“You always want what you don’t have,” said Carolyn Sikes, who grew up without even a family car. But while there was no car in the family until she was 12 years old, on October 1, Sikes will display four of her collector vehicles at the Atlanta Concours d’Elegance.
And those are Sikes’ own cars, cars she picked and purchased even before her late husband, Marvin, died a year ago.
Sikes’ father died when she was 18 months old. Her mother couldn’t afford a car so they walked or rode the bus. But Sikes loved cars, and remembers as a child being able to identify them by make and model as they drove past the tiny duplex where they lived.
“When I was in high school, I started dating someone who wound up becoming my husband,” she said. “He was from the ‘other side’ of Houston, if you get my drift. He had the most beautiful car, a 1955 Ford Crown Victoria — brand new, red and white — and he also had a 1952 Jaguar XK120 sports car.
“His mother drove a brand new Lincoln. His father drove a brand new Cadillac. My stepfather had a Plymouth, a small little ugly Plymouth.
“My husband’s friends told him I only dated him for his cars — and that may have had a little bit to do with it,” she adds with a laugh.
“Years later,” she added, “I teased him the only reason he was still married to me was because of my cars.”
At the Atlanta concours on the golf course fairways of Chateau Elan in Braselton, Georgia, Sikes will show her 1954 and 1955 Chevrolet Corvettes, her 1955 Studebaker President Speedster and her supercharged 1963 Studebaker Avanti R2.
Often, she’s also invited to show her V12-powered 1972 Jaguar E-type 2+2, which has won a succession of survivor-class awards. Other cars in her collection include has a 1964 Avanti R1, a 1956 Ford Thunderbird, a 1960 Jaguar Mk2 and a 1961 Corvette. She also has a 2007 Mercedes-Benz CLK 350 convertible.
While Sikes was eager to become a classic car owner, she had to wait a while even after marrying Marvin.
“When we got married, we had a very strict budget, and then children came, we had four. We couldn’t afford what we’d love to have, a classic car or two. But whenever it was time for me to get another car, I would always look at him and smile, remembering the XK120.
“You know,” she’d tell Marvin, “I’d love to have a Jaguar sports car, but we can’t get four children in a tw0-seat sports car,’ and I’d usually wind up with a used station wagon.”
But then came the day she saw the 2+2 version of the E-type. “I thought it would hold four (children),” she said, picturing herself behind the wheel. “one in the passenger seat and three in the back seat.”
At the time, the Sikes had moved to Arkansas, where Marvin worked for a truck leasing company. They lived on a small “ranch,” where they also had 90 head of cattle. They loved their life and small-town lifestyle there. But then came the day that Marvin called to say he’d been offered a big promotion, but they’d have to move to Atlanta.
Knowing how much Carolyn loved their Arkansas ranch, he called one day, from Birmingham, Alabama, to say he’d bought her a car, a ’72 Jaguar 2+2.
On the drive home, however, Marvin was tired, so he pulled over and got out of the car to stretch his legs. It wasn’t until he went to get back behind the wheel that he realized he’d left the car running — and locked the doors when he’d gotten out.
Of course, a policeman arrived about this time. He couldn’t get the door open either, but was willing to drive back to his station to get something to break a window. While he was gone, Marvin realized he had his own keys in his pocket and started trying each of them on the Jaguar’s door.
Finally, Carolyn recounts, Marvin was able to manipulate an old file-cabinet key just so and the Jaguar’s door opened and he continued his drive home.
Carolyn has stories to tell about each of her cars. Take, for example, the ’55 Corvette.
She wanted a ’55 with its small-block V8 engine, but couldn’t afford one at the time, so she bought the ’54 with its inline 6 instead. Hers was such an excellent example that she’d been invited to show it at the Pinehurst concours. She was getting ready for the pre-concours tour when she noticed a man staring at her car.
The man finally spoke, telling her hers was probably the best ’54 Corvette he’d seen. She thanked him, told him the car’s name was Marlyn (she names all her cars), and, as she was pulling away, she mentioned that she really wanted a ’55.
The man said he had one. She asked if he’d sell it, but she didn’t hear his response as she accelerated away to join the parade of cars leaving on the tour.
The next day, at the concours, she saw the man again. He was one of the judges going over her car “with a fine tooth comb.”
After the judges were finished, a group of women approached and asked about her car. One of them said she was the man’s wife, and she mentioned that he was getting more involved with Corvette racing cars and had been thinking about selling his ’55, a car which he’d loaned to a museum in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and before that had been displayed at the National Corvette Museum.
A phone call later, the Sikes were headed to Tennessee with their trailer to bring home what was now Carolyn’s ’55.
It turns out that Carolyn isn’t the only one with stories to tell about her cars. Recently, she mentioned that the fastest she’d ever driven her V12 Jaguar was 90 mph. Her 55-year-old son confessed that when he was 16, and his parents weren’t home, he’d taken the keys to that car, driven out to a new Atlanta-area highway that had been built but was not yet open to traffic, and saw 140 mph on the speedometer.
“But I could feel the front end start to lift and knew that if something happens to this car, Mom will kill me,” Carolyn recounted his story.
“I was very calm on the outside,” she remembers, “and I said, Marty, had you wrecked the car and not been killed, I would have killed you!”
Another confession: One of her daughters admitted driving the Jaguar to school one day soon after she turned 16, while another daughter was granted permission to use the car for a high school homecoming parade, although Carolyn probably hadn’t planned on all six cheerleaders being packed into her precious car — several of them riding beneath the open rear hatch.
During her years of collector car ownership, Carolyn Sikes has noticed many things. For example, women car owners get more sentimentally attached to their cars then do men, she said. She also said she’s observed that the sexes are attracted to cars of certain colors — men to red, women to yellow.
Regardless of their color choices, “The wonderful thing about any of the car events — concours or not — is that you meet wonderful people that love cars or they wouldn’t be there,” she said. “You already have a lot in common.”
“I try to tell young families that, yes, money is tight, but if they go to a wrecking yard and find an old car and on weekends you and your children work on that car, it’s the best bonding process you can have, and it instills in them a love of cars, too.”
She also advises anyone who is invited to show a car at a concours to consider themselves a winner just for that invitation.
“Do not expect to win an award,” she said. “When your children are grown, sometimes your cars become like your children. You’re very proud of them. You consider them the best of the best. But you’re on that field with perhaps 10 of the best of the best. To get an invitation, you’ve already won, but it’s a hard lesson to learn.”
Another lesson: “When you get ready to buy a car, you need to do your research,” said a woman who can share extensive historical and technical details about the cars she owns, such as why her ’64 Avanti has ’63 headlamps.
For someone who didn’t have a family car until she was 12, Carolyn Sikes has come a long way around from her stepfather’s “ugly” Plymouth.
At age 79, she said, when she sees her reflection in a rear view mirror or car window, she realizes, “I’m just an old lady in an old car.” However, “If I’m in one of my cars and I’m driving and I don’t look at the rearview mirror or see my reflection in the window, I am 16 years old again and driving a brand new car again.”