The $250 Jaguar

 

Elayne and I were married in October of 1955, and there was no vehicle included in her dowry. In other words, we were a one-car-family, and that car was the yellow Plymouth convertible I drove to work every morning.

Elayne and Soni

Elayne and Soni… Car Spotters

Thank goodness for Soni, her best friend, who had a car of her own and lived a few blocks away from our apartment in Brentwood on Sunset Blvd. Even though they were inseparable, there were times however when they had to split up. Sure Elayne could call on her mother or sister, however dependency was having its complications.

La Scala

Beverly Hills Watering Hole

One evening the girls returned late. They had stopped in for a “drink” at La Scala, a bistro in Beverly Hills. They had some “wonderful” news; they had found a car for Elayne.

“It’s a Jaguar Geoffrey,” they said in unison. “Mort Viner was there, and he said he would sell us his car for $250.”

“For how much? $250? You must be mistaken. He was either pulling your leg or he was loaded… and most probably both.”

Jaguar

Certainly impressive from a distance

I had seen the car. It was a big white Jaguar Saloon. At that time Mort was a junior agent at MCA which was a few blocks from my office in Beverly Hills. Fancy foreign cars were great for impressing showbiz clients.

“He was pulling your leg girls,” I repeated.

“No,” they said again in unison. “He was serious. All he said was that it needed some work, and he would sell it only after we had taken it into the Jaguar dealer and had it checked out. “Please, please please… Elayne really needs a car.” begged Soni.

MCA logo

Music Corporation of America

Despite knowing full well that I couldn’t afford to replace so much as a wheel on that Jag for $250, I nevertheless went along with the girls and called Mort Viner the next day.

“Sure,” said Viner, “I probably did have too much to drink, but the truth is I’ve had it with that Jag. However, as I told the girls, no deal until after they have shown it to a professional and received an estimate of how much it’s going to need in the way of repairs.”

“That’s fair Mort,” I replied. “Where’s the car?”

“It’s here at the office in our MCA parking lot. Come over anytime.”

“Well Mort, if I don’t move on this I’ll be in deep trouble. How about this afternoon?”

“Sure, just tell the guy at the front desk to call me,” added Mort.” I’ll come down and meet you in the lobby.”

Jaguar interior

So it needs a “little work”

So we met a few hours later, and he took me out back to take a look at the Jag. From a distance it was certainly impressive. The Saloon style was unique, quite unlike any of our American cars. As we approached however, I could see it was in need of a paint job and though the tires were not bald, they were close. The upholstery was worn and torn in a few places. The walnut veneer on the dash needed refinishing, and most important the steering wheel was on the wrong side… all things I could live with for 250 dollars.

We climbed into the car and Mort inserted the key into the ignition. Though it coughed and sputtered, the engine started with a big puff of exhaust smoke.

hornburg

.

“Okay,” said Mort. “It carried me to work this morning, so it should hopefully take you to Hollywood. The Hornberg dealership is on Hollywood Boulevard about a block west of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. After you talk to one of their mechanics, give me a call.”

“The estimate will take us an hour or more.”

So off I went to Hollywood. If this was ten years later, I would have been driving in violation of the Federal Clean Air Act. However, I made it to Hornberg and drove into their service department where I was met by an important looking man wearing a long white smock. I told him that I needed an estimate. I said I could see that the car needed tires and paint, and that the upholstery and wood fascia needed repair. I said to the man, “all I care about is what I CAN’T see and what it will cost to repair or replace whatever is needed to make it drivable.”

“That will require some time sir, and I’m afraid I will have to charge you for that estimate. It could take an hour or more, and the rate will be fifty dollars which, I’m sorry, requires payment in advance.”

He took down my information on a clipboard. I signed a work order, took it to their cashier and handed the lady two twenties and a ten.

Island In The Sun  at Grauman's

Easy way to kill a couple of hours

To kill time I walked down the street to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and watched the last two-thirds of a movie called ‘Island in the Sun’ about a black man and a white woman which was considered very controversial at the time.

It was getting late when I returned to the Jaguar garage. The Service Manager was waiting for me with what looked like a thick stack of papers on a clipboard in his hands.

“We’ll have to send to London for parts.”

“This is your estimate sir. As per your instructions it does not include anything visible, however, I can give you an idea of what such things as new tires and paint would involve.”

I took the stack of papers which were actually perforated and attached to each other. Most of the items were very technical in nature, so I flipped through to the bottom of the last page. The cost of bringing Mort’s Jaguar Saloon up to “drivable condition” was $2,850 and some cents.

“Can I keep this?” I asked the service manager.

“Certainly sir,” he replied. The job almost amounts to an overhaul. We’ll have to send to London for parts, so we may need the car for several weeks. Just give us a call when you are ready to set up an appointment.”

In shock I drove the Jag back to Beverly Hills. Funny that I hadn’t seemed to notice the noises it was making and the smells it was emitting on my drive down to Hollywood a few hours earlier.

Mort met me in the reception area at MCA with an innocent look on his face. I handed him the estimate which I let accordion out to the floor. He didn’t even look at the details nor even at the bottom line.

“Thank you Mort,” I said. “It was an interesting experience and not really a total waste of time. I saw a pretty good new movie at Grauman’s Chinese. It’s called “Island in the Sun.”

“Oh sure,” he said. “…with Joan Fontaine. She’s one of our clients”.

“Anyway Mort,” I said, “I’ll break the news to the ladies. You did me a great favor. I’ll see you one of these days I’m sure, at La Scala.”

With that I left Mort with the estimate in his hands, probably wondering if his Jaguar Saloon would make it home.

Several weeks later Elayne and I bumped into Mort Viner at some charity cocktail party. “How’s the Jag Mort?” I asked, truly interested.

Nasty sign

hollywood-freeway

Wrong place at the wrong time.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Several days after your trip to Hollywood I was driving the Jaguar down the freeway on my way to Warner Brothers when black smoke started pouring out from under the hood. I pulled the car over to the side of the road, and as I was already late for my meeting, I climbed over the fence and down the ice plant to Cahuenga Boulevard where I luckily caught a cab to the studio. Frankly, I haven’t seen the car since. Can I buy you a drink?”

Post Script:

Mort Viner went on to be one of Hollywood’s most powerful agents, representing  such clients as Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

Alex Koper

Brother-in-law, Alex Koper… a real gentleman.

Never ones to throw in the towel, the girls convinced my brother-in-law, Alex Koper, to sell (or virtually give) Elayne his 1949 yellow Chevy convertible which he replaced with a beautiful new Ford Thunderbird, a car he was to enjoy for another 30 years.

Not really needing two yellow convertibles in the family, I sold my Plymouth and replaced it with my brother’s hardtop model which was later replaced by a friend’s bright red Ford convertible which I drove for a couple of years until its lease expired.

By that time we had three kids and were into a series of Ford Country Squires and later Chrysler Town and Country station wagons.

Car Montage

Family-wheels of the era

But, Elayne and Soni never gave up. From a $250 Jaguar to a Mercedes convertible. What were those ladies smoking?    [open]

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