News & Events
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.
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 dElegance, 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. Its 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.
Cruising shops and cruise nights
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 www.kars.com.
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 www.countryclassiccars.com 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 www.americanclasswix.net,
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. Its 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 years cruise nights continue through Oct. 12, according to
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 years 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
Packard Resto Rod
Although it looked like an authentic antique, a closer look
revealed a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, automatic transmission and
oversized tires. It was, in todays 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 cars 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.
Ive 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
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,
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.
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 Eichhorns
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 Eichhorns.
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 doesnt rest on his laurels. Hell 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
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 companys 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
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. Hes 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 Buicks 50th anniversary. Only 1,690 Skylarks were made.
Blakesleys car needed restoration work when he bought
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 doesnt consider
it to be showroom-perfect. Its no trailer queen, as
Blakesley drives it to car shows and cruises throughout Mid-America.
Its my only show-car, he said, although
I also have an Italian motorcycle Im interested in taking to motorcycle
shows this summer. Blakesleys 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
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 www.carestoration.com.
Fans of antique cars and automobilia, both foreign and domestic,
will find a directory of sources and website links at www.cantufind.com/vintage_cars.htm
CollectorCarTraderOnline.com 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 www.hemmings.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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