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A little girl, an old ghost and a big cat named Rosie.

June 16, 2011
By Richard Sberna
When you talk to Lisa Fleck about her 1958 Jaguar Mark VIII saloon, you quickly notice the obvious pride and affection for her special ride. You also notice that the car, without fail, is always referred to as “she” or “her”, and never with an impersonal “it”. Ask Fleck why, and you’ll discover that the Jag is named Rosie. Ask further, and you’ll hear a fascinating story that involves the years Fleck spent in England during her childhood...and the ghost of a nun named Rosata.

Fleck’s father, Patrick Berg, was an officer in the U.S. Air Force, resulting in frequent family moves around the country. According to Fleck, it was case of “two years here, three years there.” When she was six years old, her father was assigned to Chicksands RAF, a Royal Air Force base near Bedfordshire, England. They brought the family car, a 1966 Chevrolet Corvair, with them, where it served as their daily driver.

During their three-year stay in England in the mid-1970s, Capt. Berg bought a 1958 Jaguar Mark VIII for Sunday drives and special occasions. “We would go on family outings, tooling through the English countryside,” Fleck says, with she and her brother perched on the sofa-like back seat, the walnut tray-tables folded out from the front seatback. “We felt rich,” she said. “There was nothing cooler in the world.”

Fleck’s father was reassigned back to the States when she was nine years old. To her horror, her father decided to bring the Corvair back home with them, leaving the beloved Jaguar in England. Fleck says she was heartbroken. “Easily my best childhood memories were when we were in England and are inclusive of that car,” she said. Though she got on with her life, she never forgot the Jag and promised herself that she would someday find one exactly like it for herself.

Fleck met her husband Don in 2007, and while they were still dating, he began a search for the elusive Mark VIII. She says that Don is a confirmed “car guy” and makes a habit of cruising the Internet looking for cool old cars anyway, so he enjoyed the hunt.

Surprisingly, Fleck doesn’t consider herself a enthusiast, and explained that her automotive focus is far more specific: “I’m not a car girl — I’m a ‘58 Jaguar Mark VIII saloon girl.” She says, “It’s the only one I’ve ever wanted and the only one I’ll ever want.”

Don eventually found a car in Pittsburgh that fit the description perfectly, but for one important detail. Fleck’s beloved childhood ride was gray with a red leather interior, and this one was black and gray two-tone with tan leather inside. Still, she was smitten immediately. “I fell in love all over again,” she said.

They bought the car on the spot, but waited until the messy late winter weather cleared to bring the car home. With only 43,000 original miles, she was in very good shape, needing only a few items cared for. One was the interior, which presented Fleck with a dilemma: Should she have the Jag painted and upholstered in an attempt to re-create the car of her childhood memories, or stick with the original appearance? After much deliberation, she decided to split the difference by keeping the paint and retrimming the interior in dove gray to better match the exterior color scheme. The walnut dashboard, rear-seat tray tables and other interior wood was in very good shape, requiring only a light sanding and clearcoat finish.

Thus became the Rosie that Fleck loves today, which brings us to that unique name and its connection to a local legend back in England.

The officer’s club at Chicksands RAF base was an ancient building that had served as a priory from the 12th century until the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in the mid-1500s. The building had housed monks on one side and nuns on the other, with contact between the two forbidden. That didn’t stop one of the nuns, named Rosata, from having an illicit affair with a monk, which resulted in her becoming pregnant. Their secret was discovered, and the pair were sentenced to death. According to the story, Rosata was walled up alive inside the priory, forced to watch her lover’s execution just before the final brick was placed and she was left in the wall to die.

Fleck remembers hearing the stories of Rosata’s ghost haunting the corridors of the huge building from the other children at the base. Apparently, even a few of the USAF and RAF officers claimed to have heard or seen Rosata roaming the grounds.

Now, having finally achieved her dream, Fleck felt that a car with so much personality was worthy of a noteworthy name. “I wanted to name her Rosata, because I thought that she was pretty tenacious,” Fleck said. Don felt the name was a bit ostentatious, however, and suggested the more-approachable Rosie instead, and so was she christened.

Fleck admits that Rosie has some minor body and paint issues to address, but otherwise is in fantastic shape for a 53-year-old car. Other than a few token fluid leaks, Rosie is mechanically sound. Despite the stereotype about old English cars, Fleck says that Rosie has never left them stranded in the three years they’ve driven her. She concedes that Rosie recently had an exhaust leak, but that only caused her to growl, much like her feline mascot.

Perhaps Rosie was just upset at being held up by traffic. “She loves being wide-open on the highway. She’s very impatient behind all those slow truckers,” Fleck said. Still, she keeps the big cat leashed to a maximum of around 80 mph, for fear of being pulled over by state troopers...or perhaps, animal control officers.

Fleck is adamant that while Rosie is very much loved, she isn’t babied. “It’s a car, not a piece of artwork that I’m going to frame, put it on a wall and not let anybody else enjoy it,” she said. She’ll always talk to people about the car and welcomes anyone who wants to look, take pictures, or even have a look inside. Your author can attest to this, having witnessed Rosie’s drawing power during our photo shoot at Buhl Park in Sharon, Pa. There were random wows and other exclamations, plus questions about the car’s age and speculation about her being a Rolls-Royce or Bentley.

Though she’ll happily entertain questions, one thing that Fleck will not discuss with anyone is an asking price, as people are constantly making inquiries about Rosie. Their offers are quickly declined. “I spend a lot of time saying no,” she said with a laugh.

Unlike many instances of car enthusiasm being a man’s hobby, Fleck says it’s something that she and Don share as a couple. She mentions them having recently spent an afternoon at their home in Girard, she clay-barring Rosie, and Don waxing and polishing his classic Cadillacs, a 1954 and ‘57, respectively. She says that people interested in Rosie will instinctively approach Don and ask him about the car. “He’ll say, ‘Oh no, it’s her car.’ And they’re like, ‘Really?’”

Fleck’s two-year-old granddaughter Bella, also loves going for rides in what she calls “Mee Maw’s pretty car”. Her mother, Carol Berg, certainly appreciates the car, too, recently insisting on being picked up from the airport in the Jag. Despite a powerful thunderstorm, Fleck complied, saying her mom “would have been 100 percent heartbroken had I not”. She’s also sure that her father, now deceased, would heartily approve. “I know that my daddy is smiling down on me now,” she said.

Perhaps even poor old Sister Rosata might be cheered by her namesake.

Article Photos

Rosie, a 1958 Jaguar Mark VIII, with her caretakers, Lisa and Don Fleck of Girard.



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