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Saturday, July 13, 2024
‘Steeling’ the show: Classic cars a hit at Niagara Motors
Pete Zeppetella and his custom 1953 Chevy pick up stole the show despite the truck's restoration being unfinished. RICHARD WRIGHT
Hot rods line the parking lot at the Niagara Motors Annual Car Show in Virgil on July 6. RICHARD WRIGHT
Niagara-on-the-Lake's Terry Nord and his 1953 GMC 9300 pick up. RICHARD WRIGHT
A model T-Ford hot rod in a bright green colour. RICHARD WRIGHT
A 1966 Chevrolet Nova with the hood popped for a look at the engine. RICHARD WRIGHT

Pete Zeppetella rolled into the Niagara Motors third-annual car show in Virgil on Saturday, July 6 in a 71-year-old, half-finished, custom-made pickup — and he stole the show.

The faded orange convertible, adorned with sanding scars, murky remnants of flame trails and salivating demonic pumpkin heads, looked more ready for the scrapyard than it did for a stall at the show.

Still, it had something. And judging by the crowd it attracted as he put the old beast into park and stepped out under the hot Saturday sun, that something was stopping power.

Few could pull their eyes away. 

Zeppetella, a St. Catharines native, was more than happy to let everyone know just what he had: a 1953 Chevrolet pickup.

“It’s got a 305 rebuilt (engine). It’s got voodoo cam-flat top pistons, high-compression. It’s got sleeves on the back so my back end flips up and it’s got a flip front end on it,” he said, going over just a portion of the truck’s specs and features.

It was the paint job, though, that was really the show-stopper. If Scooby-Doo’s Mystery Machine wasn’t a van, it would have been this.

“When I bought it, whoever had it before me did it all Halloween,” said Zeppetella, who has owned the truck since 2009.

“And when I started sanding it down, more Halloween stuff came out. I was going to paint it completely orange, right, but everyone likes it this way.”

His wasn’t the only vehicle to attract admirers.

Mel Deroches didn’t have a car in the show, but was caught leaning over a jet-black and pristine 1966 Chevy Nova.

There is something about a classic car, he said.

A product of the era he grew up in as a teenager, it wasn’t so much the Nova that turned his head, although he was duly impressed.

His tastes go back a little further.

“I grew up in the ’40s and ’50s. I like the cars from the ’50s especially,” he said. “The ‘56 Chev, the ‘57 Chev. They are all solid cars, lots of good steel.”

There was plenty of steel at this show. 

Organizers estimated there were close to 100 vehicles on the lot, ranging from 1920s-era hot rod Model Ts, 1960s-era Thunderbirds, Firebirds, Corvettes, 1950s family cruisers that seemed as long as a city block, new model Mustangs — both of the Shelby and non-Shelby variety — custom, factory, other worldly.

You name it, they were there and most of them came from Niagara.

Deroches was impressed.

“I am surprised,” he said. “I thought there would be less cars here than there are, and nice ones too!”

“The guys that bring them here are so proud. These are their toys.”

Toys, yes. Cheap, no. 

Just ask Lee Cratt, who went on vacation with his family to North Carolina in 1992 with no thoughts of buying a vehicle but still came home with a 1966 Chevy Pickup.

Still needing cash to use on vacation, he had to borrow the money to buy the truck. 

Once he got the truck back to Canada, he took it apart right down to its bare frame and then put it back together over the next 25 years.

Despite that, the truck still has its original paint job. It looks as if it was sprayed yesterday.

The Niagara-on-the-Lake retiree also owns two Pontiac Firebirds, one a ‘67 and a ‘91 Trans Am convertible.

He is obviously a motorhead and says he does it for his love of vehicles. But there’s also another reason:

“Because people like you come out and ask me about it,” he proudly stated as if talking about his first born.

“I get a real thrill because I did most of this. I didn’t paint it, but I put it all back together. It gives you a little bit of pride to know that you did this yourself.”

While Cratt did all the work himself, by being at the show he was helping others.

Organizers donated proceeds to Red Roof Retreat, a charitable organization that provides children, youth and young adults with special needs — and their families — with recreational and respite services.

“Red Roof is really close to our hearts,” said Matt Habinski, the car show’s lead organizer and a Niagara Motors employee.

“We are really proud to support them and their cause.”

wright@niagaranow.com

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