Classic car lovers meet, eat at Big #039;R#039;

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 14, 2005

It’s Friday night in Greenville, a not-so-typical January night with warm, spring-like temperatures.

It’s perfect weather to hang out with your buddies and chow down on a burger and fries at the local drive-in.

Folks from miles around are showing up in their juiced-up Fords, Chevys, Corvettes and Jags, proud to pop those hoods and show off what they’ve got. Yep, it’s a perfect night to do some cruisin’…

Welcome to Cruise-In Night at the Big &uot;R&uot;. Held the first Friday of every month from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., the Cruise-In draws classic car owners and enthusiasts from across south Alabama.

‘Bringing back that atmosphere’

For Big &uot;R&uot; owner Jimmy Neese, the event seemed a perfect fit for his business.

&uot;Hey, when I was a kid, all us guys would bring our hot rods and hang out at the drive-in.

I wanted to bring some of that atmosphere back. This has become a gathering place for us – I’ve seen some guys I haven’t seen in 20 years out here,&uot; laughs Neese.

Since the Cruise-Ins started last spring at the newly re-opened drive-in, Neese says local classic car owners &uot;are taking these cars out of the back yard, cleaning them up, fixing them up and getting them running again&uot;.

While the first Cruise-In participants were mostly &uot;an older crowd&uot;, Neese says the mix of the crowd is changing.

&uot;Now we are also seeing a lot of younger folks coming out here each month. We had some folks from Andalusia who were here for the first time this weekend – seems like word is getting around. More and more people are wanting to be a part of it; I guess it just boils down to a love for cars,&uot; says Neese.

Fantastic Fords on Friday night

JJ Evans and his wife, Marge, have driven down from Evergreen for their first Big ‘R’ Cruise-In. Evans’ sharp-looking 1931 burgundy Ford auto has been a work in progress for three years, he says.

&uot;But I have loved hot rods, oh, ever since I was 18 or 19.&uot; And where did he find all the parts needed to restore his car (which now has 6700 horsepower under its hood)?

&uot;You look and look and look,&uot; Evans, a retired Department of Defense worker, says with a chuckle.

As for the money Evans has put in to his beloved Ford – &uot;Well, let’s put it this way – it’s insured for $60,000.&uot; The classic car enthusiast is also busily at work restoring a ’32 2-door Essex sedan.

Evans says Marge is &uot;just as enthusiastic&uot; about classic cars as he is, and the couple say they thoroughly enjoyed their first visit to the Cruise-In.

Another set of vintage Ford owners from Evergreen are also making their first visit to the Cruise-In. Keith and Jatricia Pugh drove up from Conecuh County in their blue ’56 Ford Mainline. It’s just like the car the pair dated in back in their high school days.

&uot;Oh, yes – this car brings back great memories for us,&uot; says Keith Pugh.

In those days, Pugh’s dad was a scrap dealer in Evergreen.

He gave his son &uot;the plainest, most no-frills car out there,&uot; laughs Jatricia.

Pugh drove the former government car from Evergreen to Andalusia to pick up his date, and inevitably, he says, his Ford Mainline’s engine &uot;would blow up&uot; on the trip back.

&uot;So back to my dad’s scrap yard I would go to pick up more parts,&uot; Pugh explains.

Jatricia laughs and chimes in, &uot;We said the bolts just started flying off as soon as the hood went up because they knew another engine rebuild was underway!&uot;

While the exterior looks like Pugh’s original car, it’s definitely more upscale both inside and under the hood – and there are no worries about blown engines.

&uot;I never had the car souped up like a hot rod back in those days,&uot; Keith Pugh says with a grin.

&uot;And now we have power steering, heat and air, a radio – the original car didn’t even have one – all the things it didn’t have when we were kids,&uot; adds Jatricia.

The Pughs say they &uot;will be back&uot; for future Cruise-Ins.

&uot;There really isn’t a good place to cruise in Evergreen…it’s nice to have something like this to come to,&uot; Keith Pugh comments.

Livin’ a Chevy dream

Cam Wesley may be a young lady of 20, but rest assured, she definitely knows her way around a car engine. Cam is Greenville’s only &uot;certified lady mechanic&uot;, as her dad, Jimmy, proudly points out.

The young car enthusiast does ace front-end alignment jobs for her employer, Jones Tires, and formerly worked as a mechanic at the Greenville Wal-mart.

She is also proud owner of a sunshine yellow ’57 Chevy 210, &uot;my dream car&uot;, an auto she first saw while admiring the classic cars on display at the Big ‘R’ Cruise-In. It’s THE car she wanted since she was 14 – &uot;this car and not a new one.&uot;

The Chevy was in serious need of an overhaul when Cam first took it home a month ago.

&uot;The car looked kind of pitiful, like no one had loved it for years – wires hanging out, really bad,&uot; recalls Jimmy Wesley.

Since then, Cam has replaced the harness, repaired the brakes, tuned up the engine, put in new door panels, reworked the shifter and the entire front dash. In addition to the $4500 she paid for the classic Chevy, Cam estimates she has, so far, invested another $1100 into her dream car.

There are patches of rust, and the Mazda seats the Chevy currently houses look a bit out of place. Still, Cam is confident she will one day have her dream car fully restored.

&uot;I’ve still got a long way to go – but it’s coming together,&uot; Cam says with pride, adding, &uot;I really don’t think I will ever get tired of this car.&uot;

‘You see some great cars’

Debbie McGough and husband Kenny, who hail from Crenshaw County, are regulars at the Cruise-Ins. While many of the McGough men are experienced mechanics and car lovers, it’s Debbie who is showing off her 1970

black-topped, orange Dodge Dart Swinger at the Big ‘R’ tonight.

&uot;This is like the car I drove 30 years ago…I would cruise around Greenville in it,&uot; she says with a smile as she points out the matching orange and black car embroidered on her denim shirt.

&uot;Kenny and I really enjoy coming here. You get to meet a lot of different people and you see some great cars here,&uot; Debbie comments.

Jimmy Neese is optimistic about the future of the Big ‘R’ Cruise-Ins.

&uot;With all the folks out there who love cars, and more and more young people getting involved, I think we can keep this going for a while.&uot;