Cruising Speed

Club keeps car lovers young at heart

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"We have three questions before we allow you into our organization," said Larry Bertram, president of the Rim Country Classic Auto Club. "Do you like cars? Do you like people? Do you have $15 to pay the annual dues?

"If anyone can get two out of three, they're in."

Bertram isn't exaggerating. Heck, you can own nothing but a 1993 Chevy Astro and still be in like Flint, Michigan.

"Here's our definition of a classic car: If you think it's a classic car, it's a classic car," he said.

The club has existed for seven years and is growing fast in both members and automobiles. "At first, we had maybe 12 or 15 people," Bertram said. "At our meeting last month, we had 66 people show up."

One to four times a month, every month, club members gather for activities. Most are directly related to old cars, like mass cruises to Cottonwood for lunch at a drive-in burger joint. But some are for purely social purposes, such as the group's Valentine's Day dinner and dance at Mazatzal Casino in February.

The group's biggest annual event is its Annual Charity Car Show, the eighth edition of which will be held at the Mazatzal Casino this summer to raise money for the Payson Humane Society, RTA Hospice, the Payson Area Habitat for Humanity, and high school scholarship awards for auto mechanics or technical courses.

The pleasure of good-deed doing and rides in old cars, however, are not all members get for their $15 a year, Bertram said.

"You also get a real nice engraved name tag," he promised with a grin.

All classics, all the time

"Cool cars and good people. That's our motto," said Bertram, 63, who has been a member of the Rim Country Classic Auto Club almost since its inceptionand whose life's blood seems to be high-octane gasoline.

"I taught automotive technology at Palomar College for 35 years, and cars have been part of my life all my life," he said. "I grew up tinkering with them from high school on up.

"In my earlier days, I was more involved in drag racing. At Palomar we had our own race car that the students built and maintained. When I lived in Southern California, we had an intercollegiate drag racing association. And before that I was involved in top fuel dragsters. So I've been puttering around with cars for quite a while."

Bertram's passion for classic autos, however, is relatively new.

"It's just since 1994, when I retired and moved to Payson, that I got involved with the classics. Prior to that, I never had the time or money to own one."

Now he owns three. His first "project car," which he's been working on for a couple of years, is a 1949 Crosley pickup truck. Then his wife, Nancy, acquired a blindingly red '66 Ford Mustang. And just last month, Bertram completed a two-year restoration on a '68 Mercury Cougar XRTGT that he now drives.

"Old cars are cool," Bertram said, explaining his addiction. "These are the cars I grew up with and that I understand, even though I taught advanced computer controls in automobiles. These are just beautiful cars, beautifully built.

"And because they are the cars we grew up with, they bring back a part of your youth just like the music people still listen to because they loved it when they were teenagers.

"We're just a bunch of kids who won't let go."

Time machines on wheels

Dick Caddenhead, 60, co-edits the club's newsletter with the help of his wife and fellow classic-auto lover, Barb.

Caddenhead, too, developed his love of things automotive as a teenager, when his very first car was a 1942 Mercury. "I wish I had it today," he sighs ruefully at the memory.

Like Bertram and, most likely, every other male in the club, Caddenhead said he has always been an automobile tinkerer, "to keep them running and see what makes them tick."

Today he owns a 1953 Chevrolet that he acquired about eight years ago in much worse shape than it's in now.

"I found it through a co-worker; it was his mother's car, she was in her 80s and still trying to drive it, so they were trying to get it away from her," Caddenhead said. "I first offered the guy $500, sight unseen. I got it two years later for $800."

Since then, Caddenhead said, he's poured about $8,000 into the car's complete restoration. Caddenhead's estimated sales price, were he to sell it today: "Oh, probably $5,000 or $6,000. You put the money in because of your passion for the car, not to jack up its resale value."

Pleasure, not profit, is the classic car junkie's credo. And Caddenhead is in the process of proving it again with the latest addition to his now two-car collection: a '52 Chevrolet pickup that he's "trying to bring back to roadworthy condition."

The force that motivates him is much the same as Bertram's.

"I love the body style, the classic lines. They are something that hails from the past an era and a mystique I've always carried with me."

That is a recurring theme when talking to members of the Rim Country Classic Auto Club, and it's best summed up by Caddenhead's wife and newsletter co-editor, Barb, 57.

"Driving a classic car from the 1950s and listening to the music of the period," she said, "is like stepping into a time machine and going back to a place where you're always young and carefree."

To join the Rim Country Classic Auto Club, or for more information, call Dick Caddenhead at 472-9325.

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