As Brian Slimmon backs his 1973 Corvette Stingray out of his Elmira garage, the ground trembles and the quiet evening air is filled with the roar of the car’s dual exhaust. The self-professed perfectionist has done all the work on the car himself; from rebuilding the engine to replacing the interior, countless hours of work have gone into restoring and preserving the car he has owned since he was 21 years old.
“Today you look at a car and it’s hard to tell a Mazda from a Chevy in design. They’re all basically the same and you really have to look hard at the car to find out what it is,” he says, comparing modern cars to the classic muscle car that sits in his driveway.
“But back then, you could tell a Dodge from a Ford from a block away. They were very distinct, whether it was the family car or the muscle car.”
Every spring, love is in the air – and for car enthusiasts, that love is for their classic automobile or hot rod that has spent the past six months under cover in their garage, safely stowed away from the salt and the snow that the harsh Canadian winters can produce.
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But now, deep in the throes of summer, this is the time when the tops come down and the classic cars roll out of their imposed hibernation.
Forget barbecues and beers by the lake, for car lovers, summer is the time for Model Ts and hot rods, Corvettes and convertibles.
Waterloo Region is a hotspot for these hot cars, in particular. It seems almost every weekend there is a classic car show in the area, from St. Clements annual Autorama and Linwoods Kruisin’ With the King in the township of Wellesley, to the annual Graffiti Car Show at the St. Jacobs Rod and Gun Club and the upcoming Moparfest in New Hamburg on Aug. 20 and 21.
Attendance at these events is routinely in the hundreds, proving annually that classic cars are exactly that – classics.
But what is it about the classic car that causes such a stir in enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike? Is it the appreciation of a bygone era when cars weren’t so much built as they were constructed into works of art?
Is it the love of a powerful engine and smooth ride? Or is it merely the nostalgia of days gone by?
These are questions that, when asked, lead to answers as varied as the cars themselves.
“You just wait until the spring comes and we get some rain to wash the salt off the roads so we can get back out in our cars,” said David Holmes, who races vintage MGs and owns seven classic cars, adding it’s horrible having to wait for warmer weather.
“It makes you want to live in California where you can drive the thing all year round. It’s very hard putting them away in the wintertime.”
The appeal is cross-generational, according to Holmes. Retirees like him want to buy them because they remind them of their youth when gas was cheap and cars were fast, but the draw of classic cars exists even in those not yet old enough to reach the gas pedal.
“I’ve driven by schools and seen young kids all turn around and look at these cars,” he laughed. “I see that all the time, there is just something attractive about them.”
For some, the cars become their life and they make a career out of recovering and resurrecting old cars.
For others, like Bill Perrin, it’s merely a beloved hobby that started back when he was just a teenager.
Perrin started rebuilding cars when he was 13 by hauling old wrecks back to his father’s farm outside of Palmerston. He would fix them up and sell them, but the last time he sold a car that he rebuilt was in 1984.
“Once I built them I didn’t want to sell them anymore,” he said.
Perrin worked as the distribution manager for Home Hardware for 42 years before retiring a few years ago. Throughout his career he enjoyed going out to his garage at the end of a 50- or 60-hour work week to rebuild classic cars.
He owns two Dodge Coronet’s and two short-box Dodge pickup trucks, including a rare Dodge Lil’ Red Express which were only built in 1978 and 1979.
“This is a hobby. I’d come home at night and go to the garage and sometimes you would spend 10 minutes other times you’d work two hours on cars,” he said with a laugh.
There likely isn’t just one answer to the question of why classic cars remain a summertime staple and why hundreds – if not thousands – of people make their way to at least one classic car show every summer.
As Slimmon suggests, maybe these cars are simply a reminder of how fun it is to get behind the wheel and just drive – something that we’ve all lost sight of in light of demands for fuel efficiency, increased highway safety, and the development of smarter computer technology that can literally park our cars for us.
Maybe they’re just a lot more fun.
“This car is a rush to drive,” Slimmon said of his 650-horsepower Corvette. “It’s a bit of a thrill.”