They should have played “Bye, Bye Miss American Pie” in the background on Saturday, as thousands of gawkers strolled memory lane past 300 gleaming internal combustion icons to America’s manufacturing glory.
Owners who’d spent outlandish sums restoring rusted out 1940s pickups, skeletal Model Ts and flabby muscle cars lined them up all along the roads winding through Green Valley Park, to wallow in nostalgia for the days when Detroit ruled the manufacturing world and General Motors was the biggest corporation on the planet.
The park proved the perfect setting for a stroll past the American Dream, with wind-stirred lakes, snapping American flags, families scattered on blankets on the glowing green grass, the smell of hot dogs and the glint of spotless engines and “cherry” paint jobs on the Mustangs, Camaros, Corvettes, Grand Torinos, Studebakers, roadsters, Firebirds, GMC 1-ton duallies — and all the other driveway dreams of the glory days.
Meanwhile, in some other incomprehensible world, two of the three American automakers were tapping on their tin cups hoping for a bailout, and the venerable Pontiac brand prepared to ship its last, weary dream car.
“Lord, ain’t it beautiful,” said one retired Ford worker as he stopped to peer into the leather-perfect interior of a Model-T with a restored engine glowing like the cheeks of a 17-year-old on the way to the prom.
Then he straightened, cast his mind back across all the years on the assembly line, and added: “I sure do hope they make it.
Participants in the Beeline Cruise-In pronounced the park the perfect venue for the event, with its bandstand, grassy expanses, clusters of car-ohhhers and lineup of vendors.
The night before, perhaps 500 attended a party in the park for car owners and their families and backers — listening to an oldfashioned concert in the park by Junction 87 and bracing themselves against the sometimes wind beneath threatening skies.
But the day itself dawned bright and cool, with billows of white clouds in a sky that looked as perfectly overstated as the paint jobs on the vintage cars.
Last year, organizers lined the cars up along Main Street, where the merchants hoped the shiny icons of Detroit would generate sales and street traffic. But the merchants on Main Street balked at repeating the event at curbside this year, so Payson stepped in and offered Green Valley Park.
By most accounts, the event benefited from the shift, which made the rows of cars more compact and provided lots of space for people to spread out, bask in the perfect day and remember their first car, their dream car, their back seat explorations and that intoxicating new car smell — so redolent with possibility.
“Well look at that,” said Bret Samuelson, who made the drive up from the Valley for the show. He stood before a 1940 Ford pickup, which looked cheerful, earnest and just slightly smug on account of its scrubbed and gleaming 5.0 Ford Crate motor, C4 transmission and Mustang II front suspension.
“I learned to drive on a truck just like that when I was a boy on the farm in Ohio. Never did look like that though,” he added, shaking his head in wonderment.
A panel of photographs leaned up against the leather front fender covers showed the rusted out hulk of the workhorse ancestor to the generations of pickup trucks that sustained American car companies right up until gas topped $4 a gallon.
But owner Roy Andrews had restored it to a gleaming museum piece, best not even ask what that cost.
Samuelson just stood shaking his head in admiration.
“Man, that was a good, old car,” he said — like you might recall the best friend of your youth or the first girl you ever kissed.
And so it went through the long and breezy day, as thousands of people meandered through the park.
They parked their modern cars with 100,000-mile warranties and on-board computer chips up the hill and strolled down to remember, while doing their best to forget the deep recession, the faltering car companies the nagging feeling that we used to be so cool, leaning up against that showboat of a T-bird with lines that riffled your hair just looking at it.
“Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry.
And good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye, saying this’ll be the day that I die.”
But not just yet.
Let the music play and those Chevys idle one more perfect day.