At Cruisin’ on Main Street, every car tells a story

By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
Manchester - posted Wed., Sep. 21, 2011
This ’56 Ford Sunliner, owned by Leo E. Fugler, won a trophy as the favorite of Cruisin’ on Main Street car show sponsor The SBM Foundation, maybe for an unusual paint finish that pairs 'siesta red' with black. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.
This ’56 Ford Sunliner, owned by Leo E. Fugler, won a trophy as the favorite of Cruisin’ on Main Street car show sponsor The SBM Foundation, maybe for an unusual paint finish that pairs 'siesta red' with black. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.

Owners of these classic cars put thousands of dollars and even more hours of work into their vehicles, but it’s all worth it when admirers flock around them at car shows, snapping photos and asking questions.

The 11th annual Cruisin’ on Main Street show in Manchester drew thousands of visitors who spent hours walking the length of Main Street, which was packed with restored and modified classic cars, trucks and “street rods.”

Besides bringing people to Main Street, the show benefits the community by donating proceeds to MARC, Inc. (an advocacy group for the developmentally disabled) and the Manchester Area Conference of Churches, and by funding more free community events sponsored by the Downtown Manchester Special Services District.

One of the most popular eye-catchers at the Sept. 18 show was a low-slung ’51 Mercury with narrow windows and striking proportions that seemed to change colors as the viewer walked around its bulk.

The chameleon effect is deliberate, said its owner, Rick Bennett, Sr. It’s the result of layering blue metallic paint with “candy apple burgundy,” and then six coats of clear paint polished with lots of elbow grease.

Bennett’s customized classic car was recently chosen as one of the “Select Six” at the 2011 Syracuse Nationals by one of the superstars of auto customization, Gene Winfield. Besides this show, held at the New York State Fairgrounds, the Manchester event is only the second large show where this car has been seen, Bennett said.

This crowd-pleaser is the result of more than 25 years of work that began with original owner Bob Mariani, of Waterford. At the show to share in its popularity, Mariani said he sold the car to Bennett a little over two years ago when he couldn’t afford to invest any more money.

It’s gratifying to see it complete, he said. In addition to the painting, Bennett, who is the owner of Danbury Auto Body, did some major modifications – such as “chopping” the hood to make it lower, and adding features such as air-powered controls to lift the rear body over the tires when it’s time to drive.

Bennett said, “I put more than $100,000 cash into this car and more than 10,000 hours of work. Every panel was fabricated in some way.”

Bennett was almost overwhelmed by the attention the car received. “So many people were around the car today, there was a constant crowd,” he said.

Mike Halagan, of Bristol, said he was drawn to the car (which he said is also known as a “lead sled”) because he remembered them from his younger days. “I usually am into the ’60s cars, but when you see something like this, it’s just a work of art,” he said.

Another crowd magnet was a ‘39 Ford Deluxe owned by Paul Chobot, of Colchester. “I could have sold this car 10 times over today, but it’s not for sale!” he said.

This bright red car with blue-flame details and tons of brightly-polished chrome has been modified in dozens of ways. “The body is original, but that’s about it,” Chobot said.

“It’s been an ongoing project, like a house – you’re never done… more chrome, more chrome,” he said, and laughed. And now that his children have grown up, “it’s my time to play,” he said.

Chobot loves taking the car to shows, although it’s sometimes difficult because of his work schedule. He works second shift as a general foreman at Electric Boat, where he’s been employed for 38 years.

Lately, though, there are a lot more opportunities to attend shows, he said. “Cruising is big time now, people seem to be coming out of the woodwork all over… maybe it’s about nostalgia for better days,” he said.

George Mosher, of North Haven, is another car show enthusiast. He takes his shiny blue 1936 Ford (bought on eBay) “to every show I can,” he said. And because he’s equipped it with modern features such as power steering and even a “moon roof,” it’s on the road even between shows. “My wife drives it all over,” he said.

One of the fun features of such a large show like Cruisin’ on Main Street is the variety of vehicles, including a vintage ambulance, sleek Corvettes, and convertibles such as the 1969 Chevy Camaro Z28 owned by Todd McCann, of Manchester, who was among the trophy winners.

Even an old milk delivery truck, a 1936 Stewart made in Buffalo, N.Y., and the pride and joy of Nason Maxwell, of Waterbury, got a lot of attention. It was a long time, however, getting it to the car show circuit, Maxwell said.

It sat in his garage since he bought it in 1988, until a couple of years ago, when a neighbor who would become his son-in-law, Joseph Del Carmine, saw it rusting away and persuaded Maxwell to work on it together to get it back on the road. Del Carmine met, and fell in love with, Maxell’s daughter while working on the car.

At the Manchester show, Maxwell was accompanied by one of his grandchildren, 12-year-old Matthew Boyer, who said even though he saw a lot of impressive classic cars that day, “this one is still my favorite.”

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