Tonawanda News

July 19, 2012

Canal Fest Cruisin'

14th Annual Classic Car Cruise draws a crowd

By Neale Gulley,
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — C

ar buffs the region over descended Wednesday in two colorful convoys to this year’s Canal Fest Car Cruise on the shores of the Erie Canal and extending into both cities’ downtowns.

All makes and manners of classic cars — and some newer models decidedly too cool for school — transformed the downtown area into something from bygone era from 6 to 10 p.m.

“It’s grown every year I’ve been involved,” said organizer Joe Pendolino, who has orchestrated the event for seven of its 14 years. “Last year we had people from Canada, Ohio, Erie and Niagara counties and Rochester. It’s an established event. People know about it.”

More than 350 hot-rods, slicksters and cream-puffs took up almost every downtown parking space within just minutes of the event’s 6 p.m. start, arriving in two large packs staged at Niawanda and Gratwick parks.

Vehicles of all vintages set up along swaths of Webster, Goundry, Sweeney, Tremont and Main streets in the Lumber City, and across the canal along Broad, Main and Seymour streets.

Mixed in with the oldies were a few newer cars — Camaros, Corvettes and even a Lexus.

Pendolino said the free event doesn’t restrict car buffs of any persuasion, a fact that tends to draw a diverse crowd.

“It’s open to everything. A lot of people say it should be limited, just for classics,

but you know, a lot of the people who are putting all these sound systems and modifications in their cars — those are the classics of the future. These kids making modifications are the Fonzis of the 21st century,” he said.

That’s not to say, however, that the classics don’t rule the roost, including some very rare automobiles indeed, like Robert Guerin’s 1963 Corvair pickup, with a ramp side.

Chevrolet only manufactured 2,300 of them that year, and the trucks with a ramp that folds down on one side were only made for three years, Guerin said, from 1961 to 1964.

His is red with the optional white stripe along the side. 

“I wanted an unusual vehicle that people would be interested in looking at,” he said. “I also wanted something that would provide for my wife’s scooter, which she needs to get aroun

d, so I could take her to car shows.”

Once used in Texas as a Texaco service truck, the vehicle was restored by a man in Indiana before Guerin got a hold of it. The Niagara Falls native said his interest in the brand is largely because his first new car was a Corvair coup, purchased in 1960.

Gary Swiatowy, vice president of the Niagara Frontier Corvair Club, himself owns several vintage Corvairs, and said Guerin’s was a good find.

“These are few and far between,” he said.

Pendolino said the prevalence of restored classic cars in Western New York might have a lot to do with the area’s automotive history, including not just the manufacture of two renowned luxury cars in Pierce Arrow and Thom

as Flyer in Buffalo, but other achievements, as well.

In 1908 a New York City-to-Paris race was won by a Buffalo native behind the wheel

of the Flyer.

Of the car cruise, Pendolino said it’s become popular among enthusiasts. 

“It’s a nice night to get out. We’re limited around here in how many months we can get the cars out. But at Canal Fest, there’s also more to do than just the cars.”

Guerin said all the food vendors, music and passers-by make the experience all the better for him and his wife Judy.

“I like it because it’s a combo of things,” he said. “There’s more to do than just sit behind the car. Plus, there’s a lot of people who are interested in this but who’ve never seen it before.”

Contact city editor Neale Gulley at 693-1000, ext. 4114.