Thursday was a spa day for cars at the Fairgrounds in Hamburg, where proud collectors were sudsing, waxing and buffing their cream-puff customs ahead of the annual Cavalcade of Cars show.
The show, which will run through Sunday inside the Agri-Center, features more than 100 hot rods, custom and classic vehicles trucked in from Canada, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Ohio.
A black 1969 Camaro SuperSport stood cool and gleaming in the center of the arena while owner Jim Moonan hovered. He had a cotton rag in his hand and there were beads of sweat on his brow.
“I’m kind of known for being crazy,” said Moonan, 67. “I’ve been doing this for 35 to 40 years. When you have a car like this – where you can see the undercarriage – everything needs to be clean. This is pretty much a show car, a high-dollar car. It is considered in pristine condition.”
In 1969, Moonan’s Camaro sold for $3,740. Its current value, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association, is $90,000. Moonan, married and the father of eight grown children, was cleaning the mirrors positioned underneath the car.
“This is an attention-getter because of the way it is displayed,” he said. “Not many cars are done in totality like this. Look in the mirrors. See the gas tank in the rear, the chrome bars, the suspension?”
Since the recession of 2009, the popularity of collectible cars has surged, according to the NADA. Fueling the boom are baby-boomer hobbyists looking to live the dreams they put on hold when raising their families.
“This is what we owned when we were younger,” said Andy Sackett, car show promoter. “And then we got married, had kids and put them through college. We couldn’t afford the cars anymore. Now that the kids are out of the house, we have the money to buy cars again. It brings back what we did in our youth.”
For 27 years, Sackett and his wife Gail published “Show and Cruise News,” a monthly tab reporting on cruise nights, car shows and club events in Western New York. An event calendar from last summer indicated 35 cruise nights in Western New York in one week alone.
“Cruise nights in Western New York are second only to Ohio,” Sackett said. “Ohio has the most cruise nights of any state in the union.”
Adding to the interest are cable television shows like “Monster Garage” with Jesse James, which debuted on the Discovery Channel in 2002, and The Learning Channel’s “American Hot Rod.”
In January 2013, Tom Partridge of Angola and his 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona appeared on “Graveyard Carz,” a custom car restoration show on the Velocity Channel. The car made the cover of Mopar Collectors Guide in October 2010.
In the Agri-Center, Partridge, 51, maneuvered his bullet-nosed car into a spot in front of the arena’s concessions stands.
“As you can see, it’s the only car here with a big wing on the back,” said Partridge, a technology instructor in the Gowanda Central School District. “It’s still kind of weird, when you think how long I wanted this car. It’s got a great color combination and it wound up on a TV show being restored.”
A member of WNY Mopars, Partridge became interested in custom cars as a boy growing up in North Buffalo. He recalled walking to school and passing a car showroom on Delaware Avenue that displayed a white 1970 Plymouth Superbird .
“I liked the car so much that my dad built me a Pinewood Derby car with a wing and pointed front end for an Indian Guides group we were in,” Partridge said. “I still have that car.” In 2008, Partridge purchased his Daytona for $45,000 without a motor, interior furnishings, windows or floor.
“Investment-wise, this is a good car to have. This was the first American production car to go over 200 miles per hour,” said Partridge.
Also on display: a racing green metallic 1968 Dodge Charger GSS, one of 48 made; a 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle SS, built for drag racing and called Headknocker; and a modified Volkswagen Beetle with an engine under the front hood.
Headknocker – the Chevelle from Scewczyk brothers Dan, Rick, Ron, John and Joe – features a series of flames crawling across six coats of body paint.
At the arena entrance, Richard “Duke” Emerson helped exhibitors to register.
The custom car collector photographed custom cars for “Show and Cruise News.” He remembered paying $2,700 for his first “new” car, a 1957 Chevrolet he called Black Mariah.
“I’m 73 years old, and I haven’t stopped with cars since I was 14,” he said.
Emerson, who is married and lives in Niagara Falls, was a high school senior when he bought the Chevrolet. Today, he has a 1936 Plymouth P20 with 278,000 miles that’s been in 26 states and Canada. His dad had a 1936 Ford convertible with a greyhound hood ornament.
“He used to let me shift it,” Emerson said. “‘Watch that dog,’ he’d say. ‘Wherever that dog goes, we’re going.’”
Cavalcade of Cars runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Fairgrounds in Hamburg, 5820 South Park Ave.