15 May 2011

Portland show chills out, brings out eccentrics

The 29th Portland Transmission Warehouse, the annual old car gathering that marks the start of spring in Portland, Ore., filled about four city blocks on May 7.

The crowd was down about 50 percent from last year because spring hasn’t yet arrived in Portland this year. It was about 50 degrees and rained all night. That meant most of the shiny roadsters remained in their caves, though numerous old-timers showed up to see who had made it through the winter, and which cars might be coming up for sale. It’s the equivalent of checking the obits in the New York papers, looking for that dream apartment.

Nice Tri-5 Chevys don’t cut much ice at this show, as Portland does not salt its roads and numerous old cars are driven daily. But there were some delightful hot-rod coupes, including a brilliant red Ford three-window deuce with a big-block Chevy, Weiand supercharger on twin four-barrels and “What’s the problem, officer?” written on the roof above the passenger’s door.

A number of rat rods advertised the merits of dull paintwork (if the sun isn’t going to shine anyway), and they were matched by the military collectors with their army-drab Jeeps and 6x6 trucks, but no tanks this year. An original 1968 Ambassador with 70,000 miles made the point – “collectible then, collectible now” – or not, while a splendid ‘63 Studebaker Avanti seemed to complain, “What the hell do you have to do to get noticed around here?” I’ve been waiting for the Avanti boom for 30 years now.

Among customs there was a superb ’39 Pontiac convertible that showed a real craftsman at work, while a ’37 Buick boat-tail speedster was apparently constructed by a coachbuilder in England who was enamored of Auburns – before WWII. A ’35 Ford survivor pickup attracted a respectful crowd, while if you wanted a 427 ‘67 Biscayne big-block two-door “sleeper to be,” all you had to do was buy all the pieces from the seller for $12,750 and build it yourself. A ’60 De Soto Adventurer served as a vivid reminder that Chrysler was completely out of ideas about then, while a restored 1953 English Ford Consul raised the question, why would anybody save one of these?

Best of all was a complete piece of madness, which makes this show such fun. Last year it was a roadster the size of a Freightliner with a faux aircraft engine – this time it was a make-believe 1920s Bentley 3-liter tourer on a Chevy 4x4 pickup chassis and with a body that appeared to have been an aluminum boat. You can’t make this stuff up.

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