Photo by Anthony Caciopo
Karen Fikeys puts a shine on her 1971 Plymouth Roadrunner equipped with a factory-original 340 cubic-inch V8 motor at the Palos Heights Classic Car Event last Thursday. “I drive it as much as I can,” she said.
By Anthony Caciopo
Regional News Editor
They came to downtown Palos Heights by the thousands, drawn by the magic and mystique of cars, trucks, ultra-rare luxury rides and hot rods, all shined up and ready to impress.
“This is the best show around,” said Bill Kappel who, admittedly, chose an unusual conveyance to get to the 15th Annual Classic Car Event.
Kappel browsed long lines of cars walking his bicycle, a decidedly non-high-performance vehicle but still an effective ride that got him five miles from his Crestwood home to Palos Heights. He said he had friends with vehicles on display.
“Nice people, nice cars,” Kappel said as he passed through the parking lot of Joe’s Italian Villa restaurant, 12207 S. Harlem Ave.
Passing through the same parking lot, but nowhere near as easily available for a comment, was Bob Starzyk, the Classic Car Event Committee co-chairman.
Starzyk hustled past with trophies in his arms and there would clearly be no time for an assessment until after the Classic Car Event.
“I don’t think I ever saw so many people walking through here,” he said over the weekend. “We got a little more parking with the new municipal parking lot (60 new spaces at 12217 S. Harlem Ave.) and with the streets being closed.”
A veteran exhibitor at the Classic Car Event was Tony Paterno of Bridgeview and his dark blue 1967 Chevy Camaro convertible. He said he’s been attending for 10 years.
“I like this show,” Paterno said. “There’s lots of different cars. The music, the food, everything’s going on and that’s what I enjoy about it.”
Photo by Anthony Caciopo
Bob Heine of Palos Park peers through an opening in the hood of a Pontiac Trans Am that accommodates an air scoop.
Eyeing the most exquisite vehicle at the show, a 1935 Duesenberg de Grande, Al Vasaitis of Palos Park felt nostalgic.
“I really enjoy it,” he said of the Classic Car Event. “It brings me back to the old days. I’m a car lover. What people can do with these things…”
This year’s event brought an estimated 450-500 cars to Harlem Avenue between 122nd Street and south of 124th Street, and they were seemingly parked everywhere, in every available sliver of space.
Harlem Avenue remained open but the flow of traffic was sometimes slow. The Palos Heights Police Department manned the intersections, facilitating orderly pedestrian crossings. There was almost no end to the back-and-forth, back-and-forth flow of spectators who moved from side-to-side of Harlem to see all the cars.
Photo by Anthony Caciopo
Bill Kappel makes the rounds at the Classic Car Event with his bicycle, admiring the cars. He rode about five miles to see all the vehicles.
Music blared from a rock band stage, a deejay tent and a Teamsters truck, evenly spaced the length of the show. But then, a different kind of music could be heard near the highest-end cars.
Heavenly Harps, a three-piece chamber music ensemble, performed at the Concours d’Elegance in the parking lot of United Trust Bank, one of the long-time sponsors of the Classic Car Event.
Mallory, Morgan and Marisa Grutzius played harp, violin and flute, switching instruments for a performance among extremely valuable vintage cars including the Duesenberg, Packards, Rolls Royces and others.
“It was something different,” said Starzyk, who brought the ensemble aboard for the 2018 event. “Class it up a little bit.”
Among the almost countless people at the Classic Car Event without a car on display, but with fond memories of their own vintage ride, was Ken Busse, economic development coordinator for the City of Palos Heights.
With a lemonade in hand, Busse recalled his first car.
“It was a 1969 Plymouth Fury III that I bought from my folks for $400,” he said. “My mom would drive it just a couple miles to work and the carburetor was gummed-up.”
Busse took the car, with its 383 cubic-inch engine, out on the open road with a smile-inducing result.
“The engine started to perform much better,” he said.
Starzk reported that the grand prize winner in the split-the-pot raffle works for one of the event’s silver sponsors, and that she had bought her winning ticket on the street the night of the show. Winners names have not been released.
As in previous years, proceeds from the Classic Car Event after expenses are destined for the Palos Heights Beautification Committee, which has undertaken a long list of improvements all around town. The latest effort by the Committee is the water feature at the municipal parking lot on Harlem Avenue.
Starzyk praised the volunteers who help with the show, along with a couple of car clubs he preferred not to name for their assistance.
Trophies were awarded by all eight Palos Heights aldermen and the mayor, along with a trophy for top European car in memory of the late Lou Elsnor.
Starzyk said just about the only hitch occurred because of the extra-early arrival of many of the exhibitors, who start parking their vehicles long before the show began at 5 p.m.
“I try but I just don’t have enough people to control that,” he said.
The Classic Car Event has been traditionally held on the third Thursday in July, and some eyes might already be focusing on July 18, 2019. But Starzyk said there’s an assessment period that needs to take place before anything can be marked on the calendar with certainty.
For 2018, however, the 15th anniversary of what’s probably the biggest event in Palos Heights each year, it was another high-performance win.