Back in the mid-seventies, my Uncle Jack took me "window shopping" at a huge car auction out in the Georgia countryside.
Jack had plenty of connections in the used-car business, and the two of us eased into the auction as emissaries on a mission. We arrived early in the morning while the dew was on the ground, and the sunlight was warming the windshields of the day’s inventory. Jack explained that smaller dealers came to the auction to stock up on used cars, but all I knew was that there were cars for sale — everywhere — and I was approaching driving age.
Jack explained the big traffic light used to show the auction condition. "If the car is perfect, the light will be green. If the light is yellow, it means there’s something specific wrong with the car. A red light means, ‘sold as is.’ It’s that simple."
We watched car after car come up. Many of the cars came up on a green light. We saw the standard autos of the day: Chevys, AMCs, Dodges, VWs. Every now and then, we’d see a yellow-light car.
Sometimes, we’d see a red-light special, and we’d watch for the telltale blue smoke from the tailpipe. As each car came up for auction, I had one thought: "I don’t need them all. I just need one."
Then I saw a Jaguar XKE pull up to center stage. I don’t recall if the condition light was green or yellow or red. I was too blinded to care.
The Jag was a beauty, with a hood as long as a diving board. I talked the car up. I probably drooled. I probably stammered that the Jag was a "great investment."
But could my uncle put his nephew behind that much raw British high-maintenance horsepower? No.
He was a smart man who always knew the right thing to do. He never bid on the Jag. Hours passed, and we left the auction a lot smarter, but without a car. When time finally came for me to drive, I was given the family Ford Pinto — 4 cylinders of raw American boredom, and a far cry from an XKE.
At least I was right about the Jag being a great investment. A Jaguar XKE is now a fabulously collectible car, and I could have had one, if my uncle hadn’t loved me as much as he did.
David McCoy, a notorious storyteller and proud Yellow Jacket, lives in Covington. He can be reached at email@example.com.