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Car Culture: Automotive fun for your Easter basket

Melissa Preddy
Car Culture

Easter is early this year, right around the corner, and to celebrate here’s a basket of automotive odds and ends that are lighting up my dashboard and hopefully yours.

What antennae?

Many of us have childhood memories of those little orange balls that Union 76 gas stations gave out — stuck atop long radio antennae they served the dual purpose of free advertising for the oil company and a handy helper for finding one’s vehicle in crowded parking lots. Reportedly the brand handed out tens of millions of the Styrofoam spheres starting in 1967 and into the 1990s.

Today, car radio antennae now are more likely to be part of the windshield than the tall metal masts of yore. And harried shoppers can employ a variety of smartphone techniques — from find-my-car apps to simply taking a video of where they parked — to minimize the hunt. But that apparent obsolescence doesn’t stop quite a few websites with names like Happy Balls and Cool Balls from offering toppers that range from baseballs and yellow smiley faces to bumblebees and Betty Boop. No mast, no problem — they also sell a suction-cup device for mounting the balls anywhere you please.

Garage-sale finds

One harbinger of spring is the increased activity at tag sales, estate sales and DIY used-goods venues. And one way to enjoy prowling around strangers’ garages is to have a mission, which makes it more fun to scope those card tables heaped with coffee mugs, Legos, old VHS tapes and 1980s Pfaltzgraff stoneware.

Vintage car toys and models can be worthy prey at sales; chances are you won’t find one of the scare Hot Wheels Beach Bombs — the little pink VW bus whose prototypes have fetched six-figure sums from collectors — but you might turn up a piece that sparks your own nostalgia. Vintage car toys and other items related to cars, gas stations, auto dealerships and related endeavors are pretty hot these days, and to some collectors, so are keys, key fobs, oil cans, auto-related advertising pieces and more.

Download an app like Yard Sale Treasure Hunt to help you map out a route — and there’s another one called What’s It Worth on eBay that can help you spot bargains.

On the block

As the Ford Maverick is to the Maserati, so the humble home sale contrasts with the high-end sales of upscale automotive paraphernalia.

I had some great reader feedback last year regarding a column about “automobilia” and “petroliana,” the insider lingo for automotive and gas-station collectibles.

For those who expressed an interest, the big semi-annual sale by Woodhaven-based Showtime Auctions will take place April 1-12 at the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds in Ann Arbor.

A peek at the catalog shows lots of vintage signs (from the marine engine realm, too) as well as some toys and models. Many other collector fields are represented too, from soda fountain collectibles to Art Deco pieces. For information, visit www.showtimeauctions.com.

Another kind of egg roll

By most definitions the Easter eggs are elegant little signature touches designers add to amuse themselves — inside jokes or perhaps a nod to a make or model’s history. They might be as obvious as the silhouette on a floor mat, as subtle as the shape of a headlight, or as hidden as a secret image in an onboard infotainment system. As you can imagine, the snazzier rides tend to get this extra TLC, like the Mustang, Corvette, luxury overseas marques and sporty Jeeps.

Alas, I haven’t spotted one on my sensible little compact — yet. But it might amuse you to celebrate the season by snooping around your own vehicle — or the Internet — in hopes of a fruitful hunt.