Stories from the Saratoga Springs AACA Nationals

It may seem like I attend car shows for the cars; however, I discovered long ago that the more enjoyable element is meeting new hobbyists and uncovering the stories behind their prized automotive possessions. The AACA National in Saratoga Springs held earlier this month was ripe with such stories. Here are a few of them.

Bob and his 1969 GTO

My initial attraction to this Goat was the colorful striping; it’s so late ‘60s, and Ford and Chrysler were doing similar outrageous things with paint, decals, and the like. But think about the pure nerve to name a car “The Judge”, as if it ruled over everyone and everything (and that certainly was what the marketing folks had in mine).

The owner, Bob, saw my interest and approached me. He was low-key, but wanted to be sure that I knew that this was a one-owner car, bought new by him just before he entered military service. Here’s a partial quote from the car’s display sign:

“I purchased the car new in March of 1969 (and) married Nancy on June 7, 1969…. Nancy drove “The Judge” to work every day while I was gone (in the Navy). In the fall of 1974, I decided to put it in storage, where it stayed … until the fall of 2012, when I decided it was time to have a concours restoration completed on it….  (The shop) completed the car in August of 2013 and we have enjoyed taking it around the country, sharing the car and its story with others….”

The restoration looked top-notch to me, and it’s wonderful to behold this pinnacle of the American muscle car era, which was soon to fade away. Bob was beaming with pride the entire time he talked to me about his Judge. He had every reason to be completely proud of it.

Dave and his 1955 Thunderbird

Two-seat T-Birds, aka Baby Birds, are not an uncommon sight at an AACA show. There were perhaps a half-dozen in Saratoga Springs, but it was the color of this ’55 which drew me in and brought me to ask the owner “what is the name of this color?” Dave replied “Thunderbird Blue”, at which moment I recalled that I always found that just a bit odd, as the paint certainly has a greenish tint, appearing closer to aqua. This of course led us to talk more about his car, which is when he revealed that he bought this ‘Bird in 1969, and it was the very first motor vehicle he ever owned.

After driving it on and off for many years, he laid it up in 1991. Fifteen years later, in 2006, he decided to embark on a restoration. Dave said that one of the biggest challenges was seeking out a repair shop willing to let him participate in some of the actual work, which was the only way he was going to afford the job. One can only imagine how 15 years of off-the-road storage added to the complexities of the operation.

Whether it was due to the shop’s schedule, Dave’s availability to participate, his ability to fund the repairs, or some combination of all the above, the work which began in 2006 took thirteen years to complete. Looking at the photos, I think you will agree that patience was rewarded! Dave summed up the present situation by confiding “when I saw the finished product in 2019, I realized that the car was too nice to drive, so THEN I had to purchase a truck and trailer; but once this award circuit is done, I’m putting it on the road and plan to enjoy some time behind the wheel!”

Richard and his 1964 Riviera

What grabs you at first glance is the color. Not that “green” is an unusual color for a vehicle of this era; it certainly is not. It’s this particular shade of green, dubbed by Buick’s marketing team as “Surf Green”. The paint is complemented by the pure white interior, both in impeccable condition, and the entire package from bumper to bumper is undeniably appealing.

I’ve seen this car before; in fact, I photographed it at the NJ-hosted AACA Nationals in Parsippany in 2019. This time, I spoke to the owner, Richard, who was in Saratoga Springs seeking his Repeat Preservation award. He’s a long-time Riviera fan, and unabashedly told me that he’s owned “quite a few ‘63s, ‘64s, and ‘65s”, and this one might be my favorite”. He prefers the first two years, stating “those clamshell headlights are a pain, the doors always getting stuck part-way”. This ’64 has factory air which makes long summer drives that much more pleasurable, provided you’re prepared for the frequent fuel stops. He went on: “A lot of guys want the high-output motor with the two 4-barrels. Let me tell you, yeah, the top end jumps from 130 to 133 mph but you go from 12 to 8 mpg, and good luck getting those carbs synchronized!”

When I asked him to pose next to the car, he laughed and exclaimed “why do you want to ruin the shot?”. Only after I got home and looked at the snap did I notice that his shirt and pants matched his car….

Phil and his 1929 Reo

The day before the show, there was an option to take a tour of a private auto collection nearby. The AACA had arranged for a bus to take us to and from that warehouse, and it was on the bus where I met the entire family: Phil, the patriarch, with his wife Kathy, their son John, and John’s wife and 3-year-old daughter. Phil and I ended up sitting next to each other, and what else were we going to talk about but stock futures our own cars. “The family” was showing their 1929 Reo in the show, and it was in Saratoga Springs seeking its First Preservation award.

Now, you don’t exactly see Reo automobiles of any year on a regular basis, but a few are around. (For the uninitiated, Reo is the initials of company founder Ransom E. Olds, yes, the same person who founded Oldsmobile.) What was most intriguing about Phil’s car was that it had belonged to his grandfather. While Phil never revealed when his grandfather bought the car, I knew Phil’s age, and some quick estimations make it at least possible that grandpop bought it new (his grandfather might have been around 30 years old in 1929).

Just as interesting was hearing stories from Phil’s wife about how, before it was restored, the Reo was “just a driver” and they would throw all their kids into the spacious rear seat and go cruising. It sounded like the car was kept in decent running condition and the family didn’t hesitate to put miles on it during their younger years. Now that it’s been fully restored, it’s a trailer queen, and after Saratoga, they are trucking it to the AACA Grand National in Minnesota later this summer. Like Dave with the T-Bird, though, once it’s earned its Repeat Preservation, they said that the trailering ends and the driving fun begins again.

Obviously, the collector car disease has infected the next generation, as in speaking to their son John, he informed me that he already has a small collection of pre-war Fords (THIS from someone who was born in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s!). Hearing this should give us assurance that the collector car hobby will continue in some fashion, especially if it’s done as a family affair.


Bob’s GTO, bought new by him, was in storage for many years, then restored. Dave’s T-Bird, his first car, was put in storage then took 13 years to restore. Richard’s Riviera, one of many he’s owned, looks like it’s “the keeper” for him. Phil’s Reo, in the family since his grandfather owned it, finally got a full restoration after many years as a driver. Their stories are different but have common elements. Patience and perseverance are a huge part of each saga. It’s the passion for a special car, whether it’s a new acquisition or a long-term family member, that brings together people, machines, and memories.

All photographs copyright © 2021 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Car Spotting, Staten Island NY, March 2021

A few weeks ago, on one of the first sunny Saturdays we’ve had this season, my wife and I decided to cruise over to Staten Island, NY, where we both spent time as youngsters. (I was born and raised there; my wife did the “Western hop”: she was born in Brooklyn, moved to S.I. and then to New Jersey, all before she was out of her teenage years.) Our goal was simply to drive by a few of our old haunts, grab a cultural lunch at an Italian deli, and head back home before it got too late.  

The last thing on my mind was that this visit, my first trip back to The Old Country since the pandemic shutdown started, would turn into a Car Spotter’s Event. But Event it became. I don’t recall noticing this many old cars on the Island during any previous trip. Perhaps most surprising is that two of these cars were parked on the street as if they’re seeing regular daily driver duty.

I grabbed what photos I could, but traffic congestion caused me to miss a few, notably a 1973 Buick Century two-door coupe on a trailer parked on the street; and a Lincoln Continental Mark III in the parking lot at South Beach.

It is also complete coincidence that the two Fords below are the same year, and the Chevy is also the same or within one year of the other two. (Any of you Chevy experts able to distinguish a ’62 from a ’63 from a ’64 Chevy II from the rear?)

This 1963 Ford Falcon convertible (first model year for a Falcon droptop) was parked on Bement Ave. in West Brighton. Looking at Google photos of similar Falcons, I believe that there was a substantial amount of exterior trim along the sides and back which have since gone missing on this one. That top may not be keeping out much moisture, but the car is plated, and looks like one could drop that top and enjoy a sunny ride to the South Shore.

This 1963 Ford Thunderbird hardtop was spotted in a driveway on a side street off Bard Ave. in West Brighton. It hasn’t moved in a while, and its outdoor storage isn’t doing it any favors. From this angle, it appears to be all there, but needs someone with welding skills. It’s the final year of the three-year run of the “Bullet Birds”, a personal favorite.

This 1st generation Chevy II (1962-1964), fuzzy dice and all, was parked on Father Capodanno Blvd. in South Beach. The best I could do for a shot was to pull in behind it and shoot through my windshield. It’s a four-door sedan, and Chevy probably sold a million of these “normal” compacts (compared to the “abnormal” Corvair compacts). The “Godeny” dealer emblem from Carteret NJ (just over the Goethals Bridge) likely means that this car has never left the area.

All photographs copyright © 2021 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.