This weekend, the yearly cavalcade of classic automobiles returns to the area in a roaring, grumbling, purring, puttering display of chrome and steel, leather, whitewalls and fuzzy dice.
The 61st annual Vermont Antique and Classic Car Show rolls into Waterbury as it rolls into its seventh decade. It’s two years after its longtime location at Nichols Field in Stowe was sold at auction, and the new owner decided not to host the event anymore.
Karen Nevin, the executive director of Revitalizing Waterbury, and her staff have been meeting the leaders of the Vermont Automobile Enthusiasts for months to plan and ensure everything goes off without a hitch in the show’s first year in Waterbury.
“The current push is to make sure all our businesses are aware the show is coming,” Nevin said. “We want to really roll out the red carpet and welcome the people arriving.”
Revitalizing Waterbury hosts the street dance this year, which will take place Saturday night, Aug. 11, after the annual parade. Nevin and her staff are focusing on ensuring that everything is seamless during those two staples of the show in the first year in Waterbury.
“Since it’s the first year of the show in our town, we’re really focusing on the traditional events,” Nevin said.
The parade begins at 3:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon, and the street dance will get started near the Waterbury train station and Rusty Parker Park around 6, and run till 10 p.m. The parade will take the auto enthusiasts through the roundabout at Routes 2 and 100, then up Union Street and Railroad Street to Rotarian Way — where the review stand will be — then down Park Street back to Main Street.
There will be food trucks, a beer garden, and plenty of kids’ activities at the street dance, Nevin said, and she expects the area to be packed with cars from all eras.
Dan Noyes, chairman of the Vermont Automobile Enthusiasts, said you never know what treasure or curiosity you might see at the annual car show. One recent year, a driver from Quebec drove down in a 1928 Chrysler Imperial, its big round headlights and long running boards resembling something straight out of “The Untouchables.”
“It was an unbelievable handmade car, and I haven’t seen it since,” Noyes said. “You just these see cars that, just, show up.”
That Depression-era beauty aside, Noyes said fewer and fewer really old cars are being showcased in the classic auto show. He thinks there are two basic reasons for this.
First, collectors these days are getting their hands on, and restoring, cars they remember having as youths — or for the younger demographic, vehicles their grandparents drove.
Second, plenty of drivers actually want to get to and fro in their classics, and get there in style, but also on time.
“People aren’t as apt to jump into a Model T that goes 30 miles per hour, but something they can pack the family into and head out in,” Noyes said.
Thus, the classic sweet spot is now centered over the late 1950s through the mid 1970s — “muscle cars all over the place,” Noyes said.
Rolling through the decades
It was the Canadians who really put the car show on the map, according to Gael Boardman, who was at the very first car show in the mid-1950s. He was one of the first members of the fledgling Vermont Automobile Enthusiasts in 1953.
The club had had a series of small events here and there, but it wasn’t until a group of Canadian car enthusiasts from the “Voitures Anciennes et Classiques de Montreal” approached the Vermont group and suggested hosting a big show in Stowe that the weekend as we now know it really took off.
“They brought down a lot of cars, better cars than we had, actually,” Boardman said.
He still has his 1928 Willys-Knight, resting in the barn.
“It’s sleeping,” he said.
The car show first started at the Mount Mansfield ski resort, and as it got bigger, the venue shifted lower and lower down the hill. It was at Topnotch Resort for a while before settling at Nichols Field on Route 100.
There was some hand-wringing and frustration two years ago in Stowe when the automobile enthusiasts were outbid in their efforts to purchase Nichols Field at auction. But Boardman thinks Farr’s Field in Waterbury is an ideal spot for the show: more space on a more level, drier field that’s visible and easily accessed from Interstate 89.
Bruce Nourjian, owner of the Commodores Inn in Stowe and a classic car enthusiast — he had a couple of Model As when he was a kid — still thinks the town could have stepped in and bought the land.
“When it went to auction, it kind of went away,” Nourjian said. “We should have seen the potential.”
But he has since moved on and is busy welcoming the regulars who still stay the night at his place, their old cars filling the parking lot.
The organizer, Vermont Automobile Enthusiasts, is still a member of the Stowe Area Association, Stowe’s business marketing organization, and there are far more lodging and dining options in Stowe than Waterbury — and arguably anywhere outside the Burlington area.
“We have continued to work with them to promote Stowe lodging, dining, activities, and shopping for this year’s Vermont Antique and Classic Car Show,” Amy Morrison, executive director of Stowe Area Association, said in an email this week. “Stowe is a leading destination in Vermont and, with the close proximity to Waterbury, we anticipate attendees will still seek out the Stowe experience as they have for the last 60 years.”
After Aug. 12 Nevin expects everyone will sit down and take stock of how the show went this year, and she didn’t rule out adding new features or events moving forward.
“We’ll have a better understanding of what it means to have the show in town,” Nevin said. “I’m excited, it’s going to be a lot of fun having them in our town.”
Simply put, Boardman said, old cars bring up good old memories, “whether it’s something to do with an affair with a girl in the back seat, or the car itself.”