One of the very few ways my father and I communicated was over our love of cars. I must admit, my father, despite his disappointment in me, was never at a loss for words for a beautiful car, or a beautiful woman. Put the two together, and something almost extraterrestrial could occur.
So it was no surprise, considering his vast wealth, that he always had an array of beautiful, highly polished auto machines.
When I was very very young, I can remember we used to tool around town in an MGT convertible. Before the words MG were known to anyone but true automobile aficionados. From there, in the late 1950’s, he graduated from sports to luxury, and would always have a black Eldorado convertible, with red leather upholstery. But then all hell broke loose in 1960. My father decided to get really serious about his cars. He had reached his early 40’s, and it was time.
I can remember one afternoon going with him to the showroom. He agonized over the color and the leather, and 6 to 8 months later, a beautiful Rolls Royce Phantom was delivered to our house. He inspected it proudly, and out of nowhere, a man in a perfectly pressed apron arrived with a small container of paint brushes, and together he and my father discussed the various options to personalize his new machine with delicate stripes of paint, and of course, detailing his doors with his signature SS, his initials.
It was at this point that Alex appeared. We already had Martin and Fritze to partially help maintain the house, cook, and drive, but with the arrival of Alex, my automobile life was complete.
Once a week, all of my father’s cars were washed, waxed, buffed, and shined until even the reflection of me, an unattractive, ungainly boy, began to look triumphant. I don’t know what Alex did, but if women could package it, he would have died richer than Bill Gates.
When you open my father’s door, Mark Cross (a famous leather store at the time), did nothing to compete with the aroma of voluptuous leather and history. His car was like driving within a leather suitcase.
But enough about all this, let’s get to the point of the story…
One Summer’s day, in the Summer of 1964, when I had just received my driver’s license a few months before, my father told me to get up, and that he wanted to take me someplace. By this time, the family had three cars: my father’s, my mother’s, and the chauffeur’s wooden station wagon, which was used for errands. How many more cars does a small family need? I was content driving around in our station wagon.
He wouldn’t tell me where we were going until he pulled up in front of a Jaguar dealership, in a small town near where we lived. He told me he wanted to get me my own car to celebrate my ability to drive, and he could not think of anything better than an XKE, British racing green, tan upholstery sports car. For a 17 year- old boy who loved and lived cars, this was my dream come true. The car, the color, everything was perfect, until…
I of course wanted the convertible with a 4-speed manual transmission to complete this masterpiece. He though, while looking at the car, unexpectedly decided he might want to drive it (which of course he never did), and therefore wanted the hardtop with an automatic transmission. I begged and pleaded with him to have some empathy for my ego needs, but typical of my father, once he decided, there was no turning back.
I know this must sound like a spoiled brat talking, but literally and figuratively, the air was let loose from the tires. This gem, this once in a lifetime beauty, this car that girls would swoon over, this car that would make this half of a boy begin to feel like the real thing, was here one moment, and lost the next. He had driven me right out the door.
We got the car, and I grew to love it, and always took perfect care of it. But like many other things with my father’s fortune, it was easily given, but somehow he kept control, and never was able to let go completely.