The One That Got Away
Confessions of a car enthusiast
According to my parents, when I was a toddler, I could correctly identify every car that passed by. When I was barely old enough to ride a bike I was already fantasizing about driving my own car. To me, cars aren’t just a mode of conveyance, they’re engineering marvels sculpted into works of art. To date I have owned 28 of them––as many as five at one time––muscle cars, sports cars, luxury cars, and SUVs. But it is my first car, a “Calypso Coral” Ford Torino Cobra, that I wish I still possessed.
My early memories are all car-related. When new neighbors arrived in 1966 I was dazzled by their fire engine red 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz Convertible with a red leather interior, white top, and tail fins visible from the next county. Nineteen feet of conspicuous consumption. And although I was only ten years old I knew that at $8,000 this was the most expensive American car on the market.
When they decided to buy a college graduation gift for their son and asked me—the acknowledged neighborhood car aficionado—what car to buy, I immediately responded: “A ’66 Chevy Chevelle Super Sport 396 convertible with four on the floor, positraction, red line wide oval tires, turquoise with black interior and a white top.” A few weeks later they drove up in the exact car. I was ten and had vicariously made my first car purchase. It was thrilling.
In 1967 we moved to a nicer neighborhood and it was then that I realized there was little correlation between how much money one had and what one drove. Cars were either transportation or a personal passion. The new neighborhood was a combination of senior managers and professionals. Most people drove standard Buicks, Pontiacs, and Fords but there were two households that, automotively speaking, stood out: A contractor and his bookkeeper wife had a white ’66 Thunderbird 390 coupe, an electric blue ’67 Camaro 396 coupe, and a turquoise ’68 Shelby 350 Convertible. These were some of the sexiest and fastest cars of their time, and would collectively be worth $250,000 today.
At 11, I was the local paperboy. When a dermatologist moved in next door and the first time I crested their steep drive and saw a 1967 burgundy Corvette Convertible with black leather, and a 1966 silver Jaguar E type 2+2, my brain went into sensory overload. I was mesmerized and stood looking at those cars for half an hour. Finally, I delivered their paper, went home and did the math: I had five years to save up for my first car.
There are others like me but on a much larger scale. The Sultan of Brunei, for example, has the world’s largest car collection. He owns 7,000 cars, which are stored in five aircraft hangers in top-secret locations. His automotive obsession is estimated to be worth over 5 billion dollars. Entertainer Jay Leno owns 130 cars and has taken his passion to a new level by creating the television series, “Jay Leno’s Big Dog Garage.” And the rest of us? American drivers keep their cars on the road an average of 11.4 years.
A few months ago my permanent dental retainer lost a battle with a spare rib so I paid a visit to orthodontist Dr. Gregory Sanford in Wilton. We share an affinity for BMWs and Jaguars, and I told him my “paperboy meets Jaguar” story. He laughed and said, “It was in 1963 in London. My mother asked why I was getting home from school so late. I told her I was in love with an E-type Jaguar at the dealership and couldn’t stop staring at it. The memory of that car stayed with me for forty years until I bought one for myself. Occasionally my wife will ask, “Where have you been?” and I’ll reply, “In the garage staring at the Jag.”
So back to my first car. When I was a senior in high school I bought a four- year-old 1970 Ford Torino Cobra 429 SCJ for $1,750. The dashboard rattled and the body shook going over bumps, but it was crazy fast, obnoxiously loud, and I loved it. But my Dad feared for my life and made me sell the car. Ford built a total 502 of this model and only 20 with the SCJ engine. Currently, an unrestored model is for sale on antiquecar.com for $1.6 million. Given that there were only 20 built I can’t help but wonder if it’s mine. Definitely, the one that got away.