WOONSOCKET — Sometimes you can spend a lot of money to find just the right old car as a keepsake, and sometimes you get one as a family hand-me-down, as Donald Patterson of Blackstone did with the 1974 lime and olive Ford Pinto he took to the city’s Main Street Cruise Night on Wednesday.
The Pinto is all original, right down to its California Dreamin’-style decaling, and has been in Patterson’s family since it was bought by his aunt, Bertha, out in San Diego in 1974.
When Bertha passed away in 1994, Patterson’s father, Clarence, drove the mod car across the country to New England, Patterson explained.
Even with the trip, the car still has relatively low mileage for its age. “It’s only got 49,000 miles on it,” Patterson said. Patterson got the car when his father died and now drives it only to car nights like the one on Main Street.
“Everybody likes it,” Patterson said. “They say everybody had one but you just don’t see them anymore.”
Patterson said he does know what the car is worth at the moment but doesn’t care about that either: “You never sell something like this; it’s a family heirloom.”
Tuesday was the first of three car night events the city is sponsoring along its Main Street business district this summer, and drew about 75 to 80 classic and muscle cars while the roadway was blocked off between 5:30 and 8 p.m.
The night drew a moderate crowd of car aficionados which might have been larger if the Providence Food Truck event being held at the same time Tuesday evening had been located at Main Street rather than Park Square.
As they strolled Main Street looking at the lineup of cars and a few trucks, Linda and Gerry Fontaine said it was good to see the classic cars back in the city.
“The city hasn’t had a car night in quite a while,” Fontaine, a retired manager of the city’s Board of Canvassers, said.
Fontaine noted that her husband, Gerry, is the family’s car expert and tells her all about his favorites as they walk among restored and preserved vehicles.
“If he didn’t tell me about them, I wouldn’t know the good ones,” Fontaine explained.
Of course, the Fontaines drove their own classic car, an original 1969 Buick Skylark, to the event and for a time sat nearby it in their lawn chairs like the other car owners showing up.
Gerry said he got his classic car several years ago at a car swap meet and had to cough up $4,000 to go home with it. It wasn’t a bad move, since the car is valued at about $13,500 today in its just-as-it-was state.
The Cutlass, with its big 350 and throaty exhaust, is a much better car than his original old car, a 1955 Impala, he noted. “It was a big, big boat and it’s hard to find one today,” he said of the Impala.
For the next Main Street car night, Gerry said he plans to have Linda drive her own car for display. “It’s a 2013 Mini Cooper convertible,” he said while explaining the car isn’t old but unique nonetheless.
In the city’s Mullen Municipal Parking Lot on Main Street, Eddie and Marie Harnois of Woonsocket were found sitting near their 1971 AMX Javelin, a car they have brought to many city car shows.
“I bought it brand new at Dumais Rambler on Social Street,” Harnois said of the mint-looking car.
The Javelin, a popular big block roadster of the 70s, actually predates the Harnois’ 45 year marriage, the couple noted.
“He bought in November and I met him in December,” Marie said.
Of course back then, Marie said she did not know much about cars, and it wasn’t the Javelin that got her interested in her future husband.
The car was king on the road and one you had to drive with care, Eddie Harnois offered. “It still runs good and it’s fast. It will scare you,” he said.
The couple said they are always ready to bring the car down to the Main Street when the classic cars are gathering there. “We used to help run the one they had here when Norbert Grochowski was putting them on,” Eddie Harnois said.
While limited to a degree by the threat of rain, Tuesday’s cruise did have a mix of perfectly restored vehicles and those like the Pinto that are less frequently seen.
Don and Linda Gobin of Seekonk drove their 1958 Ford Fairlane 500 convertible to Main Street, although they did keep the top up.
Gobin explained that he bought the car out of Wisconsin and although it had been restored 10 years ago, he has been adding to its looks since he has owned it.
“I have insured for $40,000,” he said while noting he would want a lot more than that to sell it.
It is a great car to take to car shows since it has so many unique features for a car from the 1950s. “You don’t see many like it because they all rotted out from being driven in the winter,” he said. That didn’t happen to his car, possibly because of its undercoating and storage, he noted.
“It was a popular car in its day,” Gobin said.
Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt stopped by the show with Linda Plays, city human resources director, and noted it was good to see a crowd there with the food truck event scheduled at Park Square and the threat of rain.
“Even with the weather being a bit questionable, it was a good turnout,” she said. The city will be working to bring the food trucks to Main Street for the next Main Street Cruise Night on July 24, she noted. There will also be a Main Street Cruise Night on Aug. 21, and the season will wrap up with a September car show that will actually be an all day event with judging and trophies, according to Plays.
Richard George, the DJ Car-Guy, is already working with the city to put on that event.
Follow Joseph Nadeau on Twitter @Jnad75