By Sue Moore
The 34th annual Old Car Festival will kick off in Vicksburg on Friday, June 13, at 6 p.m. with live oldies music and old cars of every vintage parading through the downtown.
Saturday is always the big day when over 1,000 antique cars of all varieties, drive into town as early as 7 a.m. Volunteers help park the cars in their designated spots on both sides of Main Street, Prairie Street and on out to the Historic Village on Richardson Street.
Those who arrive early on Saturday morning can enjoy the Pancake Breakfast, served by the members of the South County Fire Authority in their building at the corner of Main and Washington. A noon luncheon, featuring chicken BBQ and homemade pies with ice cream, will be served by the Vicksburg Education Association and Vicksburg United Methodist Church family, in front of their building on Main Street.
The Historic Village on north Richardson Street will be hosting the Tin Can Tourists, a group that Ken and Lee Evensen invite each year. The owners of these vintage trailers open them to the public. All the buildings in the park are open to the public during the day as well. Also on the site will be the steam and gas engine show, organized by Dale Sult.
A juried Arts and Craft show in Clark Park will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Vicksburg High School Jazz band will be featured in the live entertainment on north Prairie Street.
Auto parts and flea market vendors will be lined up along the west side of Prairie Street along with Corvettes from the Kalamazoo Corvette club in the open parking area by Family Fare.
A Duck Derby is fun for the kids who like to urge their miniature plastic ducks with their winning number painted on the bottom as they cascade down the stream in Clark Park, promptly at 1 p.m. This event is a fundraiser for the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation and is sponsored by five local businesses. The owner of the winning duck will receive the grand prize of a dinner at Main Street Pub.
The Vicksburg District Library also sponsors a used book sale all day in the library’s basement.
The day ends by 4 p.m. with the announcement of the car show trophies, once the votes have been counted from the public.
All of this activity is coordinated by Skip and Carol Knowles who organized the first show in 1980 and have been heading it up for the Vicksburg Community Association ever since. Over the years, the event has grown to rival the other large Michigan car show in St. Ignace, which is a point of pride for Skip.
Originally, Friday night was devoted to 50s and 60s music and dancing in the parking lot of the Tastee Freeze on W. Prairie. That building is now Fred’s Pharmacy and the owner, Fred Nelson, invites the cars back every year. Along with that come the food vendors who are happy to set up alongside the street with their specialties.
Mustang, GTO Celebrate 50 Years
Two iconic cars of the 50s, the Mustang and the Pontiac GTO, are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year.
The GTO was the brainchild of John DeLorean the General Manager of Pontiac and Jim Wangers the Ad Executive at McManus, the ad agency that handled the Pontiac account. They felt that there was a market for a large horsepower mid-sized car and in 1964 offered a GTO option on the Pontiac Tempest.
It quickly became a powerhouse car and by 1965 it was its own brand and no longer a Tempest option. There were only 7500 Tempests made with the GTO option so it is the rarest of all the GTOs. It became a street racing star, an iconic muscle car and was even celebrated in a 60s pop hit song “Little GTO”.
Hot Rods Have Long History
The first hot rods were 1930s Model-A Fords modified for speed, said Dale Emar of Vicksburg. The flathead Ford V8 was the engine of choice and the possibilities for customization were fueled by imagination.
“Back in the ‘30s, a guy would go out to the junkyard and find the biggest engine he could and drop it into a Model A Ford,” Emaar said. “He’d remove the fenders and do everything he could to make that car lighter so it would go faster.”
Yet however much it was altered, a hot rod was distinguished from a race car in that it remained, technically, street legal—lights, horn, windshield wipers, turn signals still intact and functional, he said.
How fast the car would go was put to the test at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah where this kind of racing got its start.
After the Second World War, soldiers returning home put their own stamp on the genre. A guy’s hot rod told a story of his favorite colors, maybe his girlfriend’s name, and his blood type detailed on the dashboard—a legacy of dog-tags and war, but also handy to know out on the Salt Flats where accidents were a given but proper medical attention wasn’t.