Get in gear with this week’s featured story from the First Person Museum Online Gallery. This week’s tale is more than classic! “Gentle Crosshairs” comes to us from Andrew from New York City. Take a ride through Andrew’s story about an unconventional hood ornament that once sat perched on the edge of a 1975 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. But this hood ornament is not just special for evading the late ’80’s and early ’90s fad for hood ornament theft. Read the story behind Andrew’s gentle crosshairs and learn about a comfort and luxury that exceeds even powered leather seats.
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Theme: Good Times
Object Type: My Wheels
In the winter of 1997, I set out to buy a sensible car and, instead, fell in love with a 1975 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. A couple thousand bucks got me two tons and twenty feet of harvest gold luxury, replete with four-way powered leather seats, sun roof, and a working 8-track stereo. To my enormous delight, the car remained intact save for one glaring flaw: It hadn’t survived the late ‘80s and early ‘90s fad for hood-ornament theft. With at least ten feet of hood, the missing crest made it nearly impossible to determine where the world started and my Cadillac stopped.
By chance, at a flea market, I discovered a lovely chrome swan, lightly pock-marked and imperfect, but with a delicately arched neck and a dramatic spread of wings. It made a stunning, if unconventional, replacement, rivaling the luxury and prestige of any not-quite-classic vehicle anywhere.
The Cadillac and I moved a lot in the late 90s, and the swan perched on the hood as a gentle cross-hairs on my various aspirations, pulling up targets and driving them down. Anything was possible in that car. In the fall of 1998, I drove across the country, up through Canada (where I evaded a speeding ticket because the speedometer wasn’t graduated in kilometers) and down to my new home in Los Angeles. From Venice, I barreled south along the beach to the Palisades and north on the Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu, the chrome swan leading the way. Gradually, though, the stuff of adulthood crept into my possession, eventually exceeding the ample trunk capacity of the Cadillac and forcing a painful choice. In advance of a move to Philadelphia, I reluctantly prepared to part ways with the car, listing it in the Auto Trader at an ambitious $2500. One Saturday morning, I pointed the swan towards a diner in the Valley and sat down for breakfast with Frank, a retired janitor who looked wistfully at the car through the diner window while pushing eggs around his plate. It was his dream car, the first vehicle he’d lusted after as an adult, but there was a problem: He could do $1500 up front, but he’d have to make payments on the balance. For my taking on the risk–for trusting him–he’d even pay $2700. Frank’s palpable love for the car made the deal, and, impulsively, I shook on it. We agreed to meet at a mall in Santa Monica the following week.
Frank had brought a friend–a fellow retiree–and over lunch we talked cars and life in Los Angeles. At a break in the conversation, Frank looked around furtively and leaned in: “Are you ready to make the swap?” He was afraid we’d be seen with cash and robbed. With his friend standing guard at the door, Frank and I swapped paper and shook on the deal in the mall bathroom. In addition to the cash in hand, he’d make eight monthly payments of $150 each. We walked together to the car, and lingering over the swan for a moment, he looked at me and said he’d like me to have it. He’d already found an original Cadillac replacement, and he had no use for it. “To remember this great car” he said.
The sensible, utilitarian little pickup truck I bought as a replacement lacked a hood ornament or badge of any kind. No cars have them anymore. They’re too ostentatious, maybe, or too vulnerable to theft. Frank made every single payment as promised, calling to make sure the check had cleared and updating me on his life. In ‘retirement’ he’d started a small solo janitorial business–he just couldn’t sit still, it turned out, or play golf like his buddies. The car, of course, was everything he’d hoped.
For ten years, the swan has occupied a nook or shelf, a memento of my days on the wide-open freeways of L.A and of something else as well. Once an emblem of ambition, movement and change, the swan reminds me now of my deal with Frank, of the virtues of simple human trust and a confidence in people, that, as it happens, is a comfort and a luxury exceeding even powered leather seats.
Read Andrew’s official entry.