Cruisin’ the ’50s; a surprise Sentra; CR lauds Impala

Mike Iandoli’s black 1940 Ford was part of last summer’s inaugural Newburyport show.
Mike Iandoli’s black 1940 Ford was part of last summer’s inaugural Newburyport show.
BILL GRIFFITH

Newburyport’s 2d Annual “Cruisin’ the ’50s” car show Aug. 15 from 5-8 p.m. is a bit different from your average Cruise Night. For starters, the downtown’s main thoroughfares, State and Pleasant streets, are shut down for the event.

Another difference is that the 170 cars that will be on display will be there by invitation-only.

Last year’s inaugural event, with 120 cars invited, was an overwhelming hit, so much so that the crowd, estimated at 6,000, caught many local restaurants by surprise.

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Wes Pettengill, who is organizing the show in conjunction with the Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and local radio station WNBP (1450 AM), credits those two outlets for getting the word out both over the airwaves and via the chamber’s extensive email list.

Newburyport is a day-trip destination. Its just-completed annual 10-day Yankee Homecoming celebration is the highlight of the summer tourism season.

The chamber was looking for an additional signature event to fill the calendar before a series of fall weekend festivals when Carl Strube, co-owner of WNBP, floated the idea of a downtown car show.

“We were happy to bring our event-running experience to the mix,” says Ann Ormond, president of the Newburyport Chamber of Commerce.

Pettengill was a natural to organize the automotive side of the event. He hosts a weekly “Calling All Cars” show each Monday from 6-7 p.m. on WNBP, organizes the popular Skip’s Cruise Nights in Merrimac each summer, and this year launched a series of Tuesday night cruise-ins at Haley’s ice cream in Newburyport.

Year one was such a success that Marshal Thomas Howard, the city’s police chief, worked with organizers to create an additional 50 spaces in the downtown area.

“More than half of the cars will be from the ’50s,” says Pettengill, “but we’ve got some other special vehicles, too.”

One is a 1911 Bailey Electric car, built in Amesbury. The car, still owned by the Bailey family, has a range of 80 miles, about the same as many of today’s electrics. It remains in mostly original condition and is one of four Baileys known to exist.

“The downtown venue creates amazing energy for the event,” says Pettengill. “You’ve got the trees, the brick buildings, and live music. For the average person, the cars don’t have to be rare just as long as they bring back memories. But, for the collector car community, we wanted to have something really special.”

That’s why Pettengill was willing to risk some hurt feelings by only inviting cars he “knows” and visiting shows around the area and issuing discreet invitations to owners of cars that caught his eye, including five from the July 28 Misselwood Concours at Endicott College in Beverly.

If it sometimes takes a village to raise a child, Newburyport is proving that a city can become a time machine and go back to the ’50s.

Surprise Sentra Package

Automotive journalists love to talk about the “driving experience,” when reviewing cars, but many auto buyers are more interested in factors such as affordability, fuel mileage, interior room, and trunk space.

If you fall into that latter category, the new Nissan Sentra might be just the car for you.

It scored high in all of those categories. A weekend of driving a Sentra, we realized 36.4 mpg, way above expectations.

We spent a week in the Sentra SV, the trim level that’s one step up from the base model. Base price was $17,790. Main options were the SV driver package ($1,000), and Navigation ($650). The nav system adds a welcome rearview monitor. Total MSRP was $20,580 (including destination).

The rear seat legroom was more like that of a mid-size vehicle and the trunk space was cavernous—in both cases what we’d have expected in the larger Nissan Altima.

The drivetrain was a 1.8-liter four with a CVT that was geared for economy. Drivers have the option of three driving modes: normal, eco, and sport. They are quite distinct, with Sport mode boosting the driving configuration and making the throttle response extremely sensitive.

Impala Ranks No. 1

Most Americans remember all the stories about how Detroit would never catch up to the imports, not to mention years of reading how Japanese imports topped Consumer Reports’ automotive ranking again.

That was turned upside-down last month when the consumer magazine ranked the Chevrolet Impala as the top sedan, ending 20 years of dominance by Japanese and European models.

The Impala went from a mediocre 63 rating to a 95, the third highest rating CR has given a vehicle this year. It trailed only the Tesla Model H and the BMW 135i coupe.

“We’ve seen a number of redesigned American models, including the Chrysler 300, Ford Escape and Fusion, and Jeep Grand Cherokee, deliver world-class performance in our tests,” says Jake Fisher, director of CR automotive testing.

Etc.

Sunday is BMW Day at Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline. Next Saturday, the MGs and Rovers (the cars, not the family pets) take over the lawn. …Next Friday and Saturday is the 8th annual Northeast Chevelle and El Camino Regional at Sturbridge Host Hotel.