Classic cars show their stuff in Webster
By Mike Costanza
Bob Larry’s eyes gleamed as he talked about his treasured 1954 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe.
“I like the ride, the look, the sexy lines of this thing,” the 74-year-old said.
Larry was just one of the many classic car owners who showed their prized machines during Damascus Shrine Cruise Night on July 28. The weekly event has been held each Friday at the Damascus Shrine Center in Webster since June 16, weather permitting. Profits from the shows go to the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
Lines of cars filled much of the Damascus Shrine Center’s grounds that balmy evening. Beautifully restored pickup trucks that first hit the road in the 1920s sat with their hoods up, their antique engines for all to see. Muscle cars from the 1960s cruised the grounds, their huge engines growling. A customized Cadillac hearse that would have been welcome in a Halloween parade sat off to one side, its colorful lights blinking.
Even in that exotic collection, Dave Brye’s gleaming red 1961 Chevrolet Biscayne stood out. Brye bought it about three years ago.
“I decided that this would be a nice classic car because it’s one that’s not real popular,” the 66-year-old Irondequoit resident said.
Though he has always loved classic cars, the retired factory worker also had financial reasons for wanting to buy a vintage machine.
“I wanted to have something for retirement, something in the sport of classic cars,” Brye said.
Brye discovered the 1961 Chevrolet Biscayne with the huge 409-cubic-inch engine for sale in Webster and thought it attractive as an investment. Unlike many cars from that time, the vehicle did not need any work.
“I wanted an older car all complete, so I didn’t have to do anything but be the caretaker of the car,” he said.
The Chevy’s Ferrari red paint job was also a big plus.
“That’s one of the things that sold me,” Brye said. “I said to my wife ‘OK, I really want that car.’”
Though sold on the car, Brye put off making an offer for it, hoping to get the owner to drop his price.
“Two days later, I called him up and said ‘I want that car, what would you take?’” Brye said. “He was asking 36 ($36,000). He took 29 ($29,000). I did very well.”
Since then, Brye has only had to keep his investment washed, waxed and in good repair. He’s done most of the work himself.
Though he’s a grandfather, he’s learned what his Chevy’s powerful engine and four-speed manual transmission can do on the road.
“It gets up and moves,” Brye said.
Gerald Westfall seems to like cars that “move.” His first vehicle, a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro that he bought in 1971, came with a powerful 396-cubic-inch engine. His second car was also a Chevy.
“I bought a 1974 Nova and built it up and raced it at an NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) strip and on the street,” the 69-year-old said. “Then I got rid of it, because I got in the service and I got married.”
Westfall served first in the Marine Corps and then in the US Army, putting in a total of 26 years for his country before returning to civilian life. He then worked as a security officer for the Greece Central School District until he retired in 2018. Then he bought himself another car, this one a classic.
The gleaming blue 1965 Nova SS came with a high-performance 350-cubic-inch GM ZZ4 engine, an automatic transmission with overdrive and a special rear end, all of which were custom-installed sometime after it left the factory.
“When it’s in overdrive, you can cruise the highway at 60 at 1,800 RPMs (engine revolutions per minute),” Westfall said.
In short, the car can move.
Westfall has put a lot of additional work into his Nova SS.
“I did a lot of stuff on the engine,” he said. “I redid the whole interior. The trunk has been redone.”
Bending down, Westfall pointed out some of his handiwork on the trim at the bottoms of his car’s fenders and doors.
“I put the black strip with the red pinstriping here with the little Chevy bowtie,” he said, referring to Chevrolet’s distinctive logo.
Westfall displays his Nova at two or three classic car shows a week during the season. Preparing for a show can take a lot of work — just shining the stainless-steel trim takes three hours — but the time spent can be well worth it. On July 30, his Nova SS took a “Top 40” award at the Spencerport Canal Days Car Show.
Modern automobiles, with their plastic dashboards and light metal bodies, lack something in Larry’s eyes.
“I like classic cars,” he said. “I like the heavy metal. No plastic in the car.”
With its huge, gleaming grill, thick steel bodywork, metal dashboard and straight-eight engine, (modern eight-cylinder engines are V-8s) Larry’s two-tone Pontiac Chieftain fits the bill. When the West Henrietta resident acquired the car about five years ago, part of its attraction was its three-speed manual transmission.
“Three-speed on the (steering) column,” he said. “‘Three on a tree’ they call it.”
The car needed a bit of work, so the retired heavy equipment operator rolled up his sleeves.
“I took and did all the mechanics on it,” he said.
Larry also took steps to bring the rest of the Pontiac back to its original condition. He had the car’s interior restored and the clock in its dash repaired.
“I sent it to four different places,” Larry said. “The last place knew what it was doing. It keeps perfect time.”
Larry had the Pontiac’s exterior paint buffed out until it shone as it did when it left the factory. He also removed the car’s trim, had it re-chromed at a Syracuse shop and reinstalled it. Finally, he replaced the vintage machine’s distinctive chrome hood ornament.
“I wanted the lighted ornament of a chieftain,” Larry said.
Larry found the part on the Internet, bought it for $350, cleaned it up and installed it. Switch on the Pontiac’s parking or headlights and the ornament gives out a distinctive orange light.
Larry needed a lot of what are called “new old stock” parts to get his Pontiac in its current shape. The parts, which were made for the car decades ago but never sold, were difficult to come by. He had to look all over for the stainless-steel door guards that are mounted on the edges of the Pontiac’s four doors.
“The fella who sold them to me said I got the last set in the United States,” Larry said.
Shriners International, the Damascus Shrine Center’s parent organization, has built and supports hospitals and outpatient clinics in the US, Canada and Mexico that provide medical care for children regardless of their families’ ability to pay. Steve Michener, the 62-year-old leader or “potentate” of the Damascus Shrine Center, said the profits from its weekly car shows will help support two hospitals.
“The hospitals we support are in Erie, Pennsylvania and Springfield Massachusetts,” he said.
The Damascus Shrine Center is scheduled to hold its last Cruise Night on Sept. 8. For more information about the event, go to: https://damascusshriners.org