Utica — This quiet Macomb County town, once known as the mushroom capital of Michigan, heats up each August when car lovers and owners turn Auburn Road into Gasoline Alley for a day.
The 2016 gathering, thinned in numbers by on-again, off-again rain, attracted some unusual rides, from LaSalles to a Willys Wagoneer trimmed for a safari, to stunning replicas of Indy race cars.
Carter Crompton placed his two racer replicas in front of show sponsor USA Tire, alongside a 1941 Willys rod and Jim Young’s 1955 Ford gasser.
Crompton, a longtime racing enthusiast and special car collector from Clio, Mich., was showing replicas of a 1962 Watson Roadster and a 1933 Miller Indy car. A.J. Watson, Crompton said, built the original roadster which won the famous 500 with Rodger Ward at the wheel in 1962. It had a qualifying speed of 144.2 mph, according to its sign.
Crompton’s other car, a sleek and compact 1933 Miller only recently completed by builder Jim Mann of Elkhart, Ind., debuted at Bay Harbor, Mich. in June. Crompton and his family re-enacted a last race lap there before enjoying a winner’s circle welcome.
The retired teacher said he has worked with Jim Mann over the years and when a project was under way, Crompton would drive down to Indiana periodically to oversee its progress and write yet another check.
The other side of the Willys rod, Jim Young of Burton, Mich. sat on a folding chair behind his 1955 Ford two-door sedan gasser. It was his dream as a teenager to have a car like this to upgrade and drag race. Four years ago he found the Ford and started working on it at what he calls Jim’s Garage Shoppe. Young fitted the car with seats from a 1964 Ford Galaxie; a friend brought over a replacement windshield. Heavily modified with a 430-plus horsepower 1970 Ford Cobra Jet motor and Ford C6 transmission, Young’s gasser is ready to compete next month at the Milan (Michigan) Dragway.
“It was rated at 430 horsepower, but I think that’s debatable,” Young said, adding he thought 450 was a more accurate reading.
Cadillacs belonging to Hylber and Craig Sandvit of Sterling Heights are both powered by 1976 Cadillac 500-inch V-8s, which are much younger than their host cars and probably not up to Young’s 430-horsepower race.
But a newer engine encouraged Hylber Sandvit to take trips in his like-new 1947 Cadillac Series 62 Sedanette, a car he has owned for more than 20 years. In addition to its 1976 V-8, the fastback has power brakes and a modern Chevrolet rear end.
Sandvit’s son Craig owns a 1937 LaSalle which he also has had for some two decades. Sandvit said the LaSalle was found “completely rundown” in a Detroit warehouse. An updated engine plus re-chromed bumpers and trim and a paint job using a Chrysler color have turned the LaSalle into a beautiful, drivable timepiece.
Dan Dennis did not have beautiful in mind when he took a decrepit 1949 Willys Wagoneer, replaced its floor and about half the exterior sheet metal and painted it beige using a roller.
Dennis, of Shelby Township, said he finished the Willys (a.k.a. Head Hunter) for the Gasoline Alley show and will offer it for Detroit’s Autorama next spring.
“I do one every year – this is my eighth,” Dennis said. “I start from scratch and fabricate what I need” – which in the case of Head Hunter included a lot of body work plus the seats, now covered in faux zebra skin. Dennis said he uses as much recycled material as he can and is ready now to find his next project.
When Bob Dowell traveled to Florida eight years ago, he planned to buy a Packard. He returned home to Chesterfield Township empty-handed and thinking about a 1930 LaSalle he had seen for sale at a car show back in Florida. He waited. He thought more about it. Finally he called the LaSalle owner and asked if the rumble-seat coupe still was for sale.
The two-tone 1930 LaSalle now resides in Chesterfield with Dowell and his 1933 LaSalle sedan street rod and 1930 LaSalle seven-passenger phaeton.
“I drive my cars everywhere,” Dowell said. “I recently took the seven-passenger to Lowe’s to buy lumber.”
Why own them if you don’t drive them, said Dowell.