Hot rods still cool

Hundreds of souped-up classic cars show their stuff at fairgrounds

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor

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Bob Robinson said he remembers the exact moment he fell in love with cars. He was 7 and heard the vroom of an engine and then spotted the red hot rod.

“I was hooked,” the Portland man said Sunday after he examined a sparking purple 1923 Ford T-Bucket at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds. More than 550 souped-up rides were on display there over the weekend as part of the Northwest Street Rod Nationals Plus.

Now Robinson gets his car fix by building model toy cars. He gets inspiration for his models by frequenting cars shows.

“Guys in my generation were into cars,” he said. “If you cut me, I bleed motor oil.”

The T-Bucket Robinson checked out on Sunday afternoon was built by Tim Strouse of Boise, Idaho. The convertible featured an exposed engine and a bulb horn attached to the driver’s door.

Strouse said his favorite part of his expensive hobby is the look of awe on a child’s face when he takes the car out in public. It’s not about putting it on display in some building, he said, it’s about going on the road and getting the “head turns.”

“We like to take the car out and show it different places,” Strouse said. “I’ll let kids sit in the car, and mom and dad take pictures of them.”

Although he enjoys driving the car, he had it hauled from Boise to Clark County. Over long distances, it’s not the most comfortable ride, he said.

The street rods, custom cars and restored muscle cars at Sunday’s show spanned decades and seemed to include every color of the rainbow. A turquoise 1937 Ford Sedan with purple flames painted on it was parked near a white 1958 Chevrolet Corvette. Several yards away was a bright-orange 1952 Plymouth Cranbrook.

“They only made 700 of them in the three years Plymouth produced them,” said Jaye Johnson of Lake Tapps. Her husband, Ed Johnson, built the car last summer with his friend Sam Hughes in just 30 days. They had the car built in time to take it to the Hot August Nights car show in Reno last year, one of the biggest cars shows in the country.

“I started messing around with cars when I was 12,” Ed Johnson said. He also owns a 1938 Oldsmobile, but that’s still a work in progress.

As for Hughes, he had a few cars on display Sunday, including a race car and a convertible. “I own multiple different breeds,” he said.

Event organizers estimated that several thousand visitors paid to attend the street rod show, which started on Friday. They had a smaller-than-expected number of cars on display; last year there were about twice as many, said Fred Williams, the National Street Rod Association’s Northwest division director.

Williams said running the event on Fourth of July weekend might have played a role in the lower participation, and that he hopes more people support the show next year, which also is scheduled for the July 4th weekend.

Besides the car show, the event included about 20 automobile-part vendors and a swap meet.

Strouse, who brought his T-Bucket from Idaho, said a lot of the visitors he saw over the weekend were older men.

“These were the cars they grew up with, only better,” he said.