In every town they drive through, people wave and snap photos. A woman from France visiting Yellowstone Park wanted a picture as a souvenir. Stopping for gas means drawing a crowd.
“People love cars. They all have a story to tell about what they have or their parents used to have,” said Eric Peratt, of Pinkee’s Rod Shop in Windsor, Colo., who drove to Spokane in a caravan of five 1930s hot rods.
They’re heading for an enchanted place where sparkling chrome outshines pump-price worries – the Goodguys 7th Great Northwest Nationals hot rod show this weekend at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center. More than 1,000 cars from 1972 and earlier are on display.
Thousands of dollars and hours go into these cars, some of which make yearly appearances at shows while others are on display for the first time. The people who build them are part mechanic, part historian. Their work will be seen by an estimated 40,000 visitors for the three-day event. Aficionados will find a wide variety of shiny parts and inspiration for their own projects.
“Everyone builds their car uniquely to their own personality, and that’s what makes it fun,” said John Gunsaulis, a second-generation hot-rodder from Greenacres who brought his ’32 Ford Phaeton.
Like many kids who grow up around hot rods, he entered model car competitions long before he got a driver’s license. His wife’s dental practice is sponsoring the model competition this weekend to carry on that tradition.
“You grow out of the models and into the real thing,” said Russ Freund, 30, another lifelong hot-rodder who’s working at the NAPA Auto Parts booth this weekend. Freund received e-mails from around the world after his apple-green ’24 Ford Model T Touring car, built from scratch, was featured on the cover of American Rodder magazine last fall.
Beauty sometimes comes at a price, however. It wasn’t until Freund finished the car for a show that he sat down and realized it was a little tight on leg room. A friend’s toddler can reach the pedals.
Gunsaulis and Freund say they’re among the most dedicated hot-rodders in the area, along with friend Billy Payne, 27, who once quit a job rather than miss a show. His parents brought him home from the hospital in a 1934 Ford two-door sedan and later warmed his bottles on the exhaust manifolds while traveling to a show. It’s no surprise hot rods are in his blood.
“I don’t know anything else,” he said, “but I love it.”
A former president of Duke’s Auto Club, Payne drove to this weekend’s show in his red Volksrod – a ’24 Ford T Bucket with a Volkswagen engine – but he’s also building a ’32 Ford Roadster that’s been in his family since his dad bought it in the ’60s. Payne started working on it when he was 15 but got distracted, and now he’s returned to finish it as a tribute to his father, who died four years ago.
Payne has a Ford Escort for everyday driving – it gets 35 miles per gallon, and back in the real world rising gas prices do matter – but he knows there’s no way to relax like taking the Volksrod out to get lost on country roads for a while as the sun sets.
“Some people like fishing and sitting on the lake,” he said. “I like getting in the car and just driving around Spokane.”