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News / Clark County News

Cruise the Couve crowd revved up over cars old and new

Car event participants show off their hard work, prized possessions

By Jerzy Shedlock, Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published: July 20, 2019, 7:41pm
5 Photos
Six-year-old Eldon Girdini, from left, Eli Strom, 4, and Arlo Girdini, 8, cheer in awe at the vintage cars driving down Main Street during the Cruise the Couve event in Vancouver on Saturday.
Six-year-old Eldon Girdini, from left, Eli Strom, 4, and Arlo Girdini, 8, cheer in awe at the vintage cars driving down Main Street during the Cruise the Couve event in Vancouver on Saturday. (Moriah Ratner for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Saturday marked 30 years since Larry Southard bought a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air from a junkyard in Roseburg, Ore. He spent portions of the three decades restoring the classic auto, readying it for car shows.

Southard celebrated the anniversary by parading his Bel Air at Cruise the Couve, Vancouver’s annual cool-car event.

“I haven’t had it road ready, to my liking, all that long. I think I finished the interior in October, and I’m hoping to start taking it to a lot of car shows here in Vancouver,” said Southard.

“I went to (Cruise the Couve) last year, and I was just drooling over all the cars and couldn’t wait to get mine in there. It’s kind of actually a family event for us. We’re going to have three cars down here. None of them have air conditioning,” he said.

A smorgasbord of automobiles began cruising Main Street — from about 28th Street to Sixth Street — beginning early Saturday morning. The actual event started around 10 a.m., but car enthusiasts showed up hours earlier to get a good spot along the stretch of road.

People set up on both sides of Main, generally under the shade of a canopy or tree, breathing in exhaust fumes and taking in the ear piercing roars of revving engines.

There was decades-old Chevy and Ford pickup trucks, classic and modern muscle cars, and the bright red and yellow foreign exotics for attendants to fawn over.

Oddities on four wheels — sometimes three or two wheels — also moved slowly down the street. They included a light purple Scion xB with its sound system blaring rap music so loud its frame was rattling; an old school bus painted grayish blue with green wooden window frames from which several dogs peered out; and a Ford Astrostar van painted like the Mystery Machine in Scooby Doo.

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Cruise the Couve organizer Bryan Shull said the event was expected to draw more than 15,000 people. Around as many people came to the event last year, he said.

It’s hard to say if the event continues to grow annually, in terms of attendance, Shull said. The number of people who decide to visit downtown Vancouver for Cruise the Couve is largely dependant on the weather.

Sponsors help cover the $30,000 price tag for police services, portable toilets, cleanup, event management, insurance and promotions, Shull said. The marketing budget was increased this year in an effort to attract more people, he said.

“The costs keep going up. That’s for sure,” Shull said. “We’ve tried to keep those down by asking for help from sponsors and community members.”

Cruise the Couve is a nonprofit organization, and proceeds from the event will go to the Hough Foundation, Bike Clark County and the Clark County Historical Museum.

Mainly, people come for the sights and sounds. And to show off their hard work, or if bought as seen, their prized possessions.

When Southard first bought his Bel Air, he renovated it to match the one he had as a teenager. Years later, he got tired of that look. He installed a 327 cubic-inch V8 engine, and lowered the frame and improved the car’s stability with a four link suspension.

Twenty years later, upon returning to Vancouver from Arizona, he had a local shop install wide rear tires. Much of the interior had to be torn out to accommodate the structural renovation. It wasn’t until last summer that Southard reupholstered the interior himself.

“I’ve been interested in old cars, classic cars since I was 18 years old. So it’s always been a hobby. Growing up in the ’60s, I used to spend my weekends driving in downtown Vancouver,” Southard said.

Ridgefield resident Michele Doran said she and her husband collected cars for 35 years. They restored more than 100, she said.

However, she always wanted a convertible. Now, she’s got two — a 1956 Ford Sunliner and a 1959 Edsel.

Doran said she purchased both, which feature various blue tones on the exteriors and interiors, for about $25,000. With the exception of replacing the white wall tires, the cars remain the same as when bought, she said.

“I mainly take them to shows, otherwise they’re protected to keep them pristine. I may go to the store in one of them occasionally, just to show off,” Doran said.

Doran, sitting under some shade at the intersection nearest Brickhouse Bar, said she started coming to the event back in 2009, when it was called Cruisin’ the Gut. She said the event used to focus more on the classic cars.

“It’s fine if people are interested in bringing the street cars, but to me, it’s about the ’50s and ’60s: the culture of driving around with nothing better to do,” she said.

Matt Dineen drove his 2002 Ford Mustang down from Puyallup to attend Cruise the Couve, as he’s done many other years. He said he arrived at his parking spot in front of Gaynor’s Automotive around 7 a.m.

His family — “in-laws and outlaws,” as one of them described it — huddled around two cars. A group of kids was piled into the back of his brother-in-law’s 1969 Ford Ranchero.

“I love the culture. It welcomes everyone, all the enthusiasts. I’ve seen a ton of cars I like, from a fancy McLaren to old trucks. I really appreciate it all,” Dineen said.

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Columbian Breaking News Reporter