Summer in the City: Classic cars draw a crowd
BATAVIA – Don Kelley drove from Tonawanda to Batavia on Saturday, eager for the prospect to relive some of his youth.
Kelley, 67, strolled Main Street, which was closed for about five blocks so 300 classic cars could be showcased on Batavia’s main thoroughfare. The lineup of polished cars, many built more than a half century ago, was part of the annual Summer in the City celebration.
Kelley frequently goes to the “cruise-ins,” but Batavia’s show had two cars he had only seen in magazines. The biggest star of the show, in Kelley’s opinion, was a 1958 Edsel owned by Jim Johnson of Le Roy.
“It’s the first one I’ve ever seen in a car show,” Kelley exclaimed. “There aren’t many of them around.”
Kelley also lingered at a 1959 Ford with a retractable roof. “You don’t see many of these,” Kelley said about the car.
He saw an ad about the Batavia show in a classic car magazine. He was glad he made the drive to Batavia..
“It brings back a lot of memories,” he said.
Main Street was filled with car enthusiasts on Saturday. Car show coordinators Ed Engel and Jon McManus said the cars are a proven crowd magnet, dating back to Batavia’s former Wing Ding festival. The car show coordinators put ads in magazines about the show and visited other cruise-ins in the region, passing out flyers for the Batavia event.
“This is what brings in the people,” said Engel, who like McManus is a retired auto mechanics teacher for BOCES.
The Summer in the City celebration, which began Friday night, also featured live music, food and craft vendors, and amusement rides. Among the bands to perform were The Double Image Band, The Ghost Riders and Joey T & The Formula.
“This is the best way to sell Batavia,” Engel said. “Get the people out here so they can see the flowers and experience the atmosphere.”
In a stroll down Main Street, Engel was clearly proud of Main Street’s well-kept storefronts and sidewalks, with overflowing flowers along the way.
Ken Smith and his wife Vinnie of Elba were among the festival goers Saturday. They came to see the cars. Mr. Smith owns a 1940 Panel Delivery vehicle. He was most impressed Saturday with a gray Corvette from 1967.
“This brings a little money into Batavia,” Mr. Smith said. “It gets people out in the nice weather.”
Mr. Johnson, owner of the 1958 Edsel, held court in front of City Church, taking many questions from the public about his car. He bought it in 1972. He said it was the 304th Edsel built by Ford, and it was hand-crafted, manufactured on July 7, 1957. The royal blue metallic-car was originally sold by Attica Motors.
Johnson, a retired Batavia police officer, takes the Edsel to many car shows and he often wins the trophy for “best in show.” Ford made the Edsel from 1958 to 1960. It is a famous vehicle because of its oval-shaped grill.
“It’s the only car you can spot from a mile away,” Johnson said.
He keeps stuffed gorillas in the back seat of the car. The biggest one is named Black Willy. “He’s the protector of the car,” Johnson said.
Engel, the car show coordinator, also noted a 1962 Corvair, a car with the engine at the back end, instead of the front.
“It’s a cute little car,” Engel said. “Then Ralph Nader killed it.” Nader, the consumer advocate, believed the Corvair wasn’t safe. In 1965, he wrote Unsafe at Any Speed, a study that revealed that many American automobiles were unsafe, especially the Corvair.
Steve Gentile, 58, of Rochester likes the personality of the older cars. He brought a 1932 Ford, a three-window coupe — a “hot rod,” he said. Gentile is a member of the Street Machines of Rochester and about 10 members brought cars to the Batavia show. Gentile for 15 years also took a 1970 Chevelle – “a muscle car” – to shows several times a week.
Some peoples’ passion is golf or bowling,” Gentile said. “Mine is cars. It’s fun when you get a group of people together at a cruise. You meet people you don’t know. We all think cars are cool.”