The ‘Badillac’ of West Philly was towed and people feared its owner died, but ‘I’m still livin’!’ he says
Few people in Philadelphia are as intrinsically connected to their vehicle as Gilbert Hilton, 74, of West Philadelphia, who’s spent years covering his 2004 Cadillac SRX — which he calls the “Badillac” — with hundreds of household items from Goodwill.
Gilbert Hilton woke up to some very unusual calls Tuesday morning.
“A lot of people say I died,” Hilton said. “I told my wife I’m very popular.”
Few people in Philadelphia are as intrinsically connected to their vehicle as Hilton, 74, of West Philadelphia, who’s spent years covering his 2004 Cadillac SRX — which he calls the “Badillac” — with hundreds of household items from Goodwill.
To those Philadelphians who know his mobile imaginarium — and to those who encounter it on the road for the first time — the wonderfully weird and whimsical wagon brings a moment of childlike wonder (and a feeling of this is why I love Philly) to everyday life.
“It’s definitely one of Philadelphia’s monuments,” said Cordero Strawther, 32, who grew up seeing the car around West Philly. “As kids we’d chase it going down 58th and Baltimore trying to get pictures next to the car.”
So when Strawther, a corrections officer, saw the Badillac getting towed on his way home from work Monday, he said it was “heartbreaking.” He snapped a picture and posted it to Facebook, where he goes by the name Ralph Lauren.
“It’s official the world is coming to a end 2020 is it 😩 if you’re from Philly you know 😂😂😂😂," he captioned the photo.
His post went viral, receiving more than 2,800 shares. Some commenters feared the worst:
“I hope nothing happened to that man.”
“Dude had that jawn for the longest.”
“Dame R.I.P old head I’m a miss seeing that car every where."
But fear not, fine Philadelphians, I spoke to Hilton on Tuesday morning and he promises “I’m still livin'!”
Last year, I profiled Hilton as part of my We the People series, about the everyday people who make Philadelphia extraordinary. I had his number so I gave him a call, praying he’d answer.
Not only did he answer, but speaking with Hilton reminded me of what I miss most about Philadelphia right now — the people.
Since the Facebook post went viral, Hilton said he’s heard from all manner of people who feared he was dead, or who worried he got so many tickets on the car that the PPA towed it away.
Neither is true, he said, though the real story behind the photo is pretty crazy, too. Of course.
Hilton said he took the Badillac to the mechanic to get a new computer system put in, but “the guy messed up on me.”
The work was so shoddy, he said, that when he got home, he couldn’t get the ignition to shut off and had to disconnect the battery to get the car to stop running.
“I’m too old to be lifting that hood up like that,” he said.
So, he had the Badillac towed to another mechanic and said he was going to go visit the first mechanic on Tuesday to “straighten this whole thing out” and get his money back.
“I’m not going to go in there like no gangsta or nothing,” he said. “But I’m gonna get my money back if I got to sue ‘em.”
Hilton — who power drills the items he buys from Goodwill onto his car — said the stay-at-home order and the closure of non-essential businesses has curtailed his weekly trips to Goodwill to procure more decorations.
“Goodwill done closed down on me now! They put me out of business,” he said. “This quarantine we under, I got to get rid of that.”
But Hilton, ever prepared, has a bag of back stock items he never used, so he continues to switch some on and off of the Badillac. Other than that, Hilton said he’s staying home, like most everybody else these days.
“I don’t get in trouble anymore. I’m too old for that,” he said. “I’m just living the good life. All I got to do is stay away from that sickness.”
Staff writer Cassie Owens contributed to this report.