I have to hand it to the folks at Manassas City Hall — they sure know how to fill a calendar. Just this past weekend, they had Old Town playing host to a Greek Festival on Friday, the Manassas Antique Car Show on Saturday, and the Latino Festival on Sunday. My boys and I made the latter two events.
I love old cars. I picked up that love from my father, who always seemed to manage to drive something interesting, whether a 1962 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible or a 1969 Buick Riviera or his current car, a 2003 Lexus GS 300. Now I’m trying to pass along that love to my own sons. I’m not having to try too hard, either. They love anything with wheels, particularly monster trucks. But they also showed they were willing to spread their love to more vintage iron. Not always with the greatest of discernment — faced with a genuine vintage Ford hot-rodded coupe from the early 1940s and its knock-off, a Chrysler PT Cruiser tarted up with flames painted on its flanks and some mild engine mods, they “oohed” and “ahhed” over the Chrysler. Oh, well. They still have plenty of time to learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Or, considering that it’s now out of production and will be a presumably cheap first car by the time they hit their high school years, maybe my boys will develop a lifelong fondness for the PT Cruiser, the car they will have taken their girlfriend to the junior prom in. It’s not a bad vehicle to drive, by the way. My dad bought one, then passed it on to my sister, who still drives it. Shame it gets such lousy mileage for a compact car.
Now, here we’re talking — a 1965 Ford Falcon Ranchero! This was my dream car in high school, the trucklet I desperately wanted so I could cart around sets for one-act plays my club, the Pioneer Players, would put on in thespian competitions all over Florida. I did end up buying a Ranchero my senior year, but the one I found was a 1975 edition, a bloated monstrosity based on the 1975 Torino made sort-of famous by Starsky and Hutch. It had a 351 cubic inch Windsor V-8, so choked with smog control equipment my Ranchero risked being humiliated at stop lights by a Toyota Tercel of similar vintage. The truck’s bed had rust holes in it big enough for me to stuff grapefruits through, so my buddy Keith Johnson and his dad very kindly laid down a layer of fiberglass over the rust. Good enough! And yes, I took my girlfriend Ilma to the senior prom in the Ranchero, after spending an afternoon hand waxing it.
Another car which immediately caught my eye was this gorgeous 1965 Chevy Corvair Monza Spyder. The Corvair really got a bum rap thanks to Ralph Nader; once GM made a few fairly minor adjustments to its suspension (rather than relying upon drivers to keep the front tires inflated to a different psi setting than the rears), it handled as well and predictably as any of the other, more conventional GM compacts. I think the styling is timeless (I also like the earlier “bathtub” Corvairs, of which there was one at the show). Of course, I played the “where’s the engine?” game with my boys. They’d never seen a rear-engined car before (I pulled the same stunt with a mid-1950s Volkswagon Beetle parked nearby).
This Crosley was a definite oddity at a show mainly devoted to humongous 1950s-1970s American cruisers and performance cars. I’d like to compare the measurements of this Crosley to that of one of the modern Mini Coopers. The Crosley looks so much mini-er, but I’d have to see the figures to know for sure. Levi looks like an escapee from Land of the Giants next to the Crosley. That propeller in the center of the grill really spins, by the way. Levi was having a grand old time spinning it until the owner cried out in horror, “The chrome! The oil from that kid’s hands means I’ll have to replate the chrome!” Sorry, buddy… but your car looked like a big toy to my son…
The show featured lots of 1960s Camaros and Mustangs, plus some Mopars, too. One of my favorite cars of the afternoon ended up being a 1968 Dodge Charger. I’d never had an opportunity to take a look inside one before. It turns out that, just as they’d done with the original Plymouth Barracuda, Chrysler Corporation added the really nifty feature of a fold-down rear seat that extended the trunk all the way to the back of the front seats. Given the first generation Barracuda’s bubble-back rear glass and the Charger’s swoopy fastback, both cars allowed drivers to turn their trunks and back seats into servicable beds. I wonder how many Americans in their late thirties to mid-forties owe their existence to the convenience of these “Mopar Murphy beds”?