From hot rod to low rider, classic cars take center stage in Modesto

June 8, 2008 

Thousands milled between fender and hood, Ford and Chevy, hot rod and lowrider, at Modesto Junior College on Saturday at the 10th annual American Graffiti Car Show & Festival.

Greg Williams of Mariposa sat in a lawn chair near his 1968 Ford Torino Squire station wagon. The original owner, Williams bought it as a special order from Gastel Ford in Merced.

"The No. 1 question I'm asked is how long did it take to restore it? It's never been restored. It's always been this way," he said.

Williams paid $4,317.73 on a $119.32-a-month plan. The first bill, a window sticker and old photos, all as immaculate as the car, were neatly arranged in a small photo album.

"This guy's world famous," said Gary Sanders of Turlock, a self-proclaimed Ford fanatic, slapping Williams on the back. "He's a super stock (drag racing) national record holder. How many times? Eleven times?"

"Sixteen times," Williams answered.

"I have a '64 Falcon Futura I drag race -- junk parts on wheels," Sanders said.

"But it's fun," Williams said.

"It's a fun 40-year collection of rolling junk. Sometimes, going over 100 miles per hour, I wonder what I'm doing."

Williams bought his Ford wagon to tow one of his early dragsters, a '65 Falcon. The wagon is one of 68 made with the brown-and-wood-tone body package, but it's the only one known to be in show condition. It has more than 300,000 miles on the engine.

Immaculate, factory perfect cars made up one piece of Saturday's show. The larger group was more monster than mint -- custom street rods that say more about the owner than the factory, said John Sanders, past show president.

A Kiwanis fund-raiser

Put on by the North Modesto Kiwanis, the show is the group's largest fund-raiser and is the only one in the country allowed to use the Universal Studios-owned name "American Graffiti."

"Street rods are open to a wide variety," John Sanders said. "A '37 Chevy may be modified to something different, have a different personality, with nothing resembling the original but the body. A/C, power-steering, they could be completely modern inside."

Tim Dalton, who owns a custom metal polishing shop, The Shining, in Riverbank, said he probably has worked on half of the 600 cars in the show. His street rod is a 1931 Ford Coupe A in body alone. There is a taxi sign on the roof that lights up, a drag racing wing on the back, a narrowed rear-end for larger tires and a "highly modified" Chevy small-box engine popping through the hood.

"You'd call it a rat rod," Dalton said. "I was young, no money, willing to use whatever part I could find in the yard and adopt it."

Little Courtney Blanco, 4, liked them all.

"I like race cars. Pink race cars. They get to go fast," she said, reclining on the grass with her family. Dad has a '61 Chevy C-10 in the family's Riverbank garage.

But that doesn't impress Courtney: "I don't like trucks."

Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at mshea@modbee.com or 578-2391.

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