BY MICHAEL WALTON
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Peter Low’s 1968 Dodge Charger RT didn’t look so good when he found it stashed away in a barn more than 10 years ago.
“It was under a couple of tarps literally rotting away,” Low said.
But the Charger now shines like new after years of restoration, and on Sunday Low displayed his vintage automobile along with more than 200 other classic car enthusiasts at the National Cherry Festival Old Town Classic Vehicle Show.
Low, of Traverse City, first learned about his “barn find” from a newspaper advertisement in 1999. He drove out to the seller’s Kingsley home south of Traverse City, looked the car over and asked to take it for a test drive.
The engine still worked, but the brakes were shot.
Low returned to the seller and asked about the bad brakes.
“He said ‘you didn’t ask if the brakes worked. You asked if it ran,’” Low said. “True story.”
Still Low purchased the car, stripped it down and built it back up.
He wondered on Sunday what the former owner might say if he could see the Charger now.
“I would love some day to drive out there and say ‘this is the hunk of junk I towed out of your yard for practically nothing,” Low said. “I think he would be in awe.”
The Charger was more than just a project for Low. He drove a car just like it as a teenager growing up in Evanston, Ill.
“It’s part of me reliving some of my high school years,” he said.
Classic car owners throughout Traverse City’s Old Town neighborhood told similar stories of personal connections to their cherished vehicles.
Jim and Erika Goss, of Kalkaska, showed off their 1984 20th Anniversary Ford Mustang, which Erika bought from a dealership in Ann Arbor following the model’s very limited release. She’s had the car ever since, and her sons were lucky enough to drive the Mustang to their high school proms.
Rob Wilhelm, of Traverse City, also exhibited a classic Mustang at the car show, a 1970 Boss 302.
Wilhelm said he wanted to own the car since childhood after his older sister’s boyfriend owned one.
”I can remember being pinned in the back seat with the tires smoking,” Wilhelm said. “I was really impressed.”
Wilhelm has attended car shows for years. He likes socializing with other classic car enthusiasts, but he always keeps at least one eye on his Mustang.
Show goers love vintage cars, too, but they don’t always treat them with the necessary care. Wilhelm remembered one show in St. Ignace where he watched a child looking through the window of the Mustang while his ice cream dripped down the car’s side.
”Car shows are great, but everybody’s gotta touch,” Wilhelm said.
Nicolle Girard, event manager for show co-sponsor Hagerty Insurance, said the show offered an incredible variety of foreign and domestic classic vehicles.
”It gives people who aren’t involved in the hobby a nice way to walk through and see a cool sampling of great cars,” Girard said.
Joe Schnersal was pleasantly surprised to find the car show after he drove up for Cherry Fest from northwestern Ohio with his wife.
Schnersal perused the classic cars Sunday afternoon while his wife enjoyed the nearby Arts and Crafts Fair.
He took particular notice of a candy red 1955 Chevrolet.
“I didn’t have one, but I always wanted one,” Schnersal said. “It’s lovely.”
Schnersal said he thinks people visit the classic car show to reminisce about earlier times and fond memories. He said people his age often wish they held on to their old cars after walking past the classic makes and models.
But Schnersal noted plenty of young people at the show, too, and he thought they might be able to learn something about their own car ownership from the experience.
“There might be a message here,” he said. “If you find one you like, hold on to it.”