The Cadillac drove off into the sunset…
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTOGMERY–Later this summer the state will sell at public auction hundreds of automobiles which have been taken away from disgruntled state employees. It is a part of Gov. Bob Riley's plan to reduce the cost of state government. This auction is the only excuse I need to tell one of my all-time favorite stories of the political past.
It was the summer of 1968…Albert Brewer had assumed the office of governor only a few weeks before. He too concluded that the state owned far too many cars, that too many employees had state cars which they did not need to perform their jobs. More often than not they were using them almost entirely for personal reasons. Brewer was determined to cut back on the number of these vehicles and establish a motor pool.
That is where I came into the picture. I was serving as his Finance Director, and it was my department which would supervise the auction and set up the motor pool. (I am proud to say that the Motor Pool has saved the taxpayers millions of dollars since it was established.)
Not only did we haul in almost 1,000 cars but one of them was what was called "Cadillac No. 1"….the big black limousine which had been used by governor's since 1955. Needless to say, the license plate assigned to the vehicle was "No. 1." (This was the car Gov. Folsom loaned to Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, D-NY, for his use when he came to Montgomery in the late 1950s, creating a political temptest of major proportions. In those days white governor's didn't loan their cars to black Congressmen…at least not in Montgomery.)
The decision to sell the Cadillac was easy. After 13 years of use by four governors–Big Jim, John Patterson, George and Lurleen Wallace– it was in terrible condition. You never knew when it would break down. It was a piece of junk is what it was.
Not long after it was announced that the limousine would be sold I had a visitor in my office one day. It was Gerald Wallace, the celebrated brother of the former governor. He told me that George had strong sentimental ties to the old car…he had ridden in it, Lurleen had ridden in it…and it would be nice if we could give it to him.
At that point in time…sympathy still high for Wallace over the death of his wife…we had no choice. We couldn't gracefully take the car off the auction block because it had already been publicized so we came up with another plan.
My assistant, Tom Brassell, had a buddy in the used car business and we told him to buy the Cadillac, no matter what it cost and that we would reimburse him for whatever it cost.
I will never forget that day. When the auctioneer opened the bidding, our man quickly made a modest offer…I think it was $300.
Somebody raised the bid, our man went higher, the other guy did too.
On and on the bidding went. In the end I think we ended up paying more than $2,200 for a car which wasn't worth half that price. (This was not state money we were using…it was money we had raised among ourselves.)
That afternoon I called Gov. Wallace and told him we would like to present the Cadillac to him. He snorted that he had no interest in the car whatsoever. When I told him what Gerald had told me he said he had no idea where his brother got such an idea. (George ended up giving the car to the late Royce Kershaw Sr., who collected vintage automobiles.)
It was bad enough that we had bought a car for a man who didn't want it, but it was made worse when we learned later the identity of the other bidder. His name was Jim Corley of Wetumpka, a huge Wallace supporter (he was later appointed probate judge of Elmore County by Wallace). He had heard the same story that we had heard–that Wallace wanted the car for sentimental reasons–and he wanted to give it to him.
What we had that day were two people bidding against each other for the same car for the same reason….a wrong reason.