By Kendal Groner
Anyone around downtown Erwin this past Saturday could hear the roaring of engines that echoed down Main Avenue as hundreds of car lovers came to put some of their most prized possessions on display for the 58th Southeastern Autorama.
With clear skies that held back rain until the end of the event, large crowds could be seen walking the streets on June 2 as they admired each automobile and the efforts taken to keep them in pristine condition.
“I think the area weather affected it a little bit, but other than that we’re pretty happy with what we have going on here today,” said Joey Bailey, president of the Southeastern Autorama Club.
Bailey, who owns a 1950 Chevrolet truck himself, said there were at least 136 cars present on Saturday. Two standouts for him were a 1957 Chevrolet and a 1969 Camaro.
“The hardest part is keeping someone else from hitting them,” Bailey laughed, explaining the efforts that go into maintaining older cars. “You have to keep them clean, make sure all of the fluids are changed and topped off.”
Although for car enthusiasts, any maintenance is a small price to pay for being able to keep the history-rich cars running.
“I love the camaraderie of everyone who attends,” Bailey said about the event. “Everyone’s friendly and easy to get along with.”
Food trucks and a few craft vendors were present at the Autorama, and door prizes were handed out throughout the day. Along with a 50/50 drawing for $290, various items such as car wash kits, water hoses, a hammock, two side grinders and a socket set were given away as prizes.
Mike McIntosh, owner of Model A Mac’s, attended the event with his fiance, Melissa Peterson, and a 1930 Model A Ford Coupe guarded by a life-size sign of Popcorn Sutton.
“We actually knew Popcorn Sutton, he used to buy his Model A parts from me and my dad,” McIntosh said. “He would give dad some moonshine from time to time and trade it for Model A Parts.”
McIntosh bought the coupe from around the Hickory Tree area near Bristol about five years ago when the former owner decided to sell.
“I was the lucky recipient,” said McIntosh. “It’s all original, of course, and you can tell it’s never been restored. I have done some mechanical work to get it rideable on the highway.”
McIntosh and Peterson utilize an umbrella as a makeshift roof when they drive it during inclement weather.
“If it rains, I’m ready,” said McIntosh as he held a makeshift umbrella for the roof
“We’ve actually done that before,” Peterson added. “We used the umbrella during the Fiddleheads Festival when it started pouring the rain.”
Besides their love for one another, both Peterson and McIntosh are passionate about antique cars. In fact, Peterson’s engagement ring was a lock washer off a 1931 Roadster. On June 16, the pair will host a cruise-in with live music from 3-5 p.m. at the Erwin National Guard Armory before they wed one another.
“We’re opening it to everybody,” said Peterson. “We are so excited.”
Ben McNabb, the owner of Steel Rails Coffeehouse, was also present at the Autorama where he displayed his yellow 1967 Chrysler Newport Convertible that he nicknamed Marilyn.
“I’ve been at the Autorama a lot, but I’ve only had cars here the last two years,” McNabb said. “It’s neat seeing all of our old friends.”
He also said this area in particular is brimming with car enthusiasts, and he enjoys attending an event that allows so many car owners to show off their vehicles.
“You don’t realize how many great cars are in this town and how many people that have a love for cars and a love for history,” McNabb said. “When you come to something like this and you look at these tags, it’s amazing to see how many are from Unicoi County.”
While many car showers were from Unicoi County, some events goers came from neighboring states to enjoy the day. Clifton Honeycutt came from Mars Hill, North Carolina, with his 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, which was recognized as one of the top 25 cars during the Autorama.
“I love old cars and I love this town,” said Honeycutt, who sold a 1971 GTO convertible to buy the Bel Air. “It’s in perfect condition.”
Honeycutt purchased the car in Kentucky and shared a funny story about the vehicle’s history.
“Two little boys were playing in this hay barn in Tennessee somewhere, they felt something hard under this haystack and this car was under it,” he said. “They pulled it out and restored it and that’s why it’s in such good shape.”
At the end of the Autorama, right as the rain started to roll in, the awards for Best Antique and Best in Show were announced. Best Antique went to Charlie Miller for a 1953 Chevy Pickup. Best in Show went to Doug Carico for his 1974 Bronco.
“It feels awesome; I was so happy to win,” Carico said about his Best in Show award. “I was surprised because there’s a whole lot of nice cars here.”
Carico, who also owns a 1965 Mercury Comet, said he has been a fan of Broncos since he was about five years old.
“About 20 years ago I found this one in Roanoke and I bought it and used it as an everyday driver for about four years and then it started smoking and leaking oil.”
He parked the Bronco in his garage, where he said his wife actually used it to store Christmas ornaments until he decided to restore it once the value started to appreciate.
“My son was about 14 at the time and I thought about restoring it for him to drive when he turned 16, and the more I got into it, I thought there’s no way I’m giving him this Bronco,” he laughed.
Over the past two years, Carico said if he’s got a free weekend you can usually find him at a car show.
“This one last year was one of my favorites and I’m definitely glad I came back,” said Carico.