Cadillac Bob's vintage fleet includes 6 of the eyepoppers KING OF THE ROAD

April 14, 1995|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Sun Staff Writer

SILVER SPRING -- Of this much Bob Lowman is certain: Pink Cadillacs are a powerful draw.

Mr. Lowman, widely known as Cadillac Bob, speaks from experience. He owns six pink Cadillacs, four of which are parked outside his modest brick house in the 9200 block of Flower Ave. in Silver Spring. His business card proclaims in pink: "Fins Are In."

"When the sun comes out and the weather breaks," he says, "I get 50, 100 people a day who stop to look at these cars."

Sure enough, someone knocks at the door. It is Dario dos Santos, head of the Latin-American festival in Washington. He says he wants to rent the pink Cadillacs for the festival parade July 31 to showcase a bevy of beauty queens.

Mr. dos Santos then introduces a woman who speaks little English but writes her name, Giouania Moreira. He says she's a "beauty queen" from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, visiting America to learn English, and she will ride in the parade. She even says in broken English that she really wants to ride in a pink Cadillac. That kind of thing happens all the time, says Cadillac Bob's 26-year-old daughter, Linda Lowman. "It's just amazing, but you wouldn't believe the women who want to pose with those cars," she says. "I don't know why they do it. I never would."

Her father's personality may be one reason. He bears some resemblance to the comedian Chevy Chase, especially when he laughs. "He's outgoing, down-to-earth. He gets along with everybody," his daughter says. "I tell my friends, 'You'll love my dad. Let's go out drinking with him one night, and you'll have a ball.' "

Cadillac Bob, who turns 50 today, is divorced. "You can't have cars and a wife, too," he insists.

He retired five years ago as a telephone-company technician after injuring his back on the job -- retired with a pension and a passion for pink Cadillacs.

The four parked outside are 1958s and '59s. Felt dice hang from the rearview mirrors. His other two are parked on land he owns in Virginia.

"Everybody in the world knows the '58 and '59 Cadillac," he says. "The '59 has the highest wing -- the fin on the back -- of any car in the world."

Cadillac Bob will let them go to anyone who comes up with enough cash. In the case of his original-pink 1959 flattop -- a rare Cadillac with a low roof -- that would be about $20,000, he says.

"Well, he may not get $20,000," says William H. Smith, executive director of the Antique Automobile Club of America in Hershey, Pa. "But the '59 Cadillac is very definitely collectible. They're very special cars."

Mr. Smith reads from a Cadillac catalog: "No single automotive design better characterizes the late '50s flamboyance than the industry's 1959 Cadillac."

He says he doesn't know Cadillac Bob, but he's heard of him. He says the people he does know who own pink Cadillacs tend to have personalities matching the flamboyant design.

"Hey," says Cadillac Bob, laughing, "I just try to have a good time. I don't get depressed or down in the dumps. I figure life's what you make it. I try to make it happy, as good as it can be."

Cadillac Bob grew up in Takoma Park working on cars with his father, a mechanic. His romance with Cadillacs began as such things sometimes do -- with a chance meeting.

He was on his way to Ocean City about 10 years ago, and there, on the side of the road, its tires flat, its body gray, sat a forlorn 1958 Cadillac four-door hardtop. Cadillac Bob stopped, read the sign with the asking price of $5,700 and left a note: "I'll give you $1,500 as is. Call Bob."

No one called. He left the same note on other trips to the ocean that summer. Finally, about November, a man called: "OK. Come get the car."

"It just purred," Cadillac Bob recalls. "And it had only 16,000 miles. The carpet wasn't even worn. I lucked into a beautiful, immaculate car. But it was gray."

He didn't know what color to paint it. He didn't like black, didn't ZTC like white. Somebody suggested pink. "Why not?" he decided.

He says he spent $4,000 for a paint job of 24 coats of the deepest, richest, pinkest paint he could get. "It was the cat's meow," he says. "There was nothing to compare to it, just nothing.

"I'd drive down the road, and people would be hanging out of their cars, hollering, whistling. It was a riot. And women loved that car, just loved it. It was awesome."

Cadillac Bob fell into a routine: Find a Cadillac cheap, paint it pink, park it outside the house, sell it. He says he sold a pink Cadillac and paid off his mortgage. He sold another and bought 40 acres in Virginia. He traded one for a 1980 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith II, which he rents for weddings for $2,500.

The Rolls sits in his driveway with champagne glasses in its back window and a garter hanging from its rearview mirror. He stocks it with jars of Grey Poupon mustard, which he dispenses to smart alecks who pull alongside and, mimicking the television commercial, ask: "Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?"

Who else but Cadillac Bob can say, "Yes"?

Who else has a rusted 1932 anti-aircraft gun in the yard and an old barber chair on the porch? Who else has a 5-foot stuffed grouper above his mantel with an Easter bunny in its mouth, and a house cluttered with a Cadillac telephone, a skeleton, old radios and televisions, a mounted caribou head wearing a sombrero, a fake parrot that repeats what you say and a black rubber rat caught in a mousetrap?

"There's no rhyme nor reason to this stuff," says Cadillac Bob, who also holds yard sales that must be seen to be believed. "Just call it junk. Junk's a good word for it. I kind of like things that are unusual. I mean, how many people do you know with four pink Cadillacs?"

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