More characters than a bar at midnight

Want good stories and interesting people, and cars too? Forget a bar&emdash;go to a cruise

At the front gate of the cruise night, a guy trying to explain the whole thing says, "at least it keeps us out of bars." Though, you wonder if you'd ever have a chance of meeting such an eclectic group in a bar.

The Rouge Valley chapter of the Antique and Classic Car Club of Canada meets every second Sunday of the month; they gather in a local lot, back their cars in, play old music, collect money for charities like Children's Wish.

But mostly, they talk about their cars.

There's a story behind every car here. A fifty-one Pontiac that originally belonged to the owner's father and has been driven ever since. A '38 Buick that's been hauled in from down south, without the radio that's taken four years to track down. (It's on its way, finally.)

Going to one of these "cruises"&emdash;cruise being a misnomer since there's no real cruising involved; "car parks" just doesn't have the right ring&emdash;shows you just how far automotive technology has come. Only a handful of the hundred cars have seatbelts, and none of them have crash protection to speak of; one two-tone vintage Ford has a rumble seat which, should you be in a crash, would impale you on a big metal beam six inches from your chest. Most of our four-bangers outmuscle the old V-8s present, too.

Then again, the small-block engines in the fifties' Chevys form the building blocks for many of today's designs and many of today's so-called performance cars would be hard-pressed to keep up with some of the hot rods&emdash;heck, even some of the old Cadillacs&emdash;on display.

Never mind styling. Bloated and inefficient as they may be, the metal masterpieces on display hark back to an age where cars were sketched by designers, not molded by wind tunnels. The shapes are big, bold and expressive; colors swoop in and out of each other and chrome is laid out by the acre.

Gorgeous details abound. Hydraulic struts hold up engine covers in place of prop rods; door handles are real handgrips instead of flimsy flaps. Trunks have separate shelves for full-size spare tires; easy-to-use hydraulic jacks are used instead of our cumbersome wrench-driven ones. One Bel Air has two antennas jutting from the trunk, each nestled in a perfectly machined arrowhead. A gorgeous '57 Cadillac has its gas tank receptacle underneath a swing-up tail lamp.

The people that own these cars&emdash;and for the most part drive them every day&emdash;have stories at least as interesting as their cars'. Tam McDoom, a "professional auto finder," drove out to Kingston on a moment's notice to pick up a vintage VW&emdash;"I had to get there before the other guy," he explains. Bill Sherk, author of The Way We Drove, is driving an orange Mercury that's almost identical to the one he drove back in high school. He's actually found that one, but it's sitting in pieces on the floor of a barn. "Doing this instead," he says, "was easier." (His car, like many others, doesn't have hubcaps; he explains that removing them used to be the cheapest and easiest way to differentiate your car from your parents'.)

People from all walks of life are here. Seventy-six year-old guys that remember what they were driving fifty years ago. Teens in hot rods. A woman and her daughter in a thirties Ford with C R TOY stamped on the license plate. A group of people crammed into a Packard that they've driven in from Niagara Falls.

Sounds like fun? The best part is that you can find meets like this literally in your own backyard&emdash;there are dozens of ACCC chapters across the country, and they run similar events all the time; except for the $5-per-car charity donations asked for at the bigger events, going to one is also free.

All of which makes cruises like this one about the cheapest, closest, safest and most interesting automotive entertainment you can find. Check one out&emdash;heck, all you might have to do is look over your back fence.


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