Classic vehicles line up for Cars ‘R’ Stars

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Shelby Township — Dan Ouelette’s attitude toward classic cars can be summed up in one word, the same word on the license plate of his customized dazzling blue 1955 Chevy Belair: “HRDCORE.”

After three years and $110,000 in investment, Ouelette, 73, of Macomb Township was one of hundreds to offer for judgment their classic cars at the Cars ‘R’ Stars show on Sunday at the Packard Proving Grounds in Shelby Township.

The Packard Proving Grounds opened 90 years ago Thursday as a testing facility for the  company, which operated from 1899 to 1956. The Albert Kahn-designed facility originally stretched from 22 Mile to 23 Mile from Van Dyke to Mound. Today, the company that built it has been defunct longer than it was open for business and the footprint of its proving ground is smaller.

Today, the proving grounds facility is owned  by the Packard Motor Car Foundation.

Events like Sunday’s car show fill 15 to 20 weekends a year for Ouelette, he said. His 1955 Chevy Belair is a hard-top with not only custom motors but custom paint, a specially mixed blue made to exact specifications by his painter. 

“My painter adds some of this and some of that and some of this and ends up with all this color,” Ouelette said. “The only formula for this is  written on a wall on his garage. I wanted to go old-school with some new stuff.”

Car ownership at this level is a labor of love and takes money. Parts can be hard to find and can require travel that is  expensive before a single part is purchased. The time and money required, as well as the nostalgia factor, mean that the classic car owners at Sunday’s show tended to be older, sometimes buying  cars they couldn’t afford as young men and sometimes, as in the case of Larry Bone of Troy, buying a vehicle they owned way back when, and want a second spin with. 

Bone, 83, owned a 1957 Chevy Belair when it came out, but moved on from it. He’s making up for lost time with a pristine teal Chevy Belair, ramping up the nostalgia by attaching, from the driver-side window, a simulated A&W tray. 

For about 55 of the 60 years since Packard closed for business, the proving grounds has hosted classic car shows.  There was the Carnival of Cars, hosted by the Michigan Region of the Classic Car Club of America.  In 2009, there was no show. In 2010 and every year since, the foundation has hosted Cars ‘R’ Stars @ Packard Proving Grounds, as the show is officially known.

Last year was the most successful Cars ‘R’ Stars show of the nine the foundation has put on, said  chairman Tim Mitchell.

“This weather situation was very unfortunate today,” Mitchell said. “Some of these cars, people don’t want to take out in the rain. Some people don’t like driving in the rain period. That affects things.”

Had it not rained, Mitchell said, the rows of cars that were two-thirds or three-fourths full would’ve been jam packed with cars. The swap meet section of the yard would have been fuller. 

Weather was a consideration for George Calvet of Armada, whose yellow 1972 Ford Maverick Grabber, bought about a month ago, likely has the smallest disparity between miles driven — 20,000 and change — and price tag, $14,900, of all the cars to show. But it was a consideration he  chose to ignore when his son, George Jr., looked outside and gave his dad the thumbs-up.

The Maverick, Calvet said, has so few miles because its original owner used it sparingly. 

“It’s all about the chase,” Calvet said. Getting a good deal, making a good sale, the people one meets and the friends one makes in the classic car world, several of whom came by Calvet to congratulate him on the recent purchase. 

But Sunday wasn’t just a social occasion. As the vanity plate on the Maverick indicated, UP4SALE, if there was an opportunity do business, he would take it.

“It’s all about the relationships,” the elder Calvet said, talking to a friend as his son  wiped the Maverick down. 

For sight-seer Nick Novak, 69, of Macomb Township, classic is its own logic.

“I just like old stuff,” he said, admiring a green Essex Super Six from 1927, which still had its original body. “The older the better.”