Antique car race chugs into town Klaxons beep at Westminster pit stop CENTRAL--Union Mills * Westminster * Sandymount * Finksburg

July 12, 1993|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Contributing Writer

They came into the Cranberry Mall parking lot, one by one, apparitions from automotive ages past, on the last lap of a coast-to-coast race that began in Huntington Beach, Calif., on June 27 and ended Saturday in Norfolk, Va.

The 4,250-mile Interstate Batteries Great American Race, billed as the world's richest and most challenging antique automobile race, paused briefly Friday in Westminster for a pit stop.

Crowds braved the 96-degree heat to catch a glimpse of these relics as their motors chugged, purred and putted them to the pit stop site.

Ooohs, ahhs and applause arose from the crowd as one car after the other came to a halt in the parking lot.

Great flared fenders, massive jutting or raked cowls, running boards, giant headlamps, lap robes, visors, real trunks attached to the rear and enough room in the back seat to hold four or five people caused endless chatter.

L "Why are all the cars black?" a child asked his grandfather.

"They're dark because that's what was considered proper in those days," he said.

Because all the cars in the race are pre-1942, the hot pink-and-gray numbers of the 1950s weren't to be found that afternoon.

The scene of frenzy, beeping klaxon horns and excited auto buffs trying to snap pictures or have a word with the drivers complicated this very brief respite from the road.

But everyone managed to hold their tempers in spite of the heat.

The first to arrive over the line was Johnny Cole at the wheel of Dan Simkins' 1937 midnight blue Packard touring car. The time was 3:11 p.m.

'Blast of a lifetime'

Mr. Simkins and Mr. Cole, both residents of Show Low, Ariz. were busy recording the time of the run to Westminster after a lunch stop in Hagerstown. After a quick stretch of the legs and a cursory check of the Packard, they were back in the car, getting ready to leave.

"This weather makes running the car a little difficult," said Mr. Simkins. "It was real hot in the West, but thankfully we missed the floods by a day."

The car has an eight-cylinder, 120-horsepower engine that gets only 14 miles to the gallon. But that isn't something Mr. Simkins worries about.

"The crucial thing to avoid on a hot day is the car boiling over," he said. He was looking forward to the end of the race and described his trip so far as a "the blast of a lifetime."

He and his partner were contemplating the leisurely ride home once the race was ended.

"Hey, when the race is over, I have another 3,000 miles to go," he said with a laugh.

With a throaty roar of the engine, Mr. Cole gently eased the car into gear and began to move on to the next stop in Newark, Del., where all the drivers and cars would spend the night.

As quickly as it arrived, the vehicular refugee from the second term of Franklin D. Roosevelt was off in a roar of applause and good wishes. Elapsed time: eight minutes.

As cars departed, more cars arrived. Even a vintage red 1941 Harley-Davidson motorcycle with sidecar, an entrant from Fort Worth, Texas, pulled in with its riders looking a little worse for the heat.

For Harry Moore, a Westminster resident, the sight of a 1918 Stutz Bearcat sparked a few memories of his own.

"My neighbor's dad had a Stutz and my dad had a Chrysler," he said.

"I can't tell you how many times my friend and I raced our dads' cars to Beverly Beach from Washington, D.C."

Not all of the interest was centered on the arriving competitors.

Neighboring auto buffs and members of clubs, such as the Gettysburg Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America, brought some of their cars and put them on display.

One that drew the attention of the onlookers was a 1932 Plymouth sports roadster owned by Walter T. Haines Jr. of Westminster. With its red wire wheels and highly polished radiator, its presence caused a wave of nostalgia to roll through the crowd.

L "I drove a baby like that soooooo many times," said one man.

And then the technocrats arrived.

"Power brakes?"

"Would you lift the hood?"

"Four cylinders?"

"And the color is desert sand, not cream," said Mr. Haines, answering an admirer's question.

These car owners are touchy on such technical points.

There's only one way to drive this car and that's up," he said, joking about its increasing value.

"How much is this beauty worth?" asked a man in the crowd.

"Well, let me say this much, I've turned down an offer of 35 grand."

Don't touch

Antique car owners have one rule that they don't like to see broken: No touch. And to warn against infractions, several of the cars had not-so-discreetly posted signs like the one on a 1941 black Chevrolet special deluxe sedan with wheel skirts.

"Warning Health Hazard. Climbing on or touching this vehicle can cause fat lip, severe nose bleed or fractured limbs."

Some signs were humorous. Attached to the license plate of Bob and Elma Maul's 1941 Studebaker:

"I may be old but I still get hot."

The oldest car on display was Grason Cooper's 1904 Oldsmobile. With a gas tank that holds only four gallons and with a range of 100 miles, the little car looks more like a buggy.

"It's a curved--- model built on a buggy chassis," said Mr. Cooper of Hampstead, dressed appropriately in a black derby.

"Since I restored it, my wife, Helen, and I have driven it 12,000 miles."

Norm Miller, chief executive officer of Interstate Batteries, scanned the scene and spoke about what the drivers on the road were facing.

"We have about 71 cars left in the race from the 100 that left California two weeks ago," he said.

"The weather is tough on these machines, but everyone seems to love it. No matter where we go, the crowds come out and it helps me sell batteries."

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