Newburyport Goes ‘Back to the Future’ In Cruisin’ the ’50s

PARKING JAM: Crowds at last year’s Newburyport car show filled the downtown to view 150 special interest cars. There will be more of the same this Thursday evening, starting at 5 p.m.
PARKING JAM: Crowds at last year’s Newburyport car show filled the downtown to view 150 special interest cars. There will be more of the same this Thursday evening, starting at 5 p.m. –WNBP

One of the big civic issues in Newburyport over the past 15 years has been public parking.

This coming Thursday evening (5-8 p.m.) parking won’t be a problem; that is, as long as you happen to be driving one of the 200 special interest cars invited to participate in the city’s third annual Cruisin’ the ’50s car show.

Where most car shows are held in a big parking lot or field, the Newburyport event reflects a growing trend to close city streets to public parking and put on a city-sponsored car show.

“You’re seeing more and more of these downtown shows,’’ says Steve Whipple, who publishes and edits Whip’s Wheels, covering the collector car hobby, cruise nights, and car shows in the Merrimack Valley, Essex County, and Southern New Hampshire.


“Manchester [NH] has a huge show and both Amesbury and Peabody have started shows,’’ he says. “It’s a great way to bring thousands of families and car buffs to town. Generally, the restaurants are on board. There are bands, shops to visit, and it becomes a great family event.’’

That’s certainly the case in Newburyport where Mayor Donna Holaday, a very active Chamber of Commerce, and local radio station The Legends (1450 AM, 106.1-FM) have collaborated on the event since its inception.

The car guy at the center of the event is Wes Pettengill, who hosts “Calling All Cars’’ from 6-7 p.m. each Monday on The Legends stations.

Pettengill made the show by invitation only to guarantee a variety of different vehicles for spectators and that none would draw the ire of the city fathers. “Having to say no to people is a good way to disappoint a lot of friends,’’ he says.

Local officials thought he’d have a tough time matching last year’s featured car: the original Batmobile. The car was parked in the Institution for Savings lot and drew huge crowds, with many people happy to make a charitable donation to have their photo taken beside the car.


If Pettengill hasn’t equaled that attraction, he’s come close, inviting Patrick and Bill Shea to bring their “Back to the Future’’ DeLorean, the car made famous by Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly) and Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Brown) in the movie trilogy.

“It isn’t the DeLorean used in the movie, but rather one they’ve created to be a screen-accurate rendition,’’ says Pettengill. “The Sheas, who live in Central Mass., do own the only DeLorean used in those movies that’s in private hands, but we asked them to bring this one because we want to replicate one of the scenes from the movie.’’

Show-goers can get their photo taken with the car (but not inside) for a donation to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, part of the obligation the Sheas feel as caretakers of the DeLoreans.

Newburyport this year has donated two additional areas (Tracey Park and Harris Street) for show cars along with State Street, Pleasant Street, Inn Street, and the bank parking lot.

A special eight-car 50th anniversary Mustang display will be a solo attraction in the Tracey lot off Pleasant Street.

“Walter Ayre of Eliot, ME, saw the original 1964½ Mustang on display at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and ordered one as soon as he got home,’’ says Pettengill. “Ford says he’s now one of 26 owners who still have their first-year Mustangs.’’

What’s interesting is that Ayre dragged the Mustang around the country from job to job before settling in Maine and finally restoring the car in 2005.


“Now his grandson is interested in the car and one day will inherit it. The grandson already has been invited to the 100th anniversary celebration,’’ says Pettengill.

All generations of the Mustang will be represented in the gathering, including a 2014 version, courtesy of Wall Ford in neighboring Salisbury.

Local car folks are hoping that the project that Pettengill has been calling “Restoration Nation,’’ makes it to the show. That’s his 1957 Chevrolet Nomad (two-door station wagon) that’s been off the road since 2008 and now is mostly reassembled except for a carburetor that’s out being rebuilt.

One of the pre-show local publicity events has been to guess the identity of the show’s “Marvelous Mystery Car.’’ sponsored by Benatti Jewelers, because the car is, they say, “stunning, like our handcrafted jewelry.’’

That description is among the 10 clues. Others are: It’s not American, it’s worth just shy of $1 million, it’s not a common maker’s name, it won a major North Shore award within the past five years, it’s got a hand-built body, it has plenty of fender skirts, it was built in 1948 but has a pre-war look, it’s a roadster, and it’s beautifully rendered in black and chrome.

We’re assuming someone has figured it out already so we can identify that mystery car—to be on display Thursday—as the 1948 Delahaye 135M Figoni et Falaschi that won the best in show at Misselwood Concours in 2012.

“I’ve been publishing Whip’s for 23 years now,’’ says Whipple, “and every year I wonder if interest in cars will start to wane. Instead, it’s been growing more than ever.’’

Where are the BMWs?

Today, they’re at Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline where all manner of Bavarian delicacies will be on display. It’s sponsored by the active Boston chapter of the BMW CCA. The show runs from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. … Also today, the Roger Williams Zoo Park in Providence is hosting a show where participants get four zoo tickets and can see show cars displayed throughout the park. Sorry, but we can’t resist this: What if you’ve got a tiger in your tank? Or drive a Beetle, Bronco, Barracuda, Cobra, Cougar, Fox, Impala, Mustang, Rabbit, Road Runner, Spyder, Sting Ray, or Viper?

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