There is no such thing as a bum car show. However, there’s no denying that some vintage vehicle events are bigger and better than others. One of the best of the best has to be the annual “Bombs Away” show co-hosted by the Castle Air Museum and the Valley Vintage Car Club of Merced.
Saturday’s 10th annual event saw 210 old cars and trucks of all descriptions spread across the display area where old Air Force planes are displayed. There is something magical about parking your 1965 Mustang under the wings of a B-52; mixing the two enthusiast genres — planes and pony cars — is a recipe for success. The variety showcased ensures that there will be something for everybody to enjoy. Quite a large crowd roamed the grounds at the Atwater museum soaking up the sights in ideal weather conditions.
I have seven pages of scribbled notes of my favorite cars and lots of others rolling around in my mind. So on with the show!
My personal “best of show” award would go to a 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 XL two-door hardtop. It was painted a baby blue, wide whitewall tires with stock hubcaps and a spic-and-span interior. Over the years this particular Ford has endeared itself to me more and more, with its sloped and rounded tail section and conspicuous chromed grille section.
Next best in my book would be a beige 1966 Lincoln Continental four-door sedan, accented by a cream-colored leather interior. The rear doors open the opposite of most doors into the path of traffic, giving them the nickname “suicide doors.” It doesn’t get more elegant than this Lincoln luxury cruiser. It has a prominent chromed grille but most of the other styling features are restrained and dignified.
I also was drawn to a 1949 Oldsmobile convertible cloaked in a bright yellow paint. It looked pretty much stock but had a modern drivetrain, including a 350 cubic-engine Chevrolet V-8 engine. The 1949-50 Oldsmobile 88 models are about the most graceful Olds ever made, one step down from the bigger 98 models.
Another Bombs Away favorite was a 1956 Buick two-door hardtop in a vibrant green with some mild custom touches, including wedge-like taillights that came from a 1956 Packard. I learned to drive on a 1956 Buick Super sedan so the portholes on the side, the large chrome protrusions on the front bumper and the original “nailhead” V-8 engine are near and dear to me.
A 1959 Chevrolet Impala two-door hardtop was painted white and had small dog dish hubcaps. The interior was original-appearing and the overall effect was dazzling.
Everybody’s favorite car at the show, a 1961 Chevrolet Impala convertible, was painted the brightest red imaginable and had an original-appearing interior. Autos from the 1960s just look right with wide whitewall tires and the hubcaps they came with.
An orange-red color accented a 1968 AMC Javelin two-door hardtop. American Motors combined smaller-sized bodies with high-horsepower motors and distinctive styling.
Unusual was the name of the game at Bombs Away. A 1958 Crown Firecoach firetruck stood out. It still carried the patina of years of service with the city of Atwater and time spent at Atwater’s Wood Fruit Co. The faded red body panels had been buffed out somewhat and chrome bumpers and accessories were refreshed. The truck featured reels of firehose and could pump 100 psi of water if need be. Crown manufactured a lot of school buses during this time but apparently got into the act fighting fires too.
On the other side of the size spectrum was a 1959 American Motors Metropolitan with a yellow body and white top, looking very original.
Several 1960s and 1970s Chevrolet pickup trucks glistened in the midday sun and somehow must have escaped heavy duty chores earlier in their “lives.”
Also dripping with luxury elegance was a 1956 Cadillac Coupe De Ville two-door hardtop with a well-worn mocha and white paint scheme.
Two 1955 Ford Thunderbird roadsters were spotted, one in bright red and the other in a sherbet green with a pearl overcoat and a later model drivetrain.
Hearkening back to 1938 was a lumbering Plymouth four-door sedan, complete with the bustleback trunk, an interior big enough to fit a large family and the Mayflower-inspired hood ornament.
In the same league, a dark blue 1941 Chevrolet four-door sedan also could haul mom, dad and a bunch of kids with ease. It also could be parked in front of the opera without looking out of place.
You couldn’t go very far on the museum grounds without encountering a favorite, such as the red 1965 Plymouth Barracuda. Its telltale feature is a big greenhouse-style rear window.
Also pegging my nostalgia meter was a white 1966 Dodge Polara two-door hardtop with its trademark Pentastar hood ornament leading the way.
In the Mopar camp was a 1965 Plymouth Sport Fury convertible looking original except for modern wheels and tires.
You couldn’t miss a 1966 Chevy Nova two-door hardtop in jet black. Cruising by you couldn’t help but notice the healthy exhaust sound from this car.
Looking very much original and untouched was a 1958 Oldsmobile 88 two-door hardtop, its white paint job trying not to grab much attention.
Also original-appearing was a 1958 Corvette roadster in red with white accents.
At Bombs Away, you can’t miss some of your personal favorites, such as a black 1968 Firebird two-door hardtop, the second year this model was offered.
Beige also adorned a 1962 Ford Thunderbird two-door hardtop, a car that mimicked the “Bombs Away” aeronautical theme of the car show.
A 1964 Chevy Nova two-door hardtop had several things going on, including a silver and black paint scheme and a riser hood that hinted at the high-horsepower engine underneath.
Most car builders want their old car to be noticed by others and that couldn’t be helped with a 1955 Chevy two-door sedan delivery in a brilliant turquoise with graphics.
Fifties Chevies are all the rage and a 1956 two-door hardtop with a yellow top and bottom and white body had the stock vibe going on.
Everybody likes gold and a 1970 Ford Mustang two-door hardtop gleamed with the Fort Knox colors.
Out in the open and away from the wings of the military airplanes was a 1961 Chevrolet Impala two-door hardtop. Under the hood was a 409 cubic-inch V-8 engine to bump up the performance aspect.
A just-finished 1950 Ford two-door sedan combined an eyecatching metallic red paint job with a few mild custom touches to the headlights and rear deck area.
Muscle car fanciers would have to like a 1969 Mustang Mach 1 fastback in bright red. Another 1969 Mustang 302 fastback caught my eye as well.
One of the award winners was a 1956 Chevrolet Bel-Air Nomad station wagon in a blue and gray paint scheme with vintage Halibrand wheels.
Tucked off in a corner was a 1963 Pontiac Grand Prix two-door hardtop with nothing to be ashamed about.
One doesn’t often see a 1968 Ford Torino Squire station wagon, complete with its wooden side panels.
A 1970 Chevelle had about the brightest orange colors I have ever seen.
There were several 1940-41 Willys race cars on scene to keep the vintage drag racing theme alive.
Ford, Chevy and Chrysler makes were all well-represented at Bombs Away, including a 1970 Dodge Challenger in bright orange.
With over 200 old cars and trucks to check out, along with vendor booths and old planes, Saturday’s show had something for everybody, myself included. Car shows of all sizes are worth attending but you don’t want to miss a biggie like Bombs Away.
Doane Yawger of Merced is a semi-retired newspaper reporter and editor.