“The American Automobile Club International is one of many Yank Tank enthusiast organizations in England. I was introduced to this outfit by my cousin Nigel. He’s a born and bred Brit, and along with several of his local pals, are committed to cars that were Born in the USA. The AAC-I was having a big gig at a large regional park a few hours out of London, and I went along (in his ’98 Seville STS) to see how the folks from over there enjoy the cars from over here. At first glance, it wasn’t so different from your average summer weekend mid-western show-n-shine: 500 or so cars, folks camping, lots of walking and talking with a beer in one’s hand, booths, Elvis on the PA. Yet of course the accents were all different. And a large number many of the rides were right hand drivers.”
~ Matt Stone
By: David Shaftel
Among the racecars present last spring were some hallmarks of Americana, including a ’71 Chevrolet Camaro called the Bootlegger and a ’57 Bel Air with “Honky Tonkin’ ” lettered on its doors. A Show ’n’ Shine event featured dozens more Detroit products, restored to original condition and parked amid tents and campers on the grassy grounds of a former Royal Air Force base in Warwickshire.
Even in this setting, which emphatically favored speed over style, Norman Dawood’s 1949 Cadillac Series 62 Club Coupe drew a crowd of admirers.
“I have other classic cars,” said Mr. Dawood, who owns such quintessentially British automobiles as a 1966 Aston Martin DB6 and a 1963 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III. “But no other car gets anything like the looks that this one gets.”
When Mr. Dawood, a Londoner who runs a translating and subtitling business, saw the black fastback on eBay, listed by a seller in New Jersey, he bought it without hesitation. With characteristic understatement, Mr. Dawood admitted that the car was “a bit of an impulse purchase.”
Like many fans of the big American cars that British enthusiasts call Yank Tanks, Mr. Dawood was particularly drawn to Cadillacs from 1949, which was the second model year to feature the auto industry’s pioneering foray into tailfins. Discreet compared with the towering appendages that arrived a decade later, the fins had been inspired by a clandestine look at the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, a fighter plane with twin tails, given to General Motors’ designers working on the ’48 models.
It was the ’49s, however, that were first to be fitted with a new 331-cubic-inch overhead-valve V-8, which became a standard-bearer for G.M. The engine’s considerable power can still be felt on the highway, where Mr. Dawood’s car easily keeps up with the flow of modern traffic.
Mr. Dawood’s Club Coupe, also known as a Sedanette, lacks power steering but has several options, including a Hydra-Matic transmission — which added $174 to the 1949 sticker price of $2,966 — as well as power windows and seats. Befitting a Cadillac, it is fitted with the modern conveniences of its day, including a cigar lighter, multiple ashtrays and enough headroom for a driver to wear his fedora.
It is impractical to keep a behemoth ’49 Cadillac in London, where compact cars ply narrow roads, so Mr. Dawood stores it here, about 100 miles to the northwest. That it was a sunny day, so uncharacteristic of a British spring, when he drove it to the Yanks Weekend, was fortunate, as the driver’s window was stuck open, its power lift mechanism having given out.
The window malfunction is emblematic of a series of small problems, some potentially incapacitating, that plague Mr. Dawood’s Cadillac, and indeed many of the American classics increasingly bought on the Internet by British collectors.
“The American car scene in the U.K. is just growing and growing because of the Internet,” said John Pryor, president of the National Association of Street Clubs, a co-sponsor of Yanks Weekend.
“More people are buying classic American cars now because they can fix them more easily, and we’re now seeing dedicated shops opening up here,” said Mr. Pryor, who recently traded in his 1959 Vauxhall Victor for a ’56 Chevy.
While the Cadillac was en route from the United States, Mr. Dawood found a copy of a British magazine, Classic American.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” he said. “On the cover was a car identical to the one I’d just bought, belonging to some Scottish earl. The article was about a guy who specialized in restoring American cars, and I thought, ‘This is brilliant. How lucky I am to find someone who already knows all about this exact one?’ ”