There was a real vibrancy in London during the nineties. I’d drive the Cadillac into Soho on a Friday night and bring streets in the city centre to a standstill by parking somewhere I wasn’t meant to park – but the Caddy was a car that invited friendship and friendliness so I never had any problems. I often took it on the Chelsea cruise with a few other American cars and we’d pull up outside the Kings Road diner for a chat, there was always such a lovely party-like atmosphere.
At the weekend, my wife, Lisa, and I would use a hundred quid’s worth of petrol just to drive the Caddy out to the countryside for a day. We once drove it to an event in central London in full 18th-century outfits; Lisa wore the most incredible double-height wig, and in that car, with those clothes, you really couldn’t miss us – we literally stopped a group of people in their tracks at a zebra crossing. We were both directors of an auction house at the time and worked, very, very hard, so when we had the spare time we indulged ourselves by doing silly things like that.
The day I bought the Cadillac in 1995 I told Lisa I was going shopping at Sainsbury’s, and when I arrived home a few hours later with it, she wasn’t amused. She took one look and said, in no uncertain terms, that I could sleep in it. The problem was, I think, is that I already had a huge army truck that was causing problems with the neighbours and buying an 18-and-a-half foot long slightly off-white left-hand drive 1960 Cadillac Sedan de Ville certainly wasn’t going to help. I think I became a bit notorious in the neighbourhood.
We lived in Camberwell, which was known for being patrolled by gangs of youths, but the caddy always attracted the most lovely kind of attention. The first time I was approached by a group of boys who said “do you want your car looking after, mate?” I invited them to go for a ride. They were quite surprised, but they piled in and we went for a spin. No-one ever touched that car, yet my banker neighbour bought a brand new Porsche and within two days it was keyed all the way down the side. I’ve never driven really valuable, big ego vehicles like that, or a Ferrari, and I think the Caddy reflected the kind of person I am; which is fairly laid back and easy going.
The London auction trade was a strange business back then, I felt I had to conform to certain standards and stereotypes, particularly in the way I dressed. I became a bit of a chameleon, it was all sharp suits when I was knocking on someone’s door in Kensington to value their antiques, but at the weekend I’d be in ratty leather jackets and whatever took my fancy. I never lost my individuality and in my private life I always felt more “me”, and that involved buying wacky vehicles.
Part of the fun I have with cars is that I adapt what I wear to their character and period. I have a very artistic brother who also lived in London when I had the Caddy and we would characterise ourselves as southern American preachers by wearing Stetson hats, smart jackets, white shirts and black bootleg ties. We’d dress the car up too; with a bible on the back shelf and a rosary hanging from the front mirror. I had some very stylish and creative friends as well and would often get roped into situations that involved the caddy and costumes; including a Matrix-themed wedding with guests in black leather. It’s amazing to look back at the photos; I had a lot more energy, and hair, in those days.
I polished the Caddy a lot, and it took hours because I hated her looking scrappy. Cars are art and I was enthralled by her lines and the shine of her chrome. She was essentially the Rolls-Royce of her time and the last of the big fins. By 1960 the design of American cars was being toned down, they were starting to lose their extravagance, and so in a way, the Caddy was quite a refined car; when you put the windows down it was totally open. The interiors were gorgeous too; the front bench seat was covered in a black woven fabric that had a line of silver sparkle within it as well as leather trim. It was also an incredible piece of machinery; from the 6.4-litre engine to the electric aerial and seats, air-conditioning and radio.
The Caddy was a joy to drive and never caused me any hassle; I think it broke down once. I’m quite fortuitous that I’m pretty practical and the Cadillac was a powerful, over-engineered, bare bones kind of car that was a pleasure to work on. Most garages couldn’t accommodate such a huge car, but my local MOT chap was brilliant. It was refreshing to find someone that knew and understood it and although things were a bit laxer in those days, it still had to be safe. Thankfully, the Caddy always sailed through its test.
It did guzzle a lot of petrol, and I got into serious trouble using it during the 2000 fuel crisis. People abused me and shouted at me, they saw it as a needless extravagance, but I had to get to work and it was the only car I had any petrol left in. I should never have done it, driving this bloody enormous American car around wasn’t the best idea.
I got into a massive argument with the council, because they decided to red route the road we lived on and put in parking bays. The Caddy was so vast it wouldn’t fit into their spaces so I wrote to the local authority and we got stuck into a bit of a legal battle; but eventually they agreed I could park it across two bays without getting ticketed; life’s all about the small victories.
When Lisa decided it was time to start a family, the notion of what was practical, and what wasn’t, suddenly changed. The Cadillac’s dashboard was absolutely beautiful, but highly dangerous because there were knobs and bits and bobs sticking out all over the place. It was also a pillarless car that had no seat belts and you couldn’t fit a baby seat in it, so I had to bite the bullet and part with it. In a way, it was a slightly sad epitaph for a period of my life which I adored, but I had to let it go, and of course when our beautiful daughter was born, everything changed. She’s 22 now and although I would never blame her, even after all those years, I still miss that car.
I’d bought it for £3000 from a friend who inherited it from his uncle in California and had it shipped over to England; he wasn’t that happy about being custodian and knew I’d take care of it. I love how cars can accumulate little pieces of social history and the glove compartment was full of bits and bobs; from fast food and burger receipts, to expenses forms and an American civil defence leaflet.
Ever since I was a youngster I’ve been invested in objects in an emotional way, so divorcing myself from those feelings when I’m so passionate about something has always been a problem. Whether it’s cars, guitars or antiques I do the very best I can to make sure things go to the right kind of people.
I sold the Caddy to a wedding hire company for more than I paid for it, which Lisa and I always laugh about because she said I’d never make a profit on it – but it was never about that. I loved the idea of lots of people being able to experience the Caddy but I don’t know what happened to her, or where she is now; it would be lovely to see her again, I think I’d probably cry. I know she’s out there somewhere because she’s taxed and MOT’d, and was a good enough car to warrant looking after.
Unfortunately, unless I found somewhere to store her, I could never have the Caddy back. Our driveway is too steep for a long American car, she’d just ground out, so I have to go for shorter wheelbase vehicles these days. If she’s had a good restoration, she’d also be quite an expensive car to buy back, I’d estimate around £25,000.
The Caddy was the most beautiful vehicle I’ve ever owned and although Lisa never drove it, and she’d moan about it, in the end she begrudgingly grew to love it. I never did make it to Sainsbury’s and get her flowers to placate what I’d done on a whim.