Cruisin’ for compliments

Classic cars and hot rods jam Main Street, thrill fans




Vancouver shrugged off rain early Saturday, but there was plenty of thunder to come.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of classic muscle cars, street rods and other waxed-up beauties rumbled up and down Main Street in the all-out, no-apologies spectacle dubbed “Cruisin’ the Gut.”

The city’s annual ode to carefree summer nights, days of cheap gasoline and America’s drive-through culture packed the roadway, from beyond Fourth Plain Boulevard (and the hoppin’ Dairy Queen restaurant) to Sixth Street, downtown.

From almost midday to nightfall, a steady parade of chrome, tail fins, chop-tops, exposed engines and naked horsepower swept through Vancouver’s traditional asphalt heart. It passed the newly reopened Kiggins Theatre, which offered free screenings of the 1973 gem “American Graffiti,” a film that captured the car cult in full glory.

For car enthusiasts, it was a rare chance to see (and hear and smell) prized machines in motion.

For owners, the event offered the rapt attention of an appreciative crowd.

Such as Brenda McAllister of Orchards. She stood curbside at the DQ and nursed a large cup of raspberry lemonade. While others in a large throng of folding chairs conferred in admiration of this or that model, she took a direct approach.

“Is that paint job gorgeous? Yeah, buddy! You got it goin’ on!” McAllister shouted at the driver of a metallic-black, low-slung ’50s Plymouth sedan. He gave a thumbs-up and smiled back.

“Look at that ’57. That is cher-ry!” she hooted in joy.

“I’m telling ’em all, they’re lookin’ good. Why not?” McAllister explained. A ’73 graduate of Evergreen High School, she and other alums had linked on Facebook and were reliving old times.

“We owned the gut then,” said McAllister, in an Evergreen T-shirt. “This was all of it, right here,” she said, waving at Main Street. “Every high school came together here: Columbia River, Hudson’s Bay, Evergreen.”

Back then, she turned heads in her own ’69 Corvette, “my ‘little red Corvette,’ like Prince (sang),” she said. On this Saturday? She drove herself to Arnada “in a sensible car, for a woman in her fifties,” she said with a laugh and without elaboration.

Her old Evergreen pal Dan Washburn, now living in Vancouver Heights, had rolled in a more modest white ’61 Rambler “with fold-down seats,” he said. “It was 10 years old. It cost me 100 bucks. It was in pretty good stock shape.”

Washburn marveled at the string of lovingly polished Camaros, Mustangs, ’Vettes, GTOs and other cars that now would fetch six figures, he reckoned.

He observed that newly revived “classic” models of Mustangs and their ilk offer plenty of horsepower and decent fuel mileage, while “you couldn’t get 6 miles per gallon out of those.”

No telling what economy drivers got on Saturday, when it took a good hour, maybe an hour-and-20-minutes, just to reach Sixth Street from the DQ, one participant said. No one seemed worried.

Taking it all in was Cruisin’ the Gut founder Phil Medina, a Vancouver native and Carter Park resident who cobbled the event from scratch just two years ago. Now, it’s exploded through word-of-mouth as a must-do, must-see event across the metro area.

“It’s a moving car show, that’s what it is,” Medina said. “That’s what makes it really nostalgic. It’s not like a car show, where you have to walk around and look at ’em.”

Rather, this was a glorious stream of midnight blues, teals and deep plums, bright yellows and tangerines and buff browns.

History of all kinds

In the front corner of the DQ lot, Rich and Kimberlee Elbon of La Center parked their sweet ’53 Buick Super, a lowered cherry-red looker with a real, black hardtop roof. They watched the endless loop, between a couple laps of their own.

“It’s a great event, isn’t it?” said Kimberlee Elbon, raised in Vancouver before she finished school at Battle Ground High in 1974. By then, she was a regular on Vancouver’s Gut, “and we’d go down to Lower River Road, and all that,” she said.

Five years ago, the couple found the Super for sale, online, and asked more details from its Alaskan owner. The first photos emailed back showed a smiling stranger posing with the car. Turns out it was Wasilla’s lady mayor — yes, one Mrs. Palin. The Buick is now dubbed “Sarah.”

Medina’s event has clearly mushroomed. By early afternoon, he and his fellow Kamikaze Club (based in Damascus, Ore.) members had given away 250 “goody bags” to collect donated food. He hoped to double last year’s take of 1,600 pounds, he said.

A year ago, concern arose when some drivers sent a blast of burning rubber with a “burnout” on Main. Now, warning signs every block or so (noting a $500 fine) and quick shouts from spectators seemed to keep this year’s group in check. A simple, welcome gunning of the engine was plenty enough.

The cruise appealed to more than just the middle-age bunch. It made for great photographs for Wilsonville, Ore., resident Sharron Trottier, joined by partner Jerry Cody, both 31. She had stumbled across the event last year, and brought her parents along this time.

“He likes the ‘rat cars,’ I like the ‘finished ones,’ the older ’Vettes and Bel-Airs,” Trottier said, snapping pictures from curb level at 11th Street, near the Kiggins Theater.

“It’s a blast. It’s the best thing you can do, for free,” she said.

Howard Buck: 360-735-4515 or