The Cat in the Shadows

When I was a kid, the most influential car to me was a dirty, dingy jalopy that was stored at my babysitter’s house. Everyone saw it as this old relic in a dark corner of a country garage. I was 4 1/2 – the half is important at that age – and saw this dust pile differently than others; shape, flowing lines akin to art and a canvas of painted metal, chrome and rubber.

It may have been neglected, but still looked capable of speed despite its static condition.  I saw a machine, rocket, spacecraft, pirate ship, and many other things. It looked like a playground of possibilities! I remember the owner of the car (my babysitter’s husband) telling me that it was OK to play in it but not on it. I could take care of the interior and he would even give me rags (brilliant on his part) so I could polish and shine.
I remember him scooting past me in the packed garage to reach for the chrome handle of the long sleek door. With a slight “POP!” the door released, emitting a sound I had never heard before. It was a sound of precision, a sound of finely fitted pieces releasing from each other. He carefully pulled the door open just enough to keep it from dinging against the lawn mower that sat not too far away. With a motion of welcome, he invited me to sit in this space ship on wheels. That was when it happened!

As I slid into the seat, I felt like a test pilot for the Air Force, an astronaut for NASA. It wasn’t a normal car. There was a shiny beautiful steering wheel. Wood grain, brass, and chrome mated together. The head of a cat laden in gold on the center cap. Big black gauges that filled the silver dash. A line of switches that would be a staple of future adventures. Everything was just how I would imagine the perfect car. I was about to embark on a quest to fulfill the fantasies straight out of the imagination of a boy obsessed with adventure. Little did I know, this adventure has been an ongoing journey that spans to this present day.

I remember that day with crystal clarity. Many memories have faded to after thoughts, but the memories of that day have stuck with me. That car, and all that came with it. The smell of the forgotten leather, the mixture of gas, oil, and antifreeze, the sight of the layers of dust that the years had accumulated onto the canvas convertible top, the long swoop on the bulge in the hood, and the angled drop of the short flowing trunk. It was a day that I relive in my head and hope to continue to relive until my dying day.

I played in that car every day for a year making believe I was Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Keke Rosberg, Captain Kirk, Buck Rogers, or Blackbeard. Once school started for me, I looked forward to jumping into a new adventure the second the final bell rang! If I was at the babysitter’s, you would find me in the garage. It was the happiest of times!

One day, my babysitter came out to get me for lunch like she always did. As we went towards the house, she said she had something to tell me. It seemed that they had sold their house and were moving shortly. The first thing that came to mind was the car. What about it? How could I continue my adventures? I was overwhelmed with sadness. I was about 5 1/2 (again with the 1/2) and that was a huge blow to my whole world at the time. I had to do something!

I remember seeing my dad coming up the gravel road. A rooster tail of dust and fine rock swirling behind his old truck like a jet stream. It was the moment I was waiting for. The few hours between the bad news and my dad’s arrival seemed like an eternity! I don’t even think he got out of the truck before I ran over and started to beg. “Please dad, buy the car in the garage!” He looked perplexed. He didn’t even know there was a car in the garage. My babysitter came out to the front lawn and greeted my dad with much more grace than I did. She looked at him and said, “I told him we were moving. We have the cars in the garage that he plays in, and I told him we were thinking about selling his favorite one. He said he wanted to ask you if you would buy it so he could still play in it.” She giggled a little and explained that if he wanted to look at them, her husband would be home in a few hours to open up the garage. My dad agreed to come back later. I think it was because he saw the desperation in my eye. I am sure he was expecting junk, but knew it was important to me.

For 2 hours, I think I asked 100 times how long we had left. There was a sudden sense of urgency. The minutes ticked by slowly, until finally it was time to go back over. It was only down the street, so it didn’t take long to get there. We pulled up to the house and the moment was here. Finally! If I could just show my dad the car that had no name but a huge story to me, he would fall in love with it too. We walked up to the door and my babysitter and her husband both came out, we walked toward the garage on the side lot of the country property. The side door was always unlocked for me. As we opened the door, I looked up at my dad’s face. His expression went from curiosity to big smiles in 1/2 a second. He looked at the guy and said, “Wow!”

The guy started with a presentation. He started telling my dad information that I didn’t even realize I was listening to until later. The year, make, model, engine size, etc. All the important stuff! He told him that it had been sitting for quite a few years and needed a full tune up. I felt like I had done a pretty good job of taking care of her, but evidently polishing and shining the interior was not enough. My dad asked if he could go get my mom and bring her back. Something was happening here. My dad had this look on his face that I connected with. That gleam in his eye made him resemble a kid. He looked at me and asked if I wanted to stay there or go get mom. I wanted to stay. With a nod, my dad left to get my mom.

I didn’t understand completely what was going on, but it seemed to be a big moment. As we were waiting for them to return, my babysitter, her husband and I started moving the clutter that had piled up over the years, making the way to the broad garage door. Rearranging and piling various items developed a path to the door. He stepped on the latch of the garage door and twisted the handle. When he pulled up on the door, the weather stripping peeled away a little. Obvious signs that it had been a long time since the inner walls of this garage had seen any daylight. The door slid up the rusty rails and the springs creaked and cracked, these are the signs that it needs a garage door repair the soonest. With a plume of dust swirling out into the yard, the garage door came to rest fully opened and allowed rays of sun to hit the dusty paint.

Look at all the bird poop. The dust had to be a 1/4″ thick. There were signs of neglect not noticeable until the sunshine hit it. Raccoon and squirrel tracks in the dust, the under body showing signs of a mouse colony. Neglected, but I was crossing my fingers that it would no longer be.

A rumble came from the road. That same plume of gravel and dust made it’s way towards us. It was my dad and mom. My dad jumped out of the truck and ran as quickly as possible to the other side of the truck to open the door for my mom like she was the guest of honor (he was no dummy). As they walked up, I heard him telling her about the car. This time I was listening.

“This car is a British sports car. It is a convertible that needs some work just to get it running. The price is right and it would really help this family with their moving expenses.” He was laying it on thick! “Once I get this running, we could take a short trip to Kansas City or farther.” She gives him a look of curiosity, and asked, “What is it?”

“It is a 1962 Jaguar XKE. It has been sitting for a while, but I know I can get it running and when I do, you will love it.” I think she saw the same look on his face that I have had on mine for the past year or so, because she looked into his eyes and said, “If you think it’s a good idea, then go ahead and get it.”

A feeling of joy surrounded me. My dad had saved the day just like I thought he would. My mom was the coolest! I was the happiest kid in the world! They made plans, signed papers that I could hardly read, and shook hands. My dad looked at me and gave me a wink. He came over to me and knelt down to my level. He looked me directly in the eye and said something I will never forget. “Son, you really have a good eye for cars. Great job! Thanks for telling me about this.” That made me proud.

But wait! Shouldn’t I be thanking him? He saved the day. He rescued my rocket, my pirate ship, my race car. And then it hit me. He was a little kid at heart just like me. How can a car and the memories that go with it affect so much? I saw my dad as a hero. I saw my mom’s trust in my dad. I have always strived to be like my dad. I have always looked to my mom as a kind and supportive woman. The basis for what a great woman is.

We kept the car for a few years. It was part of the family for a while. A break for all of us from the grind. It took 2 cases of Goop hand cleaner and gallons of soap and water to wash off all the bird poop and dust, but the Opalescent Silver Blue under all of that still sticks in my head. My son chose the color of my Spitfire, and it really made me smile. He chose a color that was about one or two shades off of the Jag Silver Blue. I made it a point to have him present when we pulled it out of the paint booth. And yes, I made sure to kneel down to his level and told him, “You have a good eye for car colors. Great choice. Thanks for choosing it for me.” Many people have commented on the color, and I always accredit him.

The memories were more than the purchase of a car. I have been chasing that feeling, those moments, those memories my whole life. I got married to a beautiful and supportive woman just like my mom was to my dad. She bought me a Spitfire out of a junk yard for Christmas. I have since built it to become a driver. I take many drives with my son and frequently look at him sitting in the passenger seat. I see me at his age. He may not see the form and function of a classic British Roadster, but he may have the memories that will stick with him his whole life.

Cars are a lifestyle. They will take you places and allow you to meet people that will truly affect your life. I encourage everyone to develop relationships with cars as objects of art, form, and function. They are expressions of who you are, what you are about, and where your passions lie. Who knows, you may affect someone else’s life until their dying day. Instead of buying a car that has a warranty, buy one with a story. Instead of buying one that is the right price, buy one that has the right feel. Be creative and be yourself, because everyone else is taken. Thanks for reading my story. It is written by a middle aged man that still remembers anecdotes of his childhood. How can that be bad? Hope to see you on the road, and when or if I do, I will have a wave or a nod for you…

By Shawn Frank

'The Cat in the Shadows' have 3 comments

  1. December 8, 2015 @ 9:47 am Larry

    The first time I saw a Jaguar XKE, I knew I wanted one. I was in High School and it belonged to a fellow student. His wealthy father bought it for him for a first car. Shortly thereafter, he crashed it and was badly hurt. The car was probably scrapped, as I never saw or heard of it again. About 15 or 16 years ago I found a 66 XKE Roadster that was sitting in a junk yard and asked the owner if he ever wanted to sell it I would like to purchase it. He had blown up the engine and had started removing everything in hopes of restoring it. It had been sitting outside and was going down hill fast. Last July, I finally convinced him to sell it to me. I traded a 88 Hess and Eisenhardt XJS V12, with only 30K on the odometer and cash. He was very happy and I was over the moon. A trailer load of parts in boxes, bins, jars etc. was carted back to my shop, where I did a complete restoration of everything. It took 14 months, but now after 50 years, I have the car I have always lusted after.


  2. December 8, 2015 @ 4:53 pm Bill Farrell

    Heartwarming story. I can remember the first Etype I ever sat in, a red 66 coupe that my brother was fixing for a friend. I got to go on the test drive, and those sights, sounds and smells were instantly etched into my psyche permanently. I’ve been a Vilem B. Haan string back driving gloved LBC lunatic ever since


  3. November 8, 2016 @ 8:35 am The Cat In The Shadows: A Jaguar E-Type Memoir – Retro Rides

    […] Note: This article originally appeared over at, we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the author who gave us permission to share it with […]


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