Passion for the past fuels interest in classic cars

1973 Plymouth Gold Duster with a 318 cubic-inch V-8 engine. Image courtesy of RM Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

ALTOONA, Pa. (AP) – They come from near and far, drawn by the shine, the glitter, bright colors and loud rumbles and by a shared interest in an era in vehicle manufacturing that many think is unmatched by today’s companies.

Antique and classic car aficionados come in all shapes, sizes and ages – much like the cars they admire and, some might say, love.

It’s that shared love and fascination with the smooth lines, the tail fins, the leather seats, details and chrome – and even the front hand crank on some vintage models – that draw a crowd to a old car parked in a lot among the newer models.

Seeing these classically styled vehicles usually draws admiring looks from older folks, when they spot a car they had grown up with, and sighs of appreciation from the younger set at the sight of a gleaming, growling muscle car.

No matter what draws the eye, the old vehicles seem to be more popular now than when they were first built.

COMING BACK AS A HOBBY

“Today’s cars are nothing like the older ones,” said Michele Miller, president of the Blair County Antique Auto Club.

It seems like more and more people are coming out and taking part in shows and cruise-ins than when she and her husband, Ronald, first became involved with the club several years ago, Miller said.

“I think it’s coming back. We’re seeing more cars coming out now. It seems everybody went into a barn, found a car and fixed it up,” she said with a laugh.

A quick search of the internet shows that there are more than 200 antique and classic car clubs in Pennsylvania, including the Blair County club, which will celebrate its 45th anniversary next year.

The point of the club is “to have fun and enjoy cars,” she said, adding that the group boasts more than 150 members.

The Millers own a 1974 Plymouth Duster, a car like the one her husband had in high school, Michele Miller said. “When he retired, he looked for another Duster to get.”

A cruise-in in Tyrone held in June brought in 180 cars, she said.

As for the affection found for the older models, “It’s not just Blair County or Cambria County or Centre County,” she said. “It’s everywhere. I think it’s coming back as a hobby.”

But, “there are not enough Saturdays in the summer” to get to all the shows available, Miller said, adding that there are about 45 shows she and club members attend.

“A bunch of us travel together,” she said, noting that about 95 percent of the people drive their cars to the shows, which mostly benefit charities, food banks and fire company associations.

They, along with many local people, attend car shows in the spring and fall in Ocean City, Maryland, where more than 5,000 cars are on display.

Locally, car shows and cruise-ins bring in 100 to 200 cars, or more.

And, the club isn’t geared toward any particular make, model or year.

“We have people who have brand new Corvettes. Challengers with Hellcat engines. There is a wide variety,” she said.

Choosing a car is like picking a dog, Miller said. People pick one they like based on what it looks like or maybe the sound it makes or it’s based on nostalgia. “Something that strikes your eye,” she said.

“I think people don’t want to be ordinary. They like the fact they can go out and pick something different.” Miller said older vehicles can be upgraded by adding stylish hubcaps, changing out the tires and increasing the engine’s horsepower. “You can do whatever, it just depends on how deep your pocketbook is.”

THE SAME INTEREST

The Alum Bank Community Fire Company’s annual car show and cruise-in held in July draws several hundred participants and visitors who enjoy walking among the vehicles and admiring the craftsmanship.

“I like the noise,” one youngster said, while another remarked that the sparkle and shine on the old cars is just something not found in today’s vehicles.

“They’re better than the new ones,” said Richard Imler of Pulaski, Lawrence County.

He and his wife, Faye, drive their 1955 Ford Crown Victoria all over the place. They’ve been to Louisville, Kentucky, the state of Indiana, New York and Gettysburg and many places in between.

“The only time it’s on a trailer is when it doesn’t run. which isn’t often,” Richard said.

A 1965 graduate of Chestnut Ridge High School, Richard said he bought the powder blue car because the color stood out.

While it doesn’t have power steering, it’s a smooth ride because “they’re so heavy,” Faye said.

And it doesn’t have air conditioning, a fact that doesn’t stop the couple from attending car shows and cruise-ins throughout the spring, summer and fall.

“We’ve made a lot of friends” attending shows, the duo said, noting they also own a 1966 Galaxy.

Jerry Wright of Wells Tannery grew up in the ’60s and is the proud owner of a 1932 Ford three-window coupe. “This was my perfect hot rod,” he said.

“When I saw this for sale, I sold the Corvette and bought it,” he said with a grin, noting that he has a few other antique vehicles as well.

He’s had the ’32 Ford for about 10 years, modifying it by adding air conditioning – the chrome-plated compressor looks at home under the hood that’s a little tricky to close. If you don’t get it just right, the metal scrapes the front, chipping the paint, he said.

The hot rod is fun to drive, and he gets it out at least once a week in nice weather – without fenders, getting caught out in the rain dirties the sleek, black car and requires a lot of careful cleaning.

“I’ve always been a gearhead,” he said, noting he is retired from Mack Truck, where as a mechanical engineer, he designed engines.

In Wells Tannery, he helps organize a car show to benefit the community park. The show draws a crowd of participants as well as those who just appreciate the older vehicles.

“One thing about a car show, everyone has the same interest,” said York resident Sally Fullerton.

She and Mary Bostian of Taneytown, Maryland, were waiting for family members to bring their vehicles to the Alum Bank show in Pleasantville.

The two said they meet a lot of nice people at car shows and hear a lot of stories.

In addition, if someone has a problem with a vehicle, there are a lot of people willing to lend a hand, which is why they were sitting on lawn chairs in front of the spaces where their vehicles should have been parked.

“We have invisible cars,” they joked, indicating the empty spots.

Fullerton’s 1940 Ford pickup stopped running just after she and her husband pulled into the show grounds.

Bostian’s husband took their 1968 Ford Torino to get parts to fix the truck, the duo said.

“We have it to use it,” Fullerton said, admitting that problems do crop up on occasion. “But, it’s a matter of how much money you want to put in.”

A good many people show up at antique and classic car shows just to look, while others show up to buy, they said.

A SHARED APPRECIATION

For Holly Shaffer of Bedford and her three charges, son, Matthew, 8, and nephews Drake Dishman, 13, and Cade Dishman, nearly 15, it’s just fun to see the vehicles and have a good family/friends outing.

Asked if he was looking for a car to drive when he turns 16, Cade Dishman sighed and said, “I wish.”

He likes how shiny and colorful the old cars are, he said.

The boys all chimed in about what makes the cars special.

“Today’s cars are all plastic.”

“I like the noise, how loud they are.”

“The wheels, the chrome.”

“I appreciate how much work they put into them,” Holly Shaffer interjected, noting the amount of time people spend on fixing up what in some cases was a pile of rust, as shown in photos that are often on display with the vehicles.

The engines – from how they’re laid out with space to work around to the flashy chrome finishings – were tops on the list for Cade as well.

“In today’s cars, if you drop a tool in the engine compartment, you can never get it back,” he said.

Stainless steel chrome doesn’t rust, Richard Imler said, also lamenting the design changes that also omitted wings from today’s cars.

At the Imler Volunteer Fire Company’s annual ox roast, where an antique and classic cruise-in was held one day and a car show the next, Roger Helsel and Jesse Day were tasked with judging the vehicles.

The old vehicles are “different,” the pair said, noting that many owners install more powerful motors in the muscle cars, along with a lot of fancy details that probably were not in the cars when they came off the assembly line.

Owners “just like to show them off,” said Helsel, who admitted he owns one of the classics. “You get to get them out, squeal the wheels, show them off a little bit,” he said with a grin.

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By HOLLY CLAYCOMB, Altoona Mirror

Information from: Altoona Mirror, http://www.altoonamirror.com

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AP-WF-08-24-19 0706GMT