Survivor show helps restore a car owner's dreams

ST. CHARLES, Ill. — Like so many high school students, Mike Metrick’s car was in such sorry shape that it made more sense to sell it than to equip it with the new tires it needed. Why? Because four new tires would cost more than the entire car was worth.

Still, Metrick loved that car — a Toyota Celica Supra — albeit one with more than 100,000 miles on its odometer.

Instead of changing tires, Metrick changed cars. But he promised himself that someday, he’d reunite with his high school sweetheart.

For Metrick, someday came eight years ago when he found the car of his high school dreams while surfing vehicles for sale on the Internet. However, unlike his high school beater, this 1981 Supra was in immaculate condition. Instead of 100,000 miles of abusive wear and tear, this one had been driven only 19,000 miles by its original owner.

Before it was elevated to being a separate model in 1986, the Supra was the highest performance version of the Toyota Celica, a fastback coupe that looks like it would be right at home on a European autobahn. While Celicas were powered by four-cylinder engines, the Supra carried Toyota’s heralded inline six

Metrick flew to Pennsylvania to buy the car — and for what seemed to be a very reasonable price ($9,000) — and then drove his Supra home to north suburban Chicago. In the ensuing eight years, Metrick has driven the car another 5,000 miles, including a 120-mile roundtrip from his home to the third annual Survivor car show here at the Pheasant Run resort.

Metrick’s car doesn’t look three decades old. It looks like it just rolled away out of a Toyota dealer’s new car showroom, which is the point of the Survivor car show and judging held here early each summer. Preservation rather than restoration — and never, ever modification or customization — is the goal for a growing group of car collectors.

Not only are such original cars coveted as rolling time capsules, as benchmarks for those who have no option but to restore a decrepit classic, but the value of pristinely preserved classics is escalating quickly and bidders battle to take them home when they become available at collector car auctions.

Metrick, who is in his early 40s, is not a car collector. The ’81 Supra is his only “hobby” car. But he brought it to the Survivor show because “it would be a source of pride to get it recognized” for its wonderfully preserved originality and, he added, because it is so rare to see Japanese imports at classic car gatherings.

Of the 100 cars being judged here for official Survivor status, only two — Metrick’s ’81 Supra and an ’88 Supra owned by Lynn Greger of Hortonville, Wis. — are Japanese imports.

Other than those and a European contingent comprising a pair of BMWs, a Mercedes-Benz and a DeLorean, the rest are American classics, including a 1948 Packard acquired just three months ago, a 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air that the original owner drove up from Oklahoma just for this show, and an eclectic variety of cars that might have been uninspiring family sedans back in the ’60s or ’70s but now are treasured for surviving the decades so well.

The Survivor show is organized by the same team that nearly 40 years ago created Bloomington Gold, a car show and certification designed to encourage owners of Chevrolet Corvettes to maintain their cars in showroom shape.

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at ledsall@cox.net.