The AC in my $760 Honda Civic does not work. I spend every drive in a box made of black metal and glass, thoroughly broiling myself. So by the time I finally rolled up to the Kansas Speedway for last Friday’s final stop of the 2016 Hot Rod Power Tour, I was already half dead. Together with hundreds of other car people, I stood in a field for four hours, collecting salt on my shirt and something approaching regret. It’s a good thing there were hundreds of incredible cars there. Otherwise I might not have enjoyed myself.
It’s hard to take pictures with a quart of water dangling from one finger, but that water didn’t last long. The Kansas Speedway’s outer parking lot offers as much shade as the light side of Mercury, and just as much water, but I could handle this. People twice my age and twice my weight seemed to be doing just fine, after all, so why not? My first stop was the vendor stands. I don’t know why. Perhaps I was drawn by the constantly looping audio commercials for several of Streetside’s competitors, all performed by the same growling voice actor. But once there, some familiar Roadkill ridiculousness lured me in. Bob the truck was rocking its recent mid-engine conversion, complete with a backwards mount and a crazy drivetrain reversal, and the tallest hater pipes outside Japan. General Mayhem, the ancient Challenger fitted with a Hellcat drivetrain, sat next to the Mazdarati, the beat-up, post-rotary pickup now packing a huge V8 in the back.
As I wandered the aisle, I realized that I couldn’t shoot every car there. I didn’t have the time, the memory, or the water. Or the fortitude of pigment. Sunscreen ran into my eyes. The camera could still see the cars. No, I would have to stick to the neatest of the neat. Everything there (almost) was awesome, so I’d have to focus on the most unusual and interesting cars there. I passed a newer F-150 with a manual conversion. I saw this copper-skinned hot rod with what looks like a flathead Ford V8. It sat next to what looked to be an amalgam of early school buses. Neat.
My water was empty. I’d been at the speedway for 20 minutes of my slated 3 hours. Not a problem.
Factory 5 had a booth. They had their hot rod kit, a Cobra or two, a Cobra sans-body, which was really neat, and their latest, the 818C, the coupe version of their insane 818, a dream car of mine.
Jet age hot rod? Why the heck not? I loved the details on this little truck rod. I need a truck rod. It was a complete theme, from the velocity stacks to the wacky interior.
Optima Ultimate Street Car builds always excite me, because they have to be good at everything. This Plymouth Valient Signet was perfectly stanced and fully race-prepped.
It was hot, but the Laid Back Garage booth brought so much chill that I almost cooled off. Until I had to wait about a week for a man I’ve named Uncle Tubbers to get out of the way of this shot.
The vendors were now sufficiently photographed, and there was now more sunscreen in my eyes than on my forehead, so I stumbled back to the car to get the whole can of Coppertone, which I stuffed in my back pocket. My jeans were soaked. I fished a dirty microfiber out of the center console to use as a sweat rag and made a run at the first spectator parking lot.
Immediately I saw the Solo Scout. Somehow its owner turned this International Scout from an early SUV into a world-beating autocross legend. I promised him I’d get out to a solo event this year. I will. I promise.
Hey, cool Caddy!
Oh. I had this moment many times on the Power Tour. “That’s a pretty cool X… Holy bacon, it has Y under the hood!” Power Tourers don’t just drive awesome cars. They often build them. The subtle resto-mod owns the event.
Speaking of awesome Cadillacs, unless it was a mirage or a hallucination, which is not altogether unlikely, I saw two CTS-V manual wagons at the event. Which is a bit like seeing two current Queens of England in the same picture, if they both had 556 horsepower and room for your luggage. The CTS-V manual wagon is my hero car. I’m going to write it in for president in November. I saw one at the Woodward Dream Cruise a few years ago and started bleeding internally. When I saw two on Friday, only the heat convinced me that I wasn’t in heaven. And only the pair of CTS-V manual wagons convinced me I wasn’t in hell. The owner of this one told me his wife daily drives a CTS-V manual coupe. I wonder if I asked them to adopt me. I should have.
I need a truck rod.
Well, it wouldn’t fit in the back, okay?
I need a truck rod.
This is Richard Tomlin’s Exomotive Exocet. It’s a kit designed to reduce the weight of a Mazda Miata. It also fits an LS V8. Richard and his codriver, Jeff Kurtz, drove the whole Power Tour in this little monster, and headed out to Colorado the next day to drive the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. They’re prepping for the race as I type this. I might write these guys in for president instead.
Off-roaders were welcome, but rare.
But most trucks were beautifully lowered. Look closer, too.
Lord Vader, etc…
Have I mentioned my need for a truck rod? This Studebaker was one of my favorites there. Slammed on a custom frame and Corvette front suspension, the builder set it up for autocross. And he has a great sense of humor.
Oh to be a Maverick in a sea of Mustangs. Your day will come, Maverick.
Vintage racing liveries, especially these “local heroes,” hand-painted jobs just do it for me. And there were plenty.
The ghost of Paul Walker has blessed this event. This serves as photographic evidence that the JDM license plate was, indeed, real.
Surf Kansas. The sheer volume of wagons at this event helped the $4 bottle of Gatorade to keep me alive. Power Tourers just get me, I guess. Wagons. Manuals. Tasteful lowering. I am home. I am thirsty.
This gorgeous Riviera wasn’t even on the tour. It was parked just ahead of me in the grass. I wanted to sleep in it. Just for a few minutes.
Some day we’ll get you, Ralph Nader. We’ll get you for what you did to our weird little RWD hatchbacks.
In no world is this appropriate treatment of a Polaris Slingshot. And we’re not talking about the trailer. I sprayed more sunscreen on my neck. It made the burning worse.
This is a Morris Minor, right? I’m pretty sure this is a Morris Minor.
I’m pretty sure this is a Morris Minor with a supercharged Toyota 4AGZE. This is a profoundly good idea.
Oh sweet cuppin’ cakes. I wasn’t even close to done. I hadn’t covered half the field yet. I looked like and wished I’d just jumped in a pool. But I hadn’t stopped sweating yet.
According to my Boy Scout desert survival training, if you’re still sweating, you’re in good shape. I was in good shape. Oh look, it has a manual!
I’ve heard that the AMX stabilized East-West relations and prevented nuclear war. I’ve heard there’s one on the moon.
Hey, it’s a Ford Capri! I’d never seen one. This one was made of chocolate. Melt-proof chocolate. No, that’s not right. Carbon fiber. Yeah, that’s better. It was swathed in carbon fiber and widebody fenders and ITBs
It was another of my favorites. The owner built it himself.
WITNESS ME! Witness him. Do it.
I’m okay, really. I can do this. Can you imagine grabbing that admittedly awesome steering wheel on a day like this? I wonder if the owner just has hooks at this point. Like a pirate.
My name is Andy. That’s what it is. Andy. Dang, it’s a diesel. I quite enjoy that.
Truck rod needed. Inboard suspension a must.
The owner told me those chrome buttons on the wood trim were standard for that year of the Caprice wagon, and that year only. He told me what year, but I sweated the knowledge out through my eyeholes.
Not everything was modded. Everything on this 1939 Ford DeLuxe coupe and 1937 DeLuxe pickup were pretty much stock and glorious. Believe it or not, these are pretty much the same car, unless I’m wrong. You’ll tell me if I’m wrong, right?
I believe I mentioned something about needing a truck rod. Preferably one with rear tires wider than most police precincts.
Take me to the ocean floor, Magic School Bus with a Cadillac XLR-V in the back.
Hot Wagon Power Tour.
A Chevy Vega! Oh the birth of the American compact. I wish I didn’t love you, but I do.
I’m over 25, sir. I demand to rent this car. The 1966 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350H was a Hertz rental special. It’s the one with the gold stripe. And the H. This example was sadly automatic. I wonder if they were all sadly automatic. I wondered if I could make it back to the Civic. People huddled in the tiny patches of shade managed by lawn-dressing trees and ticket booths. There was no room for me.
Another widebody Capri! This one had a “Last of the V8 Interceptors,” “MFP” theme. I wanted it more than the super clean, carbon fiber example. Those louvers!
Oh, I still have another lot to cover. No, I can’t stay for the burnout competition. I’m hovering above death.
I’d passed this PBR surf-rod earlier. A shirtless man had lain sprawled across both seats, smoking, listening to Dick Dale or some equivalent, if such a thing exists.
He has a sled on his roof! Because it’s definitely snowing right now! Look at it! Mountains of powdery white, blocking out the sun!
No, wait. It’s 163 degrees outside. It’s not snowing. Hey, wagons!
Opel GT, you will be loved. You will be loved.
Found all the Fieros. Show me the money, V8 Fiero!
Hey truck rod. I like your red wheels and your giant turbo. No, I like that you’re a diesel. There’s no one like you. You’re coming home with me.
Would you like to riiiiiide in my beautiful balooooon? Beepadeeepapaaa!
Almost home, mother.
No, officer. I haven’t been sweating. No, I’m still sweating. That’s a sign good.
In the end, my favorite car was almost my ’98 Civic, because it ferried me back to a place that’s heard of air conditioning and water and the human boundaries of life. Why do we have car events in the summer? How dumb is that? Let’s all gather on heat-reflective blacktop, around our portable heaters, under the heated gaze of an angry sun. Let’s dehydrate ourselves and sweat whole cans of sunblock into our eyes while trying to snap pictures and remember what year the chrome buttons came standard on Caprice wagons. Why the summer? It’s literally the worst season. Most of us are even retired. We could up and leave on power tours whenever we wanted, including the more civil months of October and April.
Maybe it’s a test we put each other through. How much do you love cars, Bill? Tim, I got heat stroke once talking to a guy about his ‘Vette-converted Studebaker pickup. Oh yeah? I got skin cancer photographing a race-prepped Plymouth. I stroll by slowly without looking at Bill and Tim. You guys are amateurs. I went to a car show on the surface of the sun. Burned my sanity right out of my eye sockets.
I’ll go back next year.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.