At Kannapolis Cruise In, every car tells a story

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 16, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS — Organizers weren’t exactly sure how many cars, total, parked and cruised around downtown Kannapolis on Saturday.
Some 300 were parked, while beach music from loudspeakers filled the heavy July afternoon.
When you could hear it, that is, over the roars and thrums of engines.
The Cabarrus Events Association’s monthly Classic Car Cruise-In was a downtown draw before the coming of the N.C. Research Campus.
Now back and in its third year after a hiatus, the outdoor car shows have become a part of people’s routines.
Owners and friends pack coolers and sit gathered around their parked cars. Some are classics, some are newer — brand-new Dodge Challengers gleam just a few spaces away from a ‘73 Toyota Land Cruiser, which is parked not far from several ‘70s-vintage muscle cars.
No matter who drives the car, how much they’ve spent on paint or how many miles they’ve driven behind the wheel, most every car out there has a story behind it.
Take Jimmy Overcash’s ‘55 Ford Fairlane.
“I gave $700 for this car,” he said. “Sheriff Stirewalt had bought it, traded it in at Hilbish. This was back when they were over there.”
He gestures across downtown, toward where the former K-Town Furniture showroom stands.
Overcash got the car in 1961, when he was a teenager.
His uncle had picked it up at Hilbish some years before, and was ready to get a new model.
In his lawn chair next to the white Fairlane, Overcash talks about how he’d first wanted a ‘54, but found the newer motor — a 292-cubic-inch V8 — had better power.
The Fairlane is in good shape. Most everything is original, he said.
“I never spent much money on this car,” he said. “Bought the tires for $99 on sale, and this has been 15 years ago, so that shows how much I drive it!”
“We leave it in the garage most of the time,” said Sylvia, his wife.
But on an evening like this one, she said, they’ll drive the Fairlane out to dinner, or to get ice cream.
“I guess the farthest we ever took it was to the mountains,” she said, plus a trip or two to Myrtle Beach when he was younger.
“It’s only been dented once,” Jimmy said. “And if the man hadn’t had his car parked in the wrong place, I wouldn’t have hit him!” he laughs.
Work in progress
Down the road, Wayne Weaver of Kannapolis has a car that’s a far cry from the rotisserie-painted, ultra-restored show cars.
His ‘61 Ford Thunderbird hardtop needs paint, and there’s a little rust on the chrome.
The interior is nothing to write home about, either.
But as he talks about the car, leaning against it and pointing out the reasons he likes that year’s T-Bird, it’s clear he’s got dreams for it.
“This one’s got a 390 big block in it,” Weaver said. “I take it out about every weekend.”
Including car shows, he said, though the car is definitely a work in progress.
Mechanically, it’s a car that won’t quit. Not only that, he said, but it’s an unusual model.
“You see a lot of ‘63 models,” Weaver said. “To me, these are a lot more sleek-looking.”
At the other end of the scale are the folks who know cars, inside and out, on and off the frame.
Rainbow of colors
Clay Neely, for example. His ‘68 Pontiac LeMans glistens, and for a moment you might think you’re seeing things.
The paint on the car changes colors with the light: iridescent pink, purple and green.
“This is DuPont Absolute Purpleen Prism,” Neely said. He also said he’s got about $10,000 in the paint work for this car, a project that took him 10 years.
He’s no stranger to cars or Cabarrus County. “We used to cruise Idiots Circle,” Neely said.
The LeMans, when he got it, was white with a green top, “and full of rust.”
“I did all the body work,” he said. Once the paint was on, and all the other work done, the car’s only been driven 400 miles.
Neely said he’s glad for the work he’s done, but is also ready to move on to the next project.
“Somebody gives me $18,500 for (the LeMans), they can have it,” he said. “I mean, I’m not going to come off my price at all.”
There aren’t a lot of cars sporting visible “For Sale” signs here. And Neely gives the impression that he’s not out here just to sell.
“It’s just the people who look at the cars,” he said. They’re respectful, he added, and knowledgeable as well.
An old pickup slowly rolls by, its engine barely above idle. Elsewhere, other cars fill the air with the signature scent of exhaust.
It’s a ghost of the days before environmental impact statements and catalytic converters.
“You gotta love that smell,” Neely said.
Brenda Drye of the Cabarrus Events Association said the heat had kept some of her foot traffic away, but the vendors were doing well.
Drye said the draw for those cars and car lovers is the chance to talk about the vehicles they love.
“People just love to show off their cars, talk to their friends and exchange stories,” she said.
Late model muscle
Damian and Linda Miszuk make the trip from Concord, Damian said, just to enjoy themselves.
Their 2008 Shelby Mustang convertible sits on the corner, top down and hood open, for passers-by to gaze at.
But the Miszuks sit some distance away, talking and watching the crowd.
“I’m not what you’d call a Mustang person,” Damian said.
Still, he said he’s proud to own a limited-edition sports car — one of only 700 built to that spec, and one of only 2,300 built that year.
“This car was actually built at Ford and sent to Shelby in Las Vegas,” he said. “It is an actual Shelby that was built by Shelby.”
Right down to the nameplate on the dash with Shelby’s signature.
The Miszuks’ Mustang has a 4.8-liter V8, which he said has plenty of power.
“We wanted something for the beach and the mountains and whatnot,” Damian said.
If he ever gets stopped for speeding, he said, he hopes it’s in his weekend car.
“You just can’t say you got a ticket driving a Taurus,” he said.
Restored Bel Air
A little further down the road, Jack White showed off cars that would turn heads on any street in America.
The other vehicles he’s restored — a ‘58 Impala and a ‘57 Thunderbird — are captured in photos that he had in his show car for passers-by to see.
The Impala, he said, won a national award in 2010 from the Antique Automobile Club of America — “the highest award you can receive,” he said.
But Saturday, White was showing off his latest frame-off restoration project: a bright red ‘57 Chevrolet Bel Air, one of the most recognizable cars ever made.
“I’d been looking for one for about four or five years,” White said.
This one, he said, had been sitting in a warehouse in Winston-Salem. “The guy got interested in motorcycles and just pushed it to the side, neglected it,” White said.
When he got ahold of it, White said, he began a 10-month process of disassembling the car, having the old paint stripped, then repainting it to show-car spec.
He took out the replacement engine that was in it — a later-model 327 — and replaced it with an original 283-cubic-inch factory motor he found in Alabama.
“I wanted it like it come from the factory,” White said.
To win a national car show, parts of the car that you’d never expect — like elements of the underbody, the frame, the springs — are painted appropriate colors.
The highest possible score in one show series is 1,000 points.
Asked if he had a 1,000-point car in that Chevy, White answered, “If I ain’t, I got 999.”
But the person he really got the car for, he said, was his wife.
She saw it during the restoration, then again at the end, White said. After he took her out in it, “she just smiled.”
And then, he said, she turned to him. “She said, ‘It’s my turn to drive.’”
Matt and Melissa Jackling of Kannapolis stopped to admire the bright red ‘57 Chevy.
Their son, Lachlan, age 6, said he likes Corvettes better, but he still spent a lot of time gazing at his reflection in the bright red fenders.
For the Jacklings, coming to the monthly cruise-ins reminds them of better cars and simpler times.
On these older cars, Melissa said, “you do just about everything yourself, no computer stuff.”
Her husband’s favorites are American Motor Company’s muscle cars from the ‘70s, for that same reason.
“It’s just something different,” he said.
Not only that, she said, but cars of the past had more personality, more originality.
“Everything looks the same today,” she said.
They’re the ones who drove to the cruise-in in Matt’s grandfather’s ‘73 Land Cruiser.
He said they’re glad to let others see it, and enjoy it.
In the end, that’s the reason why people who don’t restore cars, who aren’t “gearheads,” come to these drive-in car shows.
Not only are there always new cars to see, old favorites to admire, but tales to be told and re-told as well.
A first date, a great deal off the lot, a trip that made memories.
All of them, well worth the drive.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.