Growling engines, shrieking sirens and doo-wop favorites poured out, but it was the revving of memories that drove the parade through downtown Modesto and the McHenry Avenue loop.
The American Graffiti Festival classic-car parade led off with a 1960 Cadillac El Dorado carrying Legends of the Cruise inductee and parade Grand Marshal Bart Bartoni. More than 1,000 cars followed him out in double lines, more or less, each taking a moment to savor history.
Drivers and grandkids waved. Many threw candy. Chevy pickups and Ford Mustangs seemed the favorites, but Bel Airs, Stingrays, Thunderbirds, pristinely restored Caddies and wide-striped Chargers all rolled the route as “Yakkity Yak” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” played on.
Paint jobs the Class of 1962 never would have seen, tricked out with suspensions they likely never imagined, bucked their way along to “The Great Pretender.”
This year’s parade took a 3.3-mile route, three times the distance of the previous 15 put on by the North Modesto Kiwanis Club, allowing for loosely strung crowds to easily fit in front-row seating.
Several 1970s-era cruisers said bringing McHenry into the parade path meant a lot. “We used to cruise McHenry. That’s where we went, so this is just a continuation for us,” said 1974 Downey grad Debra Parker, sitting along 17th Street. “Meeting people, that’s what it was all about then.”
Jim and Karen Dunger watched this year, but said they’re restoring a 1962 Ford Falcon to ride in 2015. They both had fond memories of cruising McHenry, but Jim’s dad, George Dunger, cruised in the 1950s when the route wound downtown. “He (George) used to cruise his car Friday night, then tear it apart, put in a new motor and race it in Stockton Saturday,” she said.
George Dunger recalled his days passing the 10th and I corner time and again in his yellow cords, saddle shoes and argyle socks. “Mostly I tried to keep out of sight of (police Officer) Applequist. That was the thing,” he said.
Victor Alvaraz sat with his sons on the McHenry curb, waiting to jump into their ride before the parade started. Alvaraz said he came this year because of the extension to his nostalgic route. “I’m glad we’re back to McHenry,” said the 1979 grad, who cruised in his blue Downey jacket. “We had our spot, Beyer had their corner.”
Son Victor Alvarez Jr. said he came for the cars. “They’ll never die. They’ll always be in style.”
John Lawton of Ripon drove a 1957 Ford Fairlane 300 back in the day. Friday, he drove the parade in a 1957 Ford Fairlane 500. “In my era, we used to go to the skating rinks and shows. That’s where we were cruising, of course, to see if there were girls. We already had the beer,” Lawton said with a laugh.
Memories of a 1956 Ford pickup taking a slow turn along McHenry brought Rod Lewis to the parade, in a ’56 “just like it.” He said, “We spent many a year on this route. This is where we came every night in summer.”