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Drive 'Em If Ya Got 'Em
by Jim Corbran
Let us now praise the cars of summer
Okay, or her garage. And by old car, I don’t necessarily mean the expensive 1957 Corvette that you’re afraid to drive anywhere. No, there are hundreds, nay, thousands of old, fun-to-drive (and just plain show-off) vehicles sitting in the driveways and garages of Western New York. And now that summer is arriving, we’re starting to see them on the streets again.
“In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”
- Alfred Lord Tennyson
“In the Summer a car guy’s fancy heavily turns to the old car that’s been sitting in his garage since last fall.”
- Jim Corbran, You Auto Know
What could say “summer” louder than a dune buggy? Okay, so there aren’t many dunes around here to buggy on, but don’t tell that to Williamsville resident Ray Ammerman. He’s owned this “grrooovy: red number for about 12 years now. “It was a basket case when we found it,” said Ammerman, who you may recognize from the West-Herr Automotive Group, where he is currently their customer relations manager. “I’ve wanted one of these since I was a kid, and the local pizzeria used one for deliveries,” he said recently. After being cajoled into looking for a “toy” (after all, who in the car business doesn’t have at least one?), he zeroed in on his childhood dream, and with the help of a friend found this one in Ohio. It started life as a 1961 VW convertible, most of which was discarded, with this B & N Fiberglass Viper body added. When Ammerman found it, it didn’t run and was painted purple metallic. He replaced the running gear with the back end of a 1974 VW bus, which had an 1800-cc engine with two Weber carbs. It puts out 80 horsepower, which doesn’t sound like a lot until you realize the whole car weighs less than a thousand pounds. The restoration took a couple of years, but was worth waiting for. When the weather’s good, Ammerman uses it as his daily driver, putting about a thousand miles a year on the odometer. Groovy, indeed.
At the other end of the spectrum is this 1959 Ford Thunderbird, owned by Dean Becker of the Town of Tonawanda. No, Dean’s neighborhood pizzeria didn’t use one when he was a kid. As a matter of fact, before buying the ’Bird a couple of years ago, Becker was more into muscle cars. But tastes change, and he found this squarebird in—where else?—Ohio, and brought it home. “It’s still got the original paint,” he said, “and a 352 four-barrel V-8.” Peering into the gorgeous turquoise-and-white interior, I asked if everything still works. “Well, the wipers don’t…or the horn,” he said. Seeing that he’s not about to drive it in weather requiring wipers, that doesn’t sound like a big deal. But both items are required to pass inspection. “I’m going to start tracing the wiring, and hopefully find a crimp somewhere,” he told me. That would make it easy, wouldn’t it? Of course, anyone who owns an old car gets used to this sort of thing. Even in what might be a relatively low-mileage 1959 T-Bird. “The odometer had already stopped at 98,000 miles when I bought it,” he told me, “and I put about a thousand more per year on it.” Sounds like a familiar story.
And there’s the Bittersweet Orange 1969 AMX of Buffaloian Howard Goldman. The rare two-seater can often be seen (during the summer of course) outside of The Old House Downtown, an 1850s brick home located on Delaware Avenue, conveniently a block from Statler City, where Goldman holds court on Friday evenings as the lobby cocktail pianist. He bought the AMX on eBay in 2006. It’s all original, from the 390 V-8 right on down to the factory 8-track tape player. Not everything worked when he bought it, but little by little it’s getting back into form. A short time ago he realized he’d never even tried the windshield washer, so he filled it, pushed the button and, lo and behold—squirtability! Goldman really enjoys driving the AMX. “It’s not perfect, that’s what makes it so much fun. I can drive it to Wegmans and park it in the lot,” not something you’d do with a show car. If you ever see him tooling down Delaware, you’ll recognize him first by the car, second by the huge grin on his face as he goes through the gears.
There are a gazillion other old car stories around town, waiting to be told. Some of the possibilities I saw driving around over the weekend: 1961 Corvair Greenbrier van (which I probably should have followed), 1937 Ford, 1972-ish Datsun 240Z, 1969 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, 1964 Ford Country Squire station wagon, 1966 Mustang…I could go on and on. (Actually I do go on and on…every day on the YAK blog, which you can view here: blogs.artvoice.com/avdaily/category/you-auto-know.)
There’s a new old something there every day!
As the guy who pumped your gas at the old Esso station used to say: Happy motoring!
Summer Guide: Intro • Festivals, Garden Walks, and Tours
Destinations: Griffis Sculpture Park
• Explore Orleans County
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