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Not All Wishes Come True
By Jack Harpster

It was early fall in 1948 when I first saw her. I instantly knew she was the most beautiful thing I had even seen; and as I think back on that day, now more than six decades later, I can still feel my boyish excitement rising.

She was a brand new 1948 Lincoln Sedan, her color a deep burgundy like one of my Mom’s Sunday raspberry pies. “V-12,” the shining chrome scrollwork medallion on the side of her hood declared, as best as I can remember. I didn’t understand much about cylinders back then—still don’t, as a matter of fact—but I did know that the Ford my Dad drove all around Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas farm country as a soybean buyer for Quaker Oats only had six cylinders. So this magnificent machine was at least twice as big, or twice as powerful, or twice as fast, or twice as expensive, or twice as much something—or perhaps everything—as  our old Ford.

I was eleven years old that year, living in Memphis, and a very impressionable boy. I had never given much thought to cars before that day. I do vaguely remember that we didn’t have one when I was younger. My Dad took the bus to work, and I walked the four or five blocks to school; I guess my Mom must have walked to the grocery store too, because there was always food on the table when my sister and I got home. The brand new Lincoln just appeared one morning, parked at the corner that I passed each day walking to and from Idlewild Elementary School. From that day forward, that car turned two very uneventful walks into daily adventures for me.

I’ve never known exactly what it was about that Lincoln that captured my imagination so thoroughly. The closest thing I can compare it to is when I saw my first movie poster of Natalie Wood when I was sixteen, by then a much a older and wiser young man. But in that five-year stretch from one obsessive love to the next, I doted on that magnificent Lincoln. I studied her each morning and afternoon as I passed by. The massive chrome grill—two of them, actually, an upper and lower one—seemed to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the width of the car until you almost lost sight of it, at least in my young eyes. The gorgeously sculpted fastback with the thin rear fenders rising majestically above it was truly a thing of beauty. When I had enough nerve to stand close and peer in the window, I studied the instrument panel. It was arranged a little like my Dad’s Ford—not surprising I guess, giving their similar parentage—but somehow the bold, circular, chrome-encased speedometer and clock seemed . . . oh, I don’t know, more rakish, shinier, and more special somehow. 

That was the year I fell in love with classic and collector cars. I know, I know; the CCCA doesn’t consider the 1948 Lincoln Sedan a classic, only its sibling, the 1948 Lincoln Continental made the grade. But that’s never dimmed my opinion of the car, nor of all the other spectacular automobiles the CCCA does bless. That year I began making model cars in my basement. I didn’t fool around with the plastic models that were just emerging at the time; that would have been a sacrilege to the beloved Lincoln Sedan. I built the wooden models of a type that are no longer available in hobby shops.  After a couple of years, I began scratch building miniature models. They didn’t represent any particular car, just an amalgam of beautiful automobiles that I would see in pictures. My Mom, in her wisdom, saved them all when I went away to college, then moved West; and today the miniatures—made by the hand of a very young teenager with crude tools—sit in a little wall display case in my office.

For my entire adult life, I’ve always yearned for a classic or collector automobile of my own. But not all dreams come true. It was always a matter of not having the extra money to spend on something that seemed so self-indulgent; or not having the space in my garage to keep it out of the weather; or not having the mechanical know-how to keep it purring. There was always something, it seemed, that stood in the way.

I didn’t completely deny myself though. When I retired in 2002, my wife and I attended the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. It was one of the highlights of my life. It was the fiftieth anniversary of the CCCA, and a special Concours: They had about two-dozen past winners on display as a special tribute to the organization, so I got even more than I had bargained for. Also, one of the treasured books on my shelf is The Classic Era, Beverly Rae Kimes’ magnificent 720-page tome published by CCCA that is so heavy you don’t dare drop it on your foot.

I’ve led a good life. Now in my mid-seventies I still stop and admire every great old car I see pass by. I live in Reno, Nevada now, and our town’s “Hot August Nights” event brings thousands of old cars to town every year. Eschewing the hot rods, which I consider a desecration, I wander the aisles of the old beauties, dreaming of that burgundy 1948 Lincoln V-12 Sedan...  and occasionally of Natalie Wood too.

Old dreams die hard.

Jack Harpster is the author of six non-fiction biographies, most recently King of the Slots: William “Si” Redd. by Praeger Publishing.

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