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Old or New, There's Now Way to Explain Strange Love Affair With Cars : Cruising Through 100,000 Miles With a Faithful 4-Wheeled Friend

November 16, 1987|DON MARSH | Don Marsh is a writer in La Jolla

LA JOLLA — My car and I just traveled our 100,000th mile together.

A personal milestone perhaps not on the immediate order of birthdays and anniversaries, but, especially for a Southern California boy, a milestone nonetheless. Forged not of flesh and blood, but oil and gasoline. And let's not forget money. Lots and lots of money.

That this achievement happened while actually on the highway is in itself remarkable, since I have spent most of the last 8 1/2 years riding shotgun on a tow truck or having the car in intensive care at a nearby service station ("It's gonna cost how much?").

You see, the car I drive is a 1979 Cadillac Seville. A product of Detroit known for style and luxury, but at the decided sacrifice of economy and durability. The kind of car that keeps Ralph Nader tossing in his sleep at night. In all its years, my car never met a gas pump, or a mechanic's rack, it didn't like.

I purchased my car in a rare moment of emotional weakness and financial strength (both symptoms having long since passed) from a good friend who at the time was laboring deep in the bowels of downtown Los Angeles as a Cadillac salesman. Don't see the friend anymore; still have the car. There's got to be a moral there somewhere, although I admit that all things considered the friend might have been a lot cheaper to keep.

Still, these are important numbers--100,000 miles and eight years. Going back to a time when the letters "BMW" were just a chance configuration in a yuppie's bowl of breakfast cereal. Back when Cadillac still made cars that looked like Cadillacs.

Probably the most significant thing that can be said for my car, aside from the fact that it now represents a financial commitment usually reserved for the acquisition of beachfront property or a seat in the U.S. Senate, is that it was the last model year of that first, and still very popular, Seville body style. The following year, operating under God knows what influence or inspiration, Cadillac brought out its subsequent model, known in certain circles as "that four-wheeled cow with the big back end." Their intention, I guess, was to make the new Seville look something like the old Bentley, but the results reminded the more cynical among us of a middle-age matron who had seen too many buffet lines.

In our early years together, especially, keeping the car in the manner to which, if by bloodlines alone, it had become accustomed proved a task something like getting Tammy Bakker to back off on the eye shadow just a bit. For a while there it looked as if the only course open would be for my wife and I to divorce and one of us to go marry a mechanic.

Special Moments

But now that we're all here, and still together, there were some special moments along the way that should be noted:

I brought both my children home from the hospital in that car. The first time, in a rush to be the perfect newborn father, I gently cradled gifts, flowers and child safely into the back seat of the car and drove off . . . only to notice my wife still sitting at the curb in her wheelchair. The second time I managed to get gifts, flowers, child and wife safely tucked into the car on the first try.

In the years since, I've driven that car through my old neighborhood, to show my children the places where I grew up. And back home, to celebrate with family and friends my dad's 75th birthday.

Looking back so wistfully about such times, forgive me if I overlook the bad moments along the way. Like the months--the many months--the minimum payment on my Visa bill was enough to house, clothe and feed a family of 12. And the period of time a few years back, when both my car and I sensed the approaching storm clouds of middle age. When it seemed that at every turn in the highway, another piece of original equipment was about to give out. Usually mine.

So through it all, the miles, the years and all the dollars, I guess I still love the car, its clean, crisp lines, the rich, full leather upholstery and the comfortable back seat equipped with movable arm rest and opera lights on each side. A back seat that's what back seats are supposed to be, not like today's cars, whose back seats seem to have been designed solely to keep people from sitting in them.

I'm probably going to keep my car, just as long as both of us continue to keep running in reasonable shape, despite the advancing miles.

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