The American muscle car is as much a state of mind as Detroit steel.
When the engine turns over, birds shake from tree limbs and bystander blood thrills with the roar.
And yes, there was a time when rock and roll groups composed lyrics as paeans to the kings of the road. As the decades passed, those cars have dwindled, but enough remain in the bright colors of a Crayola box to provoke oohs and aahs of admiration and heartfelt pangs of nostalgia.
Cars and Guitars was such a walk down memory lane Saturday afternoon, a glorious display of horsepower and gleaming paint arrayed on downtown Seymour streets. Some 253 vintage, classic, high-performance symbols of the highway were parked, hoods up for inspection, under a brilliant sun that highlighted their best attributes.
Roughly 95% of the vehicles dating back decades to when a car was as much status symbol as mode of transportation shimmered with the same gloss they flashed the day they rolled off of a showroom floor.
These were well-loved and well-scrubbed Fords, Chevrolets, Cadillacs and Corvettes, but always the eye was drawn to symbols of the ’60s and early ’70s when the cars and drivers were young and life was full of promise.
"Everybody loves the muscle," said organizer Gary Colglazier, happy Cars and Guitars was successfully resurrected after a year of enforced idleness due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This was otherwise the 16th annual rendition of Cars and Guitars. Over the years, some $100,000 was raised to construct playgrounds for physically challenged youngsters across Seymour.
Colglazier said three have been developed, and money from Saturday through $20 car registration fees for the show-and-tell, T-shirt sales, a 50-50 raffle and donations will go toward improving grounds.
Colglazier didn’t yet have a cash count Sunday, and since there was no admission fee, he was not certain how many people wandered past the cars and listened to the guitars of Sounds of Summer: A Beach Boys Tribute later in the evening.
"It’s hard to gauge," he guessed, "a couple, 3,000 people altogether."
The original Beach Boys, of course, knew how to make music out of horsepower with such tunes as "409" and "Little Deuce Coupe." Appropriately, "409" was released in 1962. The California crooners had company in odes to the open road. Jan and Dean sang "Dead Man’s Curve" (1964) about drag racing and "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena" (1964) and Ronny and the Daytonas worshiped a "G.T.O.," also in 1964.
"She’s real fine, my 409; She’s real fine, my 409; My 409; Well, I saved my pennies and I saved my dimes." That was 409 in part, from the Beach Boys — and Sounds of Summer.
After the cars in the flesh.
A passerby took one look at the 1957 red Chevy Bel Air with red fuzzy dice hanging from the rear-view mirror and blurted out, "Still is a classic."
Owners Bev and husband Harold Ruddick of Scipio like to think so. Of the time-honored tradition of the dice, she said, "Have to (have it)."
This baby has been in their possession for about eight years, found online in Tennessee. Harold had one like it in high school, but that was a long time ago. This car has been babied with most of it original from 64 years ago and just 5,633 miles on the odometer.
"We’ve won a lot of awards with it — best in class, age group," Bev said, noting the trophies live in the living room on the fireplace mantle.
Bev, 71, wore a T-shirt where the phrase "American Muscle" was included, a phrase connoting several things to her.
"These are strong cars," she said. "They’re drivable, and you have fun in them."
Worth showing off
The license plate on Royce Clouse’s 1966 Chevy II read "Deuce." That is Royce, not as in Rolls-Royce, a brand of vehicle notably absent.
Clouse, 71, obtained the car about five years ago after his wife passed away and he was looking for something fresh as a hobby.
One day, he was in the barber shop and mentioned the type of car he wanted, and a guy being trimmed in the next chair heard and said, "I know where one is at." It was up the highway in Indianapolis, and Clouse said, "Are you kidding me?"
Now, it is his, and if anyone leaves fingerprints on the turquoise paint job, he immediately runs a rag over the spot. Special cars need a special touch.
"I try to stay within 60 miles (of Seymour)," he said. "I don’t drive it on the interstate. I take care of it."
Brother Floyd Clouse, 74, showed off a glistening red 1934 Chevy Coupe.
"I got it all shined up," he said.
No cross-country trips for his car, either. This Clouse remembers the oldie-but-goodie car songs, citing "Shut Down" by the Beach Boys and "G.T.O."
"I grew up in the car generation," Floyd said of the era when many of the cars nearby on Chestnut Street were in their primes. "Kids these days aren’t interested."
The truth is "kids" need to drive to work and senior citizens may have stockpiled enough cash to find their favorite cars of the past and trot them out only for special shows like this one. The youngsters need something utilitarian, the oldsters may be able to indulge.
Plus, they have sweet memories going for them. When they were in their teens or 20s, there wasn’t a heck of a lot of attention paid to miles per gallon. The cars were about looks and power, not fuel efficiency. Compact cars just aren’t as much fun.
Nobody writes songs about Toyotas and Nissans.
"You’ve got it," Colglazier said. "No, no. But then, little cars do have a following among the younger generation."
The owner of a vintage car knows he or she is onto something when people stop by and say "Nice car."
Scarcity counts. These cars are collector’s items and don’t get used for routine grocery store trips very often or for everyday commuting. They are the stars of the show wherever the show is, so they get driven whatever distance is involved to get from the garage to display.
Marlene White, present with her family’s 1939 red Studebaker, said people on the road or the side of the road react with "Thumbs up."
"Sometimes, we just take it out for a drive," she said.
Spectators may not know the model or year, but they know they don’t see anything like it often. The most commonly used word owners hear is "Cool."
One of a kind
Unusual appearance compared to the everyday compact or sedan on the highway produces attention.
Maybe it’s just him and his generation, but Jim Hurley, 71, said when he was younger, he could name every make and model that drove past. Not now, said Hurley, who accompanied a 2007 blue Corvette to Cars and Guitars. He wore a T-shirt extolling the virtues of cars and rock and roll blended together.
"Of course, I followed the Beach Boys," Hurley said. "I knew every song they had. ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ was my favorite. ‘409.’ When it comes to cars, I can’t tell the difference between a 2011 and a 2012 now."
If these cars could talk, they would each have a story, even if they do lay about in barns or out-of-the-way garages most of the year now.
Take Kenny and Cindy Mundy’s 1978 black Corvette. That year, Kenny attended the 62nd Indianapolis 500 with his father and was so struck by the pace car model he pledged to own one someday. It took 42 years, but he acquired one of the cars and he accessorizes and shows it off.
Additions include a doll-like pit crew worker who bends over the engine, a Bob’s Big Boy figure with a tray of plastic food in an homage to drive-in burger joints and checkered flags that wave in the breeze.
The car is a testament to "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" even though it didn’t race. It is inescapable, however, Mundy has fun with this special toy.
"I do, I do," he said.
Most of the show’s cars were factory produced, and while some owners strive to restore them to perfect original style, others prefer a personal touch.
The green color of Floyd Tuttle’s 1950 Mercury does not occur naturally in nature. Call it a spinoff of photosynthesis. It would practically glow in the dark.
Tuttle, of Pekin, was 15 when his mother bought the car for $125 59 years ago. That was some deal.
He was too young to drive it initially, then joined the Air Force for four years. When he got back to the car, he needed other transportation, so he parked it. Tuttle and the car have aged together. He is 74, and the Mercury has 9,000 miles on it.
"He has been with it longer than me," said Rhonda, his wife of 50 years.
In 2015, Tuttle drove the car for the first time since 1968. At the time, it was white. Although the paint job has been significantly upgraded since when the Mercury went green, it was a spray-paint job for $10. The color was called Bermuda green.
Two years ago, pre-pandemic, Tuttle’s Mercury was featured on the back of the Cars and Guitars 2019 event T-shirt.
The Mercury doesn’t get out much, but when it does, it creates a sensation among those who catch a glimpse.
"They wave and look," Rhonda said. "It’s nostalgia that something that old is still on the road."
Out there flexing those American muscles.