Larry Bertram loves classic cars, which lured him to Rumsey Park last Saturday along with a crowd of people for whom 60-year-old vehicles remain a touchstone for a remembered childhood and a vanished age.
Bertram’s favorite is the Cougar — a V-8 muscle car built by Mercury. He particularly likes those designed in the ’60s and for many years dreamed of owning one. Thanks to his brother-in-law, he now owns a 1968 Cougar, lovingly restored.
The story goes like this: his brother-in-law lived in Oregon next to a retired lady originally from Pasadena. Her ’68 Cougar had been leased to the CEO of the Los Angeles Times Mirror — Larry still has the original lease paperwork. When the lease was up, the CEO sold the car to his secretary, who happened to be the lady from Pasadena.
She drove it for many years. When she retired to Oregon, she took the car with her. Always intending to fix it up, she parked it under a tarp in her carport next door to Larry’s sister.
Every year Larry came to visit his sister, he would walk over to look at the car and dream of what he could do with it, if he owned it.
Larry’s wish came true when the secretary decided to leave Oregon. So she sold the Cougar to Larry, who spent a full year fixing it up. Now, he proudly drives to shows and outings like Saturday’s meeting of the Rim Country Classic Auto Club (RCCAC). The event draws an amiable crowd of car owners who have waxed and polished fond memories.
The story of Bertram’s car reminded me suddenly of my dad’s equally meticulous stories about his 1939 Chevrolet sedan. My dad loved that car because it brought back memories from his youth. Bertram talked about his Cougar with the same nostalgic glow.
At Saturday’s meeting, the club distributed money they raised from their April car show.
This year, five deserving charities received $1,000 each: St. Vincent de Paul’s Food Bank, Payson Helping Payson, Kaitie’s Closet, Payson Supply Line and Tonto Rim Search and Rescue.
RCCAC members, after giving away the donations in a quiet ceremony, lingered to share the camaraderie and stories all car club enthusiasts enjoy. Here and there, laughter erupted at the punch line of a good tale.
The sparklingly painted and polished cars sat in the parking lot, each one a story. As I wandered in and out of groups of owners, it’s clear they adore talking about their vehicles.
Karen Bruns’ husband gave her a 1940 Ford convertible with a tuned port engine for one of her birthdays. She loves to just drive it around town.
“When I drive down the street, people wave at us. It makes them happy to see us drive by,” said Bruns.
A purple two-toned vehicle with the license plate, “41 SUV,” caught my attention. It looked kind of like a hearse. I had to find out what prompted the cute license plate. Looking around for the owner, Al Troogsd called out, “That’s my Ford.” I asked what’s up with the license plate.
Al chuckled and told me Ford designed this car specifically to deliver groceries. In fact, the car originally only had a driver’s seat so every square inch could pack in product for delivery.
The members of the Rim Country Classic Auto Club enjoy their cars and their comforts. Frank Schaefer brought a replica of a small aluminum trailer big enough to have a propane burner and space for an ice chest along with storage space inside to have a traveling kitchen.
“Mostly I call it my bar wagon,” said Schaefer.
On Saturday he served doughnuts. Usually he’s boiling up a big pot of hot dogs.
But then, it’s always a party with the classic car folks along with their stories of glory days with their cars. My dad taught me that — and the proud members of the Rim Country Classic Auto Club brought the fond memories flooding back — as vivid and sweet as the chrome horse emblem on the grill of a ’65 Mustang.