Bernie Bernstein picked up his rat rod five years ago on a mountain in Nebo, North Carolina.
“Population: seven,” he recalled.
He and his father drove to get it — “Population: nine,” he laughed — and Bernstein was so excited that, instead of staying overnight as planned, he drove right back home to start working on it.
It’s a 1932 Dodge sedan with, among other items, a ‘33 Buick grille, ‘61 Corvette engine and pickup boards from 1933. It also looks a little worse for wear, different than his sleek 1927 Model T, a car he spent almost three years building, or his orange 1940 Ford pickup gasser, or modified hot rod, or ‘63 Chevy convertible.
That’s sort of the point, however.
“Rat rods are the culmination of different parts,” explained Bernstein. “This car’s as safe as any other on the road, but they’re meant to be hard-looking.”
It’s just one of the many kinds of classic cars that will start coming out this month in and around Lower Bucks County. It’s the time of year for car shows and cruise-ins, when local car enthusiasts meet up to show off their cars and enjoy others’ handiwork.
“This time of year, there’s something to do five days a week,” said Bernstein.
He’s part of the Old Frogs, short for Forgetful Retired Old GrumpS. Starting every April, the informal group of older car enthusiasts host the Harry Brown Memorial Chicken Cruise every Sunday night in Langhorne.
The event is a throwback to cruises from the 1950s, when people with hot rods or other cars would drive together to different parking lots to hang out. Now, similar events are often cruise-ins, where everyone stays at one place for a while.
“It’s a place to hang out and show what you have,” he said. “You come and go as you please, talk cars, talk shop. They’re free and open to anyone, all ages.”
The Old Frogs aren’t the only cruise in town, however. A new one, based out of the Faith
Reformed Church in Levittown, is held every second Saturday night from April through October.
A lead-up to the church’s second annual car show this fall, the cruise-in is the brainchild of Roy Staunch. “There are a lot of car enthusiasts in the area, so we’re looking to attract some new faces and friends,” he said
Staunch’s parents owned a Texaco station in Penndel, and he began drag racing on speedways as a teenager. Today, he’s proud to say he’s worked with his son and daughter, now adults, and wife, and that his grandson drag races, too — at the age of 13.
He does so through a new program hosted by the National Hot Rod Association, which allows kids that young to drive on speedways with an adult in the car.
“It gets that giddiness out of their system and gives them a strong appreciation for what they’re sitting in,” said Staunch. “It teaches them to have respect for other drivers and for your own car.”
His grandson won’t be driving around in Levittown, but others will — and will have the chance to win some unique prizes.
That’s one part of the cruise-ins that people like Bernstein and Staunch say set them apart from car shows: they’re less about judging than they are enjoying the cars and company, and maybe walking away with some unique prizes.
The Old Frogs, for instance, occasionally award hand-painted old hacksaws designed by local pinstriper Bob Melani. Staunch collects old magazines, hardware and other items from fellow car enthusiasts and uses them for award baskets instead of trophies.
“I’m not a big fan of judging car shows because there are a lot of guys out there who break their fingernails and skin their knuckles and do all the work they can,” said Staunch, as opposed to some who pay for the work that gets done on their cars.
The cruise-ins, instead, are a celebration of the culture and camaraderie surrounding the cars.
“My son has helped me build motors, my daughter has helped me build transmissions,” said Staunch. “We’re a car family.”
Here are just a few of the cruises and car shows coming to the area this month. For more events, visit http://www.carshowfinder.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org for weekly updates on upcoming events, car trivia and more.
Faith Reformed Church Cruise Nights, held on the second Saturday of each month through October from 6 to 9 p.m. on the Levittown Parkway. For information, email email@example.com or GMSperformance@aol.com.
Old Frogs Harry Brown’s Memorial Chicken Cruise Night, held every Sunday night from 6 p.m. until dark at the Middletown Shopping Center, 143 Woodbourne Road in Langhorne. For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
ECRTcc 11th Annual Car Show Car Show, held on April 23 at 46 Washington St. in Morrisville from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. For information, call 215.943.2007 or email email@example.com.
Morrisville-Yardley Area Rotary Club Road Rally, held on April 16 at the Morrisville Presbyterian Church, 771 N. Pennsylvania Ave., from noon to 5 p.m. Drive through the countryside of Lower Bucks County following clues to find historic sites of interest. For information, call 215.498.672, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.myroadrally.com.