or die trying. Of course, if we both make it to my retirement, it will then become a race to see who expires first, me or the car. After that, the next brave young owner will step forward. XJ Coupes are way too pretty to let rot, unless they refuse to do anything else. MM


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