By Dermot Connolly
The 17th annual Palos Heights Classic Car Event last Thursday was a little different this year—a cruise night rather than the usual car show along Harlem Avenue.
Bob Starczyk, who has headed up the organizing committee for many years, said the change was made due to health concerns about large crowds converging in one spot during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
So, instead of people milling around assorted vehicles on Harlem this year, some car afficionados brought folding chairs and sat near the registration tent on 123rd Street near the fire station to see the cars coming in to start the cruise through town. Others gathered on their own lawns along Oak Park Avenue and other points along the route to watch and wave at the unusual cars driving by from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
The organizing committee passed out maps of the route to all the drivers as they registered and sold commemorative T-shirts as well.
Participation was lower than the usual 500 vehicles on display at the regular Classic Car Event, but there were still a lot of eye-catching and unusual vehicles to seen driving through town all evening.
“The numbers were down but we had competition we weren’t expecting,” explained Starczyk, who drove the route himself in his 1956 Buick Special convertible when registration slowed down.
The Classic Car Show is always held on third Thursday in July, and when the organizing committee and Palos Heights officials decided to have the cruise night, there weren’t any others planned.
“When we asked to do this, there was nothing going on, not one cruise night. And then a couple started going that hurt the turn out,” he said, referring to events in Homer Glen and several other towns the same night.
But many of the regulars still came to Palos Heights.
Jack Van Eck brought his always popular Muppet Mobile, a green 1948 Studebaker convertible with giant Muppet characters as passengers. He led some of the newcomers unfamiliar with the route.
“I like the usual car show, but you do what you can. It is better than nothing,” said Van Eck, who missed last year’s event.
Bob McDonald came from Chicago’s Wrightwood neighborhood to admire all the unusual cars from his folding chair near the registration table.
“I really enjoyed the Classic Car Event. I prefer the old way, and think it would have been safe to do. But I guess everyone is trying to be as safe as they can,” he commented. “I don’t have (an antique car) of my own, but I like to talk to the car owners, and they like to talk to us. But they don’t have time to do that here,” he said.
McDonald did jump up from his chair to take a photo when Scott Kennedy, of Palos Heights, pulled up in his sleek 2020 Chevrolet Corvette.
“Now that is a great car, worth coming to see,” he said before walking over to chat with the owner.
Another regular participant was Paul Latham, of Palos Heights, who brought his 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 with its “CQQL” license plate. “That was the last year this model was made, I have owned it all 33 years.” Latham said the one thing he missed from the usual car show was parking in front of Diane’s Place, and going in for ice cream. But the pandemic put an end to the popular restaurant at 123rd and Harlem.
Many families living along Oak Park Avenue on the cruise route enjoyed being able to sit outside their homes and let the show come to them.
“The weather is great and it is nice to be able to do this,” said Rich Walker. He and his wife, Jane, just moved back to town from the Philippines, and joined his brother Mike and his wife, Colleen, on their lawn to cheer on the cars as they went by.
“I just wish there were more,” said Jane Walker.
Bob and Nancy Bruton were watching the show from their driveway across the street, joined by neighbors Hugo, Christina and Alexander Rodriguez.
“It’s very nice. We’re just out here enjoying the night and watching the cars go by,” said Bob, who waved an American flag every time one did.