Saturday’s picture-perfect day along the Apalachicola Riverfront combined a pair of treats always in good taste- classic cars and Florida seafood.
As the enormous crowd of visitors fresh oysters from the bay, the brilliant sunlight sparkled off the chrome on the nearly 100 automobiles, trucks and motorcycles that lined Water Street in front of Riverfront Park to take part in the second annual Autos and Oyster Car Show.
From dragsters to Porsches, Model Ts to Harleys, the show featured a dazzling display of mechanical marvels in what was a major step forward for the show first introduced last year by Main Street.
In the end, the three-judge panel led by Tallahassee attorney J.C. O’Steen, who brought a decades-long international reputation to the task, selected a 1930 Ford Model A sport coupe as Best of Show.
The Sponsor’s Award, echoing the popular sentiment of many of the people who took in the show, went to a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle.
“This was one of the best organized local car shows that I’ve ever been to,” said O”Steen, high-praise from a man who has judged extensively at national and international events, and won the Lee Iacocca award in 2011. He was joined in the judging by Ricky Jones and Robert Crosby.
Gendreau’s winning vehicle was the result of close to 600 hours of restoration work over the past decade, making it “clean from stem to stern.” He pointed proudly to the shiny rims, and to the pop out ignition that was popularized during that early era of commonplace car theft, provided by a high-tensile spring, impervious to hacksaws, that avoided an intermittent spark by running from the ignition switch to the distributor.
In the case of Panama City’s Ron and Julie Merritt, their Beetle was a throwback to the ones Ron drove when he was a high school Army brat growing up in Germany. To make room for their border collie Ollie and doodle Augie, they piled their suitcase on the roof rack, in ‘60s fashion.
A bird biologist, Ron bought the Bug in Alabama for $6,500 and has since added brakes but had to do little else. “Everybody’s got a VW story,” he said. “When I get behind the wheel, I feel like a kid again.”
Cited among the 94 entrants for Farthest Traveled was Bill Werthers from Birmingham, Alabama, who brought his 1976 TVR, a British sports car, 350 miles to take part. Best Club Participation went to the 20 cars brought by the North Florida Porsche Club.
: “The show was an overwhelming success,” said Tom Fugate, who chaired the car show committee, and along with Billy Shirah and Bruce Williams, formed a second judging team. “We had a wonderful showing from a variety of car clubs from throughout the region from Tallahassee to Panama City and also were able to pull from a wider audience, including cars from Alabama and Georgia.
“The car community responded overwhelmingly to our appeal to attract people to a new event in Apalachicola,” he said. “We really appreciate the effort put forth by our local car club, the Forgotten Coast Cruisers, and all the volunteers who made it possible.”
With one of the main goals of the show to stimulate the downtown economy in the off season, Main Street organizers are confident they succeeded.
“Everyone was encouraged to stay overnight and to visit our local shops, restaurants, museums, and galleries,” Main Street Director Augusta West. “For some of the attendees, this was their first visit to Apalachicola, and for others, a chance to get to know Apalachicola better.
“Hospitality was a focal point for us. The response from the businesses we’ve talked to is that this event provided a strong, tangible increase in sales,” she said.
The local business community supported the event by donating door prizes and by participating in package deals that encouraged visitors to stay, dine and shop downtown.
The event was sponsored by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Visit Florida, Tallahassee Magazine, the Franklin County TDC, and WCTV.