THE PEOPLE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD - Taking a stroll through the El Segundo Main Street Car Show

BMW Car Shows Datsun Muscle Cars Southern California

This may come as a surprise, but here at Model Citizen, we know there's more to life than just little cars.

There are also big ones.

 We are incredibly fortunate to be headquartered in southern California, cradle of American car culture. On any given weekend, there are dozens of high-quality automotive events to sample in the L.A./OC metropolitan area, and we try to take in as many as we can...both as a vendor and as well-served enthusiasts. And one of our favorites takes place quite literally a few steps from the front door of our office: the El Segundo Main Street Car Show.

El Segundo is a beach community that prides itself on being a little slice of small-town America, hidden in plain sight in the middle of the L.A. sprawl. We residents really get the best of both worlds by living here: we know our neighbors and can walk to the corner store after dark for the ubiquitous gallon of milk, and yet the cornucopia of cultural activities offered by Los Angeles are just a short drive away. It's this duality that makes the annual Main Street Car Show a winner: it attracts the usual array of American iron that a "hometown" car show would - your Tri-Five Chevys, Mustangs, and street rods - as well as a healthy dose of the exotica for which L.A. is known. The most recent Main Street Car Show (now in its 18th year) took place on August 22nd. Camera in hand, we took the two-block walk to check out the action, and as usual we weren't disappointed. The variety and quality of the cars on hand make this one of the best hometown shows we have found.

Our day began with a stop at Jim and Kathy McLeod's beautiful 1956 Chrysler St. Regis. The Main Street Car Show gets a fair amount of return business from local car owners, and this giant Chrysler is a perennial favorite. In years past, the car was displayed with a plaque detailing the particulars of the car's restoration, but for 2015, it seems the McLeods were content to let the St. Regis's spectacular condition speak for itself.

Nearby was a rare sight: the Automobile Driving Museum's 1935 Morgan 3-wheeler. The ADM is a local treasure in El Segundo, with a fascinating mix of cars on display in a very cool red-brick space (we'll do a feature on this facility in a future post.) They're not bashful about bringing the cars out for a little exercise, either; besides offering weekly ride-alongs for the public, the Driving Museum is very active in displaying their cars at a variety of Southland events. Their decision to drop the oddball British trike on the quintessential small-town-America car show demonstrates that the ADM staff either has a deep-seated need to educate and inform, or that they simply have an amazing sense of humor.

Speaking of British cars, making their usual strong showing was the Southern California Triumph Owners Association. "The biggest difference between [SCTOA] and other clubs is that we actually drive our cars," said Carl Miller, who with wife Patti brought a delectable '74 TR6. The Millers also own a TR4, but Carl prefers to drive the TR6 as it is "lighter and more nimble." Our surprise at that statement must have come through clearly, as he went on to explain that his TR4 is nose-heavy thanks to the installation of a small-block Chevy engine. Oh.

Parked directly across the street from the Triumph club (as if preparing for some sort of '60s sports car showdown) was John Baker's sublime 1969 Datsun 2000 Roadster. A class winner at the prestigious Japanese Classic Car Show in Long Beach, Baker spent two-and-a-half years on a frame-off restoration with the goal of achieving the look and feel of a brand new '69 Datsun, including a rare dealer-offered Solex carb kit. We'd say: Mission Accomplished.

Despite the interesting selection of European and Japanese cars scattered along the boulevard, the focus of the El Segundo Main Street Car Show remains on American iron, and there was no finer example to be found than Tommy Watts' 1970 Plymouth Superbird (and the event judges agreed, awarding it this year's Best In Show trophy.) Watts explained that he had wanted to own a Superbird since childhood, inspired by a neighbor who owned one. About ten years ago, he began his search in earnest, and in a strange twist of fate ended up unexpectedly buying TWO Superbirds on the same day (one locally, one on eBay.) Watts did the only sensible thing in such a situation: he kept them both.

For us, though, the highlight of the show was Norm Manchen's exquisitely built 1973 BMW 2002tii, which he described as a "Frankenbimmer." The build quality of this project is one of the best we've ever seen, with so much obvious attention to detail we can barely begin to cover it all. Starting from a rusty project car, Manchen repaired the substantial rust, sandblasted the unibody and welded in a bespoke roll cage...in effect, he created a brand new car. Crafted with an eye on ultimate performance, the '02 packs a newer 2.3-liter engine with an M3 crankshaft, heads from a 318 and a 325i differential, along with adjustable camber and caster plates and a urethane subframe (plus Volvo 240 front brakes, just to keep things interesting.) "Every nut and bolt was replated," explained Manchen, who performed 90% of the work on the project by himself. "It's definitely built, not bought."

Like nearly everything else in El Segundo, the Main Street Car Show is "family first." These days, we read often that car culture in America is slowly dying as young people grow up with their attention turned away from great automobiles. We're not buying it, though, and events like this are why: all morning long, we spotted kids enthusiastically pointing out their favorite cars and asking tons of questions. (And seriously, what kid couldn't resist getting to stick their head through the roof of a vintage VW?) For that reason more than any other, we're grateful to have the annual Main Street Car Show right outside our door.

 


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