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Discover Mid-America —May 2005

Antique autos and automobilia favorites of many collectors

by Ken Weyand

Americans love their cars, a love they have demonstrated for more than a century.
During the 1920s, a survey revealed that more U.S. citizens owned cars than bathtubs. In times of crisis, the car was the last possession to go — as illustrated by John Steinbeck with his depiction of the Joad family in the novel Grapes of Wrath.

The Car Cruise last July in Belton, MO attracted nearly 500 cars and more than 3,000 visitors attended the event.

The automobile has always represented freedom to Americans. It enabled rural families that had never ventured more than 20 or 30 miles from home to take long road trips. The automobile changed the way we built our residential areas, resulting in the growth of suburbs. In the cities, one out of every six Americans found a job in the automobile industry.

From backyard and basement tinkerers to participants in the Concours d’Elegance, automobilia collectors make up a substantial part of the collector market. In addition to the primary market of restored cars, the crossover market includes posters, books, advertising, auto-related décor items and more. It’s a market that extends to gas and oil collectibles, with some rumpus rooms sporting examples of early-day gas pumps and filling-station memorabilia.

Long a male-dominated field, car collecting now involves entire families who attend automobilia shows, cruise nights and antique/classic car shows at all kinds of venues — from shopping center promotions to major festivals.

One of the fastest-growing areas of automobilia collecting is NASCAR collectibles. Die-cast models, pennants, T-shirts, racing photographs and other items can be found in collectible shops and malls everywhere. Online sources are numerous.

A sampling of car shows in Mid-America
MAY 1: Grayslake, IL. 40th Annual Grayslake Auto Show, 708-485-3633
MAY 14: Newton, KS. Downtown Cruise-In Car Show, 800-274-1777
MAY 15: Belton, MO. First annual Main Street Car Show. Antiques, classics, street rods, etc., 913-485-3026
MAY 21: Sublette, IL. May Cruise ‘n Show, 815-849-5582
MAY 27: Lamar, MO. Classic Car Show at Faithful Peddler Antique Mall, 417-682-2287
JUNE 3-4: Mena, AR. Open Car, Truck and Motorcycle Show,
JUNE 4: Hardy, AR. 9th Annual Spring River Car Show, 870-257-3378
JUNE 10-12: Branson, MO. Branson Car Show Extravaganza (Corvette Weekend), 417-332-2277
JUNE 11-12: Onawa, IA. 21st Annual Blast from the Past. (Cruise), 712-423-2411
JUNE 17: Lake Forest, IL. Lake Forest Car Show, hosted by Illinois Region Antique Auto Club of America,
JUNE 17-18: Rochester, MN. National Antique Auto Club of America meet,
JUNE 18: Iroquois, IL. Strictly Street Rod Club 25th Annual Rod Run, 815-428-7564
JUNE 24-26: East Peoria, IL. Bring it Back to Peoria, Cruise In and Car Show, 309-699-6997,
JUNE 24-26: Litchfield, IL. 2nd Annual Show, “Cruisin Route 66” to Litchfield, 866-733-5833 or 517-394-7344,
JUNE 25: Yorkville, IL. 3rd Annual New Life Church Car Show,
JUNE 26: Hartington, NE. 2nd Annual Car Show, 402-254-3390
JULY 1-3: Des Moines, IA. Goodguys Rod & Custom Association 14th Heartland Nationals at Fairgrounds,
AUG. 4-6: Des Moines, IA. Iowa Gas Petroleum Collectors Convention Swap Meet and Auction, 515-276-2099 or 321-7930,
AUG. 13: Hope, AR. Hope Watermelon Festival Classic Car Show & Shine, 870-777-3640,
AUG. 28: Amboy, IL. 15th Annual Depot Days Car Show. Largest car show in the area, 815-857-3814 or 4700
SEPTEMBER (date and place TBA): National Central Divisional Tour, Antique Auto Club of America,
SEPT. 9-11: Colorado Springs, CO. Good Guys Rod & Custom Association 8th Colorado Springs Nationals,
SEPT. 10: Idaho Springs, CO. Colorado Chassis Lassies Car Show: A Mountain Rendezvous,
SEPT. 11: Effingham, IL. 7th Annual Ford Family Celebration Car & Truck Show,
SEPT. 17: Sublette, IL. September Cruise ‘n Show. Featuring Kaiser-Frazer and Willys-Overland, 815-849-5582
SEPT. 18-19: Ottawa, KS. Ole Marais River Run Car Show. Sponsored by Over the Road Gang, Inc, 785-242-1451 or 1585
SEPT. 23-25: Kansas City, KS. Goodguys Rod & Custom Association 4th Midwestern Nationals,
SEPT. 24: Des Moines, IA. Salisbury Automobile Classic, 515-274-1777,
OCTOBER (date TBA): Southern Mississippi. 10th Annual Cruisin’ the Coast. More than 4,000 antique, classic and hot rod enthusiasts from 35 states cruise the Mississippi Gulf Coast in a weeklong event,
Many area festivals include antique car shows in their events. Get more information by reading the Discover Mid-America event calendars or visit

Cruising shops and cruise nights
Weird Stuff! Antiques, voted the Best Mall or Shop for Classic Cars & Automobilia in Discover Mid-America’s “Best Of” reader survey, maintains an inventory of about classic 30 cars, primarily from the 1950s and 60s. The shop also has a large selection of vintage gas and oil signs.

Other retailers in Mid-America featuring automobilia include Ferris Wheel Antiques in Topeka, KS, and Country Cottage in Belton, MO. Many other shops and malls throughout the region feature dealers with automotive advertising, logos and other items.

Auto restoration shops cater to enthusiasts looking for “dream machines.” Benton Antique Mall in Benton, KS has been specializing in classic and customized automobiles for several years. Street rods make up a large part of their inventory. See more at

In Staunton, IL, on historic Hwy. 66, a retired farmer and car collector runs a major family business buying, selling and trading collectible cars and trucks at Country Classic Cars. An online directory at offers descriptions, photos and prices.

In Bolivar, MO, American Classix of Bolivar, LLC, specializes in the restoration of cars and trucks from the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Their offerings can be seen at, which also includes testimonials from customers throughout the U.S.

Of course, restoring a classic car or making an automobile unique among many, means showing it off. Cruise nights are popular summer events to do that

Last summer, more than 400 antique cars and street rods packed Main Street in Belton, MO, on the fourth Saturday from April through September. The unique cars came from Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas, Oklahoma and other states.

Hosted by the South 71 Cruisers, the cruise nights attracted as many as 3,000 spectators. In addition to providing a huge dose of nostalgia for car-lovers of all ages, the events raise funds for youth in the community, according to Larry Thompson, owner of five cars and a member of the South 71 Cruisers board of directors.

“We deal with welfare associations, schools and other groups, he said. “ It’s not unusual for a cruise night with a big turnout to raise $600 or more.”

Sharon Saults, owner of Dusty Attic Antiques on Main Street, said the cruise nights were a big success. “People appreciate the fact that the merchants stay open for the entire event,” she said. This year’s cruise nights continue through Oct. 12, according to Saults.

Richard Smith, also a member of the South 71 Cruisers board of directors, said the group will host the first annual “Main Street Car Show” May 15 in Belton. The next cruise night is May 28.

In Ottawa, KS, car enthusiasts look forward to the annual Ole Marais River Run car show, which attracts as many as 600 classic cars and street rods. This year’s event is Sept. 18-19. In Baldwin City, KS, a monthly car cruise and barbecue, hosted by Antiques on the Prairie, is slated for the first weekend of each month.

Summer steam engine and tractor shows usually devote a healthy part of their exhibit space to antique cars. The Old Threshers Reunion in Mount Pleasant, IA, the largest of such shows, also features antique cars and trucks. The vehicles cruise the grounds daily, and are displayed in a special automotive building. Other civic celebrations and festivals feature car exhibits.

Throughout Mid-America there are meets and shows for clubs that represent specific manufacturers and models, such as Model A Fords, Thunderbirds, Corvettes, MGs, Volkswagen beetles, and hundreds more. The Antique Auto Club of America and its regional chapters hold well-attended meets.

How it started. Eichhorn began his Packard project in 1993 with this partial body, frame and springs.

Packard ‘Resto Rod’
Out of the thousands of collector cars out there, one special vehicle stood out last July at a cruise night in Belton. It was a gleaming white Packard sedan, early 1930s vintage. Parked among more than 400 antiques, classics and street rods on Main Street, it attracted a steady stream of admirers.

Although it looked like an authentic antique, a closer look revealed a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, automatic transmission and oversized tires. It was, in today’s auto/collector parlance, a “resto rod.” The car had a name — “Snow White” — and it began life as a 1932 Packard Light Eight 900 Sedan, of which only about 4,500 were produced.

Ron Eichhorn. is the car’s owner/restorer. A former sales executive in the financial services industry, Eichhorn now devotes much of his life to his passion: collecting, restoring and selling old cars. Although he has restored several street rods and antiques, Snow White is his finest accomplishment.

“I’ve always loved cars, especially rods and muscle cars,” he said. “With the Packard, I wanted to build a car that you could get in and comfortably take long trips.”

Eichhorn began the Packard project in 1993 when he acquired a rusty carcass consisting of a partial body, frame and springs. Only an expert in antique Packards would have recognized the hulk for what it once was. And no one (except Eichhorn) could visualize what it would become.

For the next three years, working in his barn on 13 acres in the southern part of Kansas City, Eichhorn assembled parts and pieces.

“I kicked out the horses to make room for automobiles,” he said.”
An engine and transmission were acquired from a 1976 Cadillac. “This was the last 400-cubic-inch engine Cadillac made,” Eichhorn said.

Other parts and sections of the car would be fabricated by craftsmen all over the country, with the car coming together in Kansas City. The finished resto rod sports an alarm system, cruise control, front and rear air conditioning and a Sony 10-disc CD/cassette stereo system.

Ron Eichhorn and his Packard “Retro Rod,” a head-turner at car shows and cruises throughout Mid-America

When the car was finished in 1996, a photo appeared in the newsletter of the Packard owners’ club and all hell broke loose. Just to see the modified Packard in the publication infuriated some of the purists, who considered it unthinkable that a resto rod could find a place of honor at one of their shows.

Eventually, the members took into consideration the “bucket of bolts” that Eichhorn started with, and the club decided Eichhorn’s show car was better than the possible ditch filler it might have become. Today, the club has a special show category for resto rods such as Eichhorn’s.

Eichhorn regularly fires up the mighty Caddy engine and cruises to car shows and other events, putting more than 4,100 miles on the car to date. The pearlescent finish is washed with clean water and wiped dry with a diaper before each show. Wherever it appears, the “Snow White Retro Rod” attracts a new set of admirers.

Eichhorn doesn’t rest on his laurels. He’ll sell the Packard if he gets the right offer. Collecting and restoring old cars is like an addiction, and Eichhorn said he has been hooked for years.

Other cars that Eichhorn currently owns include a 1933 Dodge DP 4-door with side mounts, a 1934 REO Flying Cloud Six 3-window rumble coupe, a 1941 Chevrolet Master Deluxe Coupe street rod; a 1943 Buick Special 2-door hardtop, two 1967 Plymouth Belvedere IIs, and a recently acquired 1968 AMC Javelin with a 383 V-8 and 4-speed. Eichhorn also enjoys driving a 1997 Harley Heritage soft tail motorcycle.

“I especially enjoy driving around the country to buy old cars and parts,” he said. “The collectors are a great bunch of people.”

Eichhorn said he also collects automobilia, including signs, antique gas pumps, etc. plus a large collection of die-cast cars and Texaco items. Other antiques in his collection include two antique barber chairs and other “barberiana,” and antique juke boxes.

Restored Skylark marks company’s anniversary

Robert Blakesley’s 1953 Buick Skylark. Designed by Harley Earl, the Skylark celebrated the Buick Division’s 50th anniversary.

Another car that drew admiring eyes at the Belton Car Cruise last summer was a 1953 Buick Skylark. Unlike the Packard retro rod, the Skylark was completely stock, down to its special factory-installed spoke wheels, tapered side molding, leather seats and metallic Victoria Maroon finish.

Thompson, from the South 71 Cruisers board of directors, helped me tracked down the owner. Robert Blakesley of Kansas City, KS owns the classic car. He’s a retired welder-pipefitter with Colgate-Palmolive and acquired the Buick in 1986.

“The Skylark had its own production line in 1953,” he said. “Designed by Harley Earl, the car was specially built to celebrate Buick’s 50th anniversary. Only 1,690 Skylarks were made.”

Blakesley’s car needed restoration work when he bought it.

“It had a little over 60,000 miles on it,” he said. “Some (restoration) work had been done, but not all that good.”

Blakesley was able to use his welding skills, completing some of the mechanical work himself. Other projects were farmed out, including the interior. Today the Buick is clean, but Blakesley doesn’t consider it to be showroom-perfect. It’s no “trailer queen,” as Blakesley drives it to car shows and cruises throughout Mid-America.

“It’s my only show-car,” he said, “although I also have an Italian motorcycle I’m interested in taking to motorcycle shows this summer.” Blakesley’s 1976 LaVerda 1000-cc motorcycle attracts admirers, most of whom have never seen one like it. Blakesley hinted that if he could find some shows that featured both cars and motorcycles, he would display both vehicles this summer.

Clubs and sources
The Antique Automobile Club of America, founded in 1935, boasts more than 60,000 members and 400 regional clubs worldwide. The AACA is dedicated to perpetuating the memories of early automobiles by encouraging their history, collection, and use.

Headquartered in Hershey, PA, the AACA maintains a museum with more than 90 historic cars, and publishes a magazine, Antique Automobile, along with other publications. A library and research center provides information about thousands of automobiles.

National AACA meets are scheduled May 5-7 in Roanoke, VA, May 26-28 in Greenwood, PA, and June 17-18 in Rochester, MN. Regional clubs host shows and tours, also.

In addition to the AACA, clubs devoted to particular makes and models of cars and trucks serve as information exchanges and display venues throughout the U.S. In Missouri, Kansas and surrounding states, a total of 264 of these clubs can be found on

Fans of antique cars and automobilia, both foreign and domestic, will find a directory of sources and website links at is an online source for antique, classic and exotic collector cars. Shoppers can access ads relating to hundreds of makes and models, with descriptions, prices and pictures.

Hemmings Motor News, published for more than 50 years in Bennington, VT, is a popular source of news about antique and classic automobiles, clubs, events, and parts. For information, go to or call 1-800-227-4373, ext. 550.

Automobiles will always be associated with the freedom and independence. Despite increasing fuel prices, our love of cars is unlikely to diminish any time soon.

Discover Mid-America founder and Senior Contributing Editor Ken Weyand files regular reports on notable Midwest destinations. He can be reached at

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