In one more week, car collectors and enthusiasts will head down to Ocean City for the 17th Annual Cruisin’, celebrating America’s infatuation with automobiles. Hot rods, customs and street machines will parade their panache and performance in a throwback to eras past.
While many will travel from hundreds of miles around, there are also some local faces that will bring their tastes and passions to the streets.
Roxana resident Walter McFall has been fixing up and restoring automobiles for nearly three decades. His pride and joy is his very first project: a 1954 Chevy Bel Air two-door sedan, a car identical to his first, bought when he was a teenager.
“Everything is the same as the one I had purchased brand new back in ’54,” said McFall.
He came across this find in 1978 and restored it by 1980, collecting parts over the two years to get it all together.
“I got to the point where I wanted something to do with no pressure,” he said, “and I’ve always been looking for years and years and years for something like it.”
Despite its hard-to-come-by looks, McFall is the car’s second licensed owner.
The striking turquoise-blue exterior, along with a white hardtop and interior, have caught many an eye – and not just from passersby on the road.
The Franklin Mint, a private corporation based in Exton, Pa., that markets collectibles, came to McFall’s home to take measurements and photos for a week before creating a replica of the automobile.
“I got a call in Georgetown one day,” McFall recalled, “from the Mint. They had seen my car at a show, and told me I had the only one around here, and they decided they wanted to make a model.”
Numerous car dealers have displayed McFall’s Bel Air in their showroom floors, too, including Seaside Chevrolet in Frankford and First State Chevrolet in Georgetown.
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Daniel Bove’s recently restored, midnight-blue 1967 Pontiac GTO is strikingly similar to Bove’s first car, a 1965 Pontiac GTO.
“People know it’s out there,” he said. “When you belong to different car clubs, you get to see a lot.”
The car was rented for filming in the Academy Award-winning 1989 movie, “Dead Poets Society,” though none of those scenes made it to the movie’s final reels. “People definitely notice the car, though,” he said. “It really stands out. It has a lot of class.”
McFall continued his hobby with cosmetic work on a 1963 Chevrolet Corvair Monza convertible that he acquired a few years after finishing the Bel Air. “It was very cleaned-up and I didn’t have to do a lot of work to it,” he said.
A paint job, new top and refurbished interior was all that McFall had to do to get his Corvair looking like its original state.
“I happened to be in the right place at the right time when I bought this car,” he said. “It’s a very unique car.” The Corvair Monza was popular in the 1960s and saw only a couple of models – one from 1960 to 1964 and another, sportier, one from 1965-1969. “This is one of the last styles of this model,” he said.
A jet-black body, red leather interior and white drop-top help give the Corvair a very fashionable and traditional appeal. It even sports a prominent eight-track player in the dash.
“That’s a very rare item to still have,” he said.
It’s always been the style and elegance of the automobiles that sparked his interest rather than power and strength.
“There are a lot of muscle cars out there – the Chevelles and the GTO’s,” McFall said. “They’re great cars, too, but these are the older cars that look good. That’s what I like about them. There seem to be more Chevrolets around than there are Fords and Chrysler products. Chevy seems to command all the attention.”
Both his Bel Air and Corvair have made appearances in Ocean City’s Cruisin’ festivities. “I like to go and see all the cars,” McFall said. “There are lots of people that come out, and you get to see all types of different automobiles.”
McFall was raised in Pennsylvania, though he eventually found his way to Sussex County, where his parents grew up. His family had frequented lower Delaware when he was younger, for camping – one of the few pastimes he had as a young man. “I didn’t really have too many hobbies,” he said. “I was fortunate to get into this. I really enjoy it.”
Daniel Bove, McFall’s son-in-law, was also bit by the automobile bug, though his admiration is more apparent in the brawn and force of his collection.
“I like to hear the big motors roar and smell the high-octane gas,” Bove said. While he admitted an appreciation for style and appearance, he said it’s the muscle and power under the hood that caught his interest. Working as an industrial mechanic, he’s had a knack for machinery for much of his life.
“I always enjoyed working on cars, but I never wanted to be an auto mechanic,” he said. “I guess I enjoy restoring them more for pleasure, and didn’t want to make it a job.”
Bove began his obsession when he bought his first car at the age of 16, a 1965 Pontiac GTO. He recently restored a 1967, midnight-blue GTO, very similar to his first, complete with a custom wood-grain dash and racing-style gauges.
His extensive repertoire of restored vehicles also includes two additional Pontiac GTO’s, two Chevrolet Corvettes, a 1938 Chevrolet street-rod, a 1936 Chevrolet pick-up street-rod, a few hot-rod Jeeps, four-wheel drive pick-up trucks – and his summertime vehicle, a tuned-up dune buggy.
“I prefer Pontiacs,” Bove said, attributing much of his preference to his first car. “They seem to stick around most. I’m mostly drawn to them.”
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Artist Geri Dibiase was inspired by Ocean City’s Cruisin’ to take macro-style photographs of hot rods.
Bove has sold many of the cars that he has spent years on, often finding something new to work on after releasing his work to another car lover.
Though he enjoys riding in his 1973 Corvette Stingray and Pontiac GTO, gas prices often discourage long-distance drives. In addition, antique car tags limit the number of miles that can be put on these cars each year. “They get the most miles on them when I head to car shows or if they’re used in parades,” he said.
Currently, Bove is restoring a Pontiac Firebird convertible for his wife, Brenda, in the garage of their Millville home. “She’s a gear-head, too,” he said with a laugh. “She likes hot rods, so it all works out.”
Bove has showcased his cars in Ocean City in past years and plans to head back down next week.
“I like seeing the different ways people restore them cars,” he said. “Some people like to keep them looking original, some like to give them their own touches.”
But for Bove, Cruisin’s more than about the cars themselves. “I have a lot of friends, who – although they don’t live that far apart – it’s one of the only times we see each other,” he said. “You really meet a lot of people each year. It’s nice to have a lot of people come together, sharing the same interest.”
Cruisin’ will run from Thursday, May 17, through Sunday, May 20, in Ocean City. Show hours at the Convention Center will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Show hours at the Inlet Parking Lot run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Boardwalk parades will begin at 8 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings.