Curbside Classic: 1955 Cadillac Coupe DeVille – You’re The DeVille In Disguise, Oh Yes You Are


(first posted 10/17/2016)     To paraphrase Hamlet‘s titular, indecisive protagonist, I am well aware that the DeVille has the power to take a pleasing shape, and like the tragic Ophelia to my Danish prince, this Coupe DeVille nonetheless has stolen away with my daydreams for nigh on a week.  With no Polonius to put on the brakes, however, the job may be left to Ben Franklin, who was not a character in Hamlet at all.


Yes, the tragic element in my DeVille schemes is going to be money, as in the number of Franklins required to acquire this fifties dreamboat, this rolling internal combustion metaphor for excess and success, this REM sleep interrupter, this time-sucking, garage-filling Lucifer that’s haunted my nights and days.  This Cadillac is my Dante and Beatrice moment; in my case, it was a glance across a crowded street, from the pizza parlor to a local garage, that sucker punched me for eternity.


Knowing myself as I do, it doesn’t take long for me to realize that a rash decision is almost inevitable, such as purchasing old car number seven, a car that dwarfs everything I own in almost every category involving size and price.  You see, two days after seeing it for the first time, I visited the garage that currently serves as a backdrop for this most Cadillac of Cadillacs.  The owner responded as I expect all garage owners would, cautiously and most taciturn, but not downright hostile.  He allowed that the current owner would likely entertain offers in the $15,000 to $17,000 range.  And that was all it took.


With too many gas tanks to feed already, the conversation stopped right there and a bit of the fog miraculously lifted.  My wife was glad I stopped, because she was going to call the garage anyway, knowing I have a milestone birthday coming up in April (40).  My lovely bride was going to buy me a Cadillac.   (Dante parallel again? “Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself in a forest dark?”)  Neither of us, however, is quite so fast and loose with the purse strings to drop mid-Michigan repossesed house change on a ticking time bomb of mammoth proportions.  This car has been sitting for years, just as everything I ever buy has been sitting for years, which means that I am invariably working on them for years.  When things sit, they slowly die–cars and people.  You’ve got to keep moving in this world or you’ll implode.


There is nothing left to do but imagine how things might have been, muse about how perfect for each other we are. Cadillacs wear their years of neglect like jewelry from their glossy 1950s advertisements, like mother nature picked up her customizing airbrush and filled in the details that Harley Earl missed the first time.


Although every man with a torch and cutting wheel has cursed rust’s name, there is always a balance between beauty and cancer.  In the great gray area that is life, it’s sometimes nice to not have the answers, but to let things be, the distinguishing marks of a life well lived, of preparation for emergencies, of knowing how to get things done, of not being a flavor of the month.  Fixing this would be akin to a botox injection around the eyes, not quite right…not sure why.


And as I notice the crow’s feet of time and the glint of occasional gray in the temples, I become more comfortable with letting things be.  If this Cadillac were mine, I’d leave the rust and dirt and scratches.  If it’s not meant to be mine, I’ll look back and admire the small details that make “my” Cadillac grand, like the interface between roof and quarter, and the slim upper doorline that swells into the lower body, this most graceful and magnificent C-Body of them all.


This car has seen life beyond generations.  Some young designer drew it, some young man assembled it.  Who turned the bolts last?  Who wrote the factory service manual?  Who last polished the chrome?  Who last drove this thing on a hundred mile peregrination to a vast Great Lake?  Who torqued the last bolt on the intake manifold? Who drove this thing off the line at Clark Street?  Did he daydream like I do?  Was he Johnny Cash’s narrator in “One Piece at a Time?”


Who last pointed this prow into the wind, smugly satisfied that he’d bested life’s labyrinth?  Who knew that whatever else happened, he was a Cadillac guy, a man with whom to be reckoned, a man for whom everyone stepped aside?


God, that guy could be me but for a little personal responsibility.  Tragically, I’ll have to endlessly wait for my Coupe DeVille to receive me in Paradise, my heavenly Beatrice whose autotronic eye could guide me home, one more gray area in a world I desperately want to be black and white right now.