Classic, unique cars on display at city Cruise-In

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Marvelous machines from Detroit and elsewhere arrived early for Lewisburg's first Saturday night "Cruise-In" on the Courthouse Square where organizers were pleasantly surprised with the participation.

"Unbelievable," Cruise-In Committee volunteer Greg Lowe said in passing from one of the golf carts used to help manage the event. Two days later, Low said there had been 140 vehicles cars and truck registered in the show.

Barbara Woods, then the city's mayor-elect, arrived in a white Corvette and immediately reacted: "I am so impressed they've had so many."

By that time -- about 5:30, or a half-hour in to the 5-8 p.m. show -- overflow parking was being used for show cars in front of the Marshall County Community Theatre, as that part of Church Street was closed off for several hours.

After directing the driver of a blue Ford, Clay Ledford said, "This has turned out even better than we hoped."

With the next Cruise-In scheduled for June 27, he anticipated use of the outer ring of the public square providing more parking spaces. Ledford spoke of that anticipation at about 4:55 p.m., or five minute before the show was scheduled to start.

"We're almost full on the inner-ring,"Ledford said.

"I'm glad to see Lewisburg have something like this downtown," he said.

Ledford is a member of Lewisburg's Downtown Alliance, a group of community advocates formed last year. Candidates in the city's May 5 election endorsed the alliance and now-former Mayor Bob Phillips has said he plans to participate in its activities.

Conversations that grew into interviews Saturday evening included some quiet pride in ownership, and recurring reflections on how much Americans love their automobiles.

Peaches and Cream is what Don Eady of Laws Hill calls his 1937 Ford Coupe with a Chevy small block engine under the hood of the car with a paint job implied by its name.

He bought it in September "from a buddy" just to "drive around a little bit," explaining he's just taken it up to "55 mph" during such a cruise.

While the used car dealer spoke of the shiny two-tone coupe, Bud Ballenger of Cornersville stopped at the southeast corner of the square to ask when the next show would be held. He says he would return in four weeks with his "fully restored" 1950 Chevrolet.

Closer to the Courthouse, Wayne Agent, 68, of Columbia was backing in what looks like a classic Shelby Ford Mustang, but it's not.

"It's cloned," the 1958 Marshall County High School graduate said.

The white Mustang has the blue racing stripes of famed racer Carroll Shelby, the man who made the hot Ford Cobra and GT blaze through sports car tracks during the 1960s and '70s.

"It's a '67 made to look like a '66 with this," Agent said pointing to the triangular windows that Ford brought back for its recent return of the more classic mustang lines.

Shelby retooled Mustangs. Agent said there were 252 cars in another remodeling project. Those cars were "cloned" to be like the Shelby cars. Some were complete with bogus Shelby plates in the engine compartment. Agent has one of those and one of the real Shelby Mustangs. Like the Cobras and GTs, they were known for the short distance for pressing the clutch to disengage the transmission geared for racing.

"This one is more fun to drive," he said. "I've got it fixed for high gas mileage."

The car gets about 20 mpg and uses "the highest octane you can get," Agent said.

Originally built on a Ford Falcon frame, the first Mustangs, issued as a 1964-1/2 model year, had what looked like a scoop just behind each other car's two doors.

Agent's Mustangs' scoops direct air to cool the rear wheels' brakes, he said.

While such muscle cars were familiar to many at the show, there were classic antique cars like the Model A Ford that prompted Bruce Bailey of White Drive to comment, "I need one of those."

Then there was the Henry J, a car with a front grill reminiscent of the 1950 Ford sedan. The battleship gray Henry J brought back family memories.

A gas station owner bought a baby blue Henry J for his wife in 1961 because of the color and its short turning radius since she had trouble parking a much longer 1954 Oldsmobile.

"She looked out the window and said, 'Move it down the street,'" the businessman's son recalled. "To her it was a 'trashy car.'" That Henry J was then used as a service vehicle since it could maneuver through parking lots with ease when customers couldn't start their cars.

Another car out of production is the Plymouth and Paul W. Roberts was showing off the 1951 Plymouth two-door hard top purchased by his father Paul E. Roberts, no relation to the Roberts family that recently sold its share of the Roberts Lyons GMC dealership on Ellington Parkway.

With his mother, Elizabeth Robert seated in a folding chair next to him, Paul W. explained his parents bought the car used from the Roberts Chevrolet dealership decades ago. The car has no post between the door windows and the rear window. It's a notable distinction before air conditioning in cars.

Like others at the show, Roger Smith spoke of the car he may drive to the square this summer or fall. There are four more monthly Cruise-Ins.

Smith has a black 1956 Plymouth Savoy that needs installation of a transmission and the seals for that job, he said. The car had been driven only 57,000 miles, but because of dry rot, such repairs are necessary.

"It just wasn't driven much," Smith said. "It was garage-kept."

Then there were entries that are unique. One example from Saturday has been featured on the front pages of local newspapers several times after it's been on display at a local show.

Howard Hight of Columbia explained that his vehicle is half 1999 Honda Gull Wing and half 1974 Super Beetle with a 1600 cc VW engine controlled by a four-speed gearbox.

It's "governed down" to top out at 65 mph, he said.

The only real danger is during in-town driving, Hight said.

"People will be looking and run me off the road, not meaning to," he said. "They get too close."

Everyone at the show could get close enough to inspect such cars and more classic antiques last weekend on the public square here.

Similar displays appear likely on June 27.