WARNER ROBINS -- When James Smith was 17, he scraped together enough money to buy his first car, a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air.
On Saturday, he sat in a lawn chair next to his pride and joy. This 1957 Bel Air was not the one he tooled around in as a high school student, but had instead poured his heart and money into as an adult to keep alive the golden era of the American car industry.
His was one of the 268 vehicles registered at the Museum of Aviations Wings and Wheels Car Show, which drew thousands in its 20th year. Its not the museums biggest fundraiser, but museum spokesman Bob Dubiel said it brings in more people than any other event.
Smith, of Sycamore, said he bought his car in 1988 when it had a rusted body and he spent the next seven years restoring it to pristine condition. He couldnt say how much he has spent on the car.
I stopped counting at $50,000, he said. I had to for my wifes sake.
Cars at the show represented the full spectrum of American automobile history, including many current models with some modifications. Some vintage foreign cars were also on hand.
Gregg and Bonnie Henderson of Warner Robins are part of unique niche in the car restoration hobby. They are Mustang fans, and were at the show with two police pursuit Mustangs, one from the South Carolina State Patrol and the other from the Florida State Patrol. Both vehicles have been restored to exacting detail with the same colors, blue lights and radio equipment as when the cars were chasing criminals down interstate highways in the late 80s and early 90s.
Although they restored the South Carolina car themselves, they bought the Florida car fully restored Thursday.
Neither has a law enforcement background but they enjoy preserving law enforcement history, and have met the troopers that used both of the cars.
It just the novelty of it, Gregg Henderson said. Theres a group of us all across the country that does this.
Of course, they cant just go rolling down the road in fully marked police cars, as that could fetch a felony charge of impersonating a police officer. They cover the blue lights, and the Florida car has magnetic emblems they pull off. The South Carolina car has permanent emblems and they tape over those.
Still, even with those steps, they cant drive the South Carolina car in South Carolina and they cant drive the Florida car in Florida because the colors are too close to patrol cars currently in use there.
The show is free to the attendees. It generates money by the registration fees of those showing cars, as well as from vendors and sponsors. Popular attractions also included rides in a monster truck for $5, as well as photos with a replica Batmobile and a taxi used in the Avengers movie.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.