Street rods to roll into Manchester Auto event slated at carnival site NORTH * Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro

NEIGHBORS

August 25, 1993|By PAT BRODOWSKI

There's something irresistible about these models -- sleek curves, the jewel-like glamour of chrome, the throaty purr of a big V-8 engine.

We're talking street rods, one permutation of the American love for the automobile.

On Saturday, the firefighters of Manchester expect between 50 and 150 well-groomed models to zoom into town. They will park at the carnival grounds off York Street from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. It's the fire company's first Street Rod and Rock 'n Roll Show.

Street rods are a car customizer's playground. Revamping a pokey '29 or '30 Ford or Chevy into a "hot" car began in the 1940s in California, reaching the local scene during the '50s and '60s. Today, 60,000 members belong to the National Street Rod Association.

"Usually a V-8 is put in, plus chrome, cloth interior, and maybe some fuzzy dice from the rear view mirror," said Jerry Crowl, organizer of the Manchester show.

To display a car, just drive it in. The public can wander for free through the fantasy land of painted flames, wire wheels and chrome engines.

At 6 p.m. music by the Hubcaps will lure the lovers of '50s and '60s to an outdoor concert.

"The Hubcaps are based in D.C. and are probably the best '50s and '60s group you're going to hear perform on the East Coast," Mr. Crowl said. "They just finished a West Coast tour. They do three different sets with costume changes throughout."

It seems the Hubcaps and their fans enjoy turning back the clock.

"Most of the time when people see the Hubcaps, they come out in costume -- poodle skirts and leather jackets," Mr. Crowl said. In addition to door prizes announced throughout the night, he'll award gifts to those deemed "best dressed" in the '50s style.

All the prizes have been donated by Manchester and Hampstead merchants.

Tickets, required for the concert only, are $12.50 in advance or $15 at the door.

The event benefits the Manchester Fire Company. Information: Jerry Crowl, 374-2797.

*

The words "street rod" are music to Oliver "Nick" Scholte.

Street rod photos cover the walls of his Hampstead garage. There are cars he's wrestled from rusted abandonment. Cars speeding on a dirt racetrack, Nick Scholte at the wheel. Hot customized cars. The often-emulated "California Kid," a yellow three-window bug of a car featured on "Happy Days."

"The classic look. It's the design of the old cars" that fascinates him, Mr. Scholte says.

His first street rod was on the road in 1973. He's done street rods on commission since then.

Each takes years to build. Six rusting antiques sulk on the grass outside his garage, waiting for his magic.

He likes to put old car parts to work.

Two or three flathead engines, like metal pillows with wires bursting through a patina of dust and grease, are receiving attention.

"A lot of guys still run old flatheads. It's like a lawn mower engine; it has no valve covers," he says. "My car has the flathead engine, and, oh yeah, it WILL keep up in traffic."

In the garage, he's giving new life to the rusted chassis of a 1932 Ford.

"This was a refugee from the woods," says Mr. Scholte.

When he pulled it out of the snow, trees were growing out the windows. In his garage, you can look into the car and see your shoes through its floor.

Metal work is just part of the recipe for Mr. Scholte. Under the flawless red paint, the fenders of his current street rod bear his signatory scars. A bead of metal can be felt underneath. He took the best halves of two pairs of fenders and welded them together to create this set.

"I try to dig around to get old stuff to fix," he says. Like every facet of building street rods, this is due to personal preference.

Street rods have become popular. With the influx of reproduction parts, both metal and fiberglass, one can purchase parts enough to create an entire "antique" car. It's no longer a hobby dominated by ingenious mechanics rebuilding cars of the past.

Mr. Scholte remembers the street rods 30 years ago. "I guess the big thing was that guys couldn't afford [jazzy] cars and started getting old ones and hoppin' 'em up," he says, pointing to a photo. "Here's a Mercury with the top chopped down real low. You could call it freedom of expression."

Another freedom was speed.

"The '33 Ford. We always raced them years ago," he says. In the early '60s, they would compete wherever they wanted. One carload of mavericks racing through woods landed in a quarry. By '68, he says, the street scene had vanished.

Top-notch display cars 15 years ago went for $13,500. That has jumped to $21,500, even $33,500 today. Racing street rods is an expensive hobby, too. A bent fender can cost $700 to replace.

Only half of the usual 40 street rods show up at the racetrack now. Mr. Scholte blames the economy.

He still races. He has converted the family "grocery shopping" car, a '72 Mustang, into a stock car for weekend whirls on the Trailways dirt track near Hanover, Pa.

While racing declines, street rod shows for display cars have rapidly gained an audience. The national event in Ohio attracts 13,000 cars every year. At the regional show in York, Pa., usually 4,500 cars are shown.

There are 60,000 members in the National Street Rod Association, Mr. Scholte says.

One local club (there are at least three), the Liberty Street Rods, counts 17 members from Eldersburg, Westminster and Finksburg. President Frank Donato's specialty is mechanical and electrical systems.

"I like the uniqueness of each car, [particularly] the mechanical parts -- the engine, drive lines," he says.

And speed? Without stating a figure, he says, "Oh, yeah. That's the point. Some go very fast."

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