Elegant classics, souped-up drag racers show off at Cars 'R' Stars

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — When he was 16 years old, Robert Gamble of Shelby Township owned a 1954 Ford Victoria. Forty-six years later, he bought another one just like it. Just like it, that is, except that this second Victoria needed a lot of restoration work.

Gamble found his second Victoria in Arizona, and after years in the desert sun, the car needed new paint, new glass, a new interior, and more.

“This has been my second-childhood,” Gamble said of the three-year project to bring new life to an old car. In the process, it seems, Gamble also rejuvenated himself, realizing that reaching retirement age can mean more than the end; it can mean a new beginning.

Gamble was among the classic car owners showing their vehicles at the annual Cars ‘R’ Stars show at the historic Packard Proving Grounds here. He said that while restoring his more than 50-year-old car, he decided to spice things up a little.

Though the car looks fairly stock, “I put in a 5.0-liter Mustang V8 engine and five-speed transmission,” Gamble said.

Adding to the fun Gamble was having with his own restoration project was the fact that his 9-year-younger brother-in-law, Bob Malcolm of Waterford, was doing a hot-rod build project at the same time.

Malcolm started his from-scratch project — a 1932 Ford Roadster — about six months before Gamble launched into his Victoria project. And while they worked in separate garages in separate towns, they often compared notes and checked out each other’s progress.

Those comparisons took place over the course of the three years each worked on his car.

Malcolm’s hot rod, finished just two weeks before Gamble’s Victoria, was parked right next to Gamble’s Victoria at the Cars ‘R’ Stars show. Since finishing their cars, both brothers-in-law have joined the Funtime Cruisers car club and not only like to show their cars but to drive them. Sometimes fairly quickly.

In fact, Gamble admitted that on the way to the Packard Proving Grounds that early Sunday morning, the brothers-in-law enjoyed a couple of side-by-side stoplight acceleration challenges.

While the brothers-in-laws’ cars might be quicker than most, they’d be no match for the featured group of cars at the 2012 Cars ‘R’ Stars show. This year, show organizers got to use the remaining stretch of what once was the proving grounds 2.5-mile oval test track and they put that strip to good use, inviting a group of drag racing cars to park near the track’s old but now preserved timing tower.

In addition to showing their race cars, the drag car owners were invited to participate in a “cacklefest,” each in turn igniting the car’s souped-up engine and pumping the accelerator to blast out some loud exhaust notes.

Larry Edsall

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