Year 2023 was a good one for Merced area old car enthusiasts and I am confident that 2024 will be as good if not better.
Vintage vehicle enthusiasts gathered at a number of local venues this year to show off their pride and joy and in many cases one or more charities benefitted from these events. They are relaxed settings that are family-friendly and a chance to share our devotion to fins, chrome and horsepower with other like-minded enthusiasts.
My favorite car show is the one I am attending right now but several 2023 events stood out. There is no such thing as a bum car show to my way of thinking.
Downtown Atwater hosted a Saturday event last summer on Broadway that was hot both in the temperature and the quality of the vehicles displayed. The show stretched out along most of Broadway, the main downtown commercial thoroughfare. My favorite cars were a 1963 Cadillac mild custom convertible lowered close to the ground and featuring a bar grille, lakes pipes along the sides, plus a lustrous purple paint job. Another one that caught my eye there was a plain Jane 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 two-door sedan, parked right next to another fave, a 1963 Chevy Nova two-door hardtop. Videographers from “Wakes and Wheels” recorded this event which can be viewed on You Tube.
Another biggie from the 2023 memory books had to be the “Bombs Away” car show out at the Castle Air Museum. Several hundred collector cars and trucks sought shade under the wings of vintage Air Force planes and drew a healthy crowd of several thousand spectators.
Sometimes the smaller and more intimate car shows stand out, especially the Thursday night affairs out at the Vista winery off Highway 140 between Merced and Planada. This event takes place on a grassy area covered by a large shade canopy and it often attracts vehicles from out of this area.
The Yosemite Avenue parking lot of Merced’s Anberry rehabilitation center might not seem to be the most scenic setting but it attracted a bumper crop of vintage vehicles one Saturday morning and gave many of the rehabbing residents a unique opportunity to check out vehicles tucked away in their memory banks. Another great event was held behind the Park Merced assisted living complex. We hope there are more such old car events in 2024 at Merced’s convalescent hospitals.
The first Saturday of the month from about March until October is reserved for the “Cars and Coffee” gathering out behind the Merced Mall. It’s too bad this show only lasts from about 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. It draws several rarely-seen European exoticars like Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Maseratis, a number of Japanese “tuner” cars and a sizable number of muscle cars.
Everybody wins at events held around Halloween in front of the Merced Police Department. This “Cops for Critters” show benefits animals at Merced’s Applegate Park Zoo and allows auto enthusiasts, the general public and police officers to mingle in a relaxed setting.
During spring, summer and fall Friday nights, you can count on a respectable showing of old cars at the weekly event hosted by the Valley Vintage Car Club at H&W Drive-In on West 16th Street.
And Merced’s Italo American Lodge has proven for several years that it can host a terrific old car show on West 18th Street. There’s quite a gathering of old cars and trucks in the fall at Snelling’s Henderson Park. Car shows also take place at shady parks in Chowchilla and Gustine. Events in Oakdale and Modesto also attract large crowds of old car devotees.
Merced has several parades on West Main Street during the year and they are a golden opportunity to check out old cars on the move.
While some old cars and trucks may become familiar sightings after a couple of events, I can just about count on seeing some drop-dead gorgeous vehicle for the first time at each show.
With auto racing, cruise nights and Major League Baseball in winter hibernation, I am having to resort now to televised Westminster Kennel Club dog shows from New York for entertainment. But cheer up! Our winters are relatively mild and short compared to other parts of the country so it won’t be too long before we can exercise the shoe leather once again on the streets of Merced and Atwater.
Doane Yawger of Merced is a semi-retired newspaper reporter and editor.