On the way to the car club meeting, Barry Corson blew a gasket on the 1938 Chevy hot rod pickup truck he’s been overhauling. No matter: In 15 minutes, tops, he had replaced it with a piece he cut from the cardboard insert of a compact disc.
Corson figures he’s restored more than 200 vintage cars to date. “I’m not trying to brag,” said the Amesbury mechanic, standing alongside a ’57 Cadillac, a burnt-orange 1950 Mercury, and several other classic cars in a driveway in a rural stretch of Amesbury. “I’ve been tinkering my whole life.”
Corson is one of nine active members of the Ring Reckers, the current revival of an Amesbury car club established nearly 60 years ago.
Since taking over the organization seven years ago, tattoo artist Bob Holmes and his friends have begun staging an annual car show — last year drawing more than 2,000 visitors to downtown Amesbury. And with car enthusiasts expected from all over New England and a first-time beer sponsor in Pabst Blue Ribbon, the club expects to double that figure when this year’s show takes place beginning at 9 a.m. Sunday.
The club typically meets on Holmes’s Amesbury property, with its spacious garage and enough rolling land to stage a drive-in movie in the backyard. (When the Ring Reckers threw that party, they showed “American Graffiti,” naturally.)
The setting would appear to be straight out of the 1950s, if it weren’t for the Justin Timberlake song blaring from the radio in the garage and the stubby Smart car parked at the far end of the driveway. Holmes, who runs tattoo shops in Seabrook and Raymond, N.H., is a bit of a giveaway to the modern era, too, with his long goatee and his extensive body art.
But when the guy with the bucket truck takes overhead photos at the club’s car shows, said Cameron Soles, a drag racer from Epping,N.H., the vintage effect is striking. Print them in black and white, and you’d have no idea it was 2014.
“We’re known to throw a good show, with beautiful girls and beautiful cars,” he said.
On a sunny recent Sunday, the group sipped from cold cans and did what they always do — talked about their engines and “bench raced,” or debated which car would be faster in an actual drag race.
“It’s a lot better than just posting a picture on Facebook,” said Soles.
Making her first appearance at a car club gathering was Giada, a weeks-old infant who is the granddaughter of club member Dave Corso of Hampstead, N.H.
“I’m already thinking about building a hot-rod stroller,” joked the new grandfather.
Formed in 1955, the Ring Reckers took their name by local custom: Newburyport’s car club, still going strong today, was called the Cam Snappers, and another group was known as the Rod Benders.
“We used to build street rods and race up in Sanford, Maine,” recalled Howie Salt, a Newburyport Fire Department retiree who has been a Cam Snapper for almost 50 years. He says he helped the new Ring Reckers uncover some of their history.
Speaking on the phone from his home, Salt said the Cam Snappers will bring several cars to the show in Amesbury: “We get along fine, just like the old days.”
The term ring recker refers to “when you wreck your piston rings,” explained Corson, whose father, a race car engine builder and a pioneer of snowmobile “grass drags,” used to hang out with the Cam Snappers. He never actually joined, said Corson: “He was kind of a lone wolf.”
But the members of the Ring Reckers enjoy the camaraderie.
“I could have traveled anywhere” to join a car club, said Chris St. Pierre of Manchester, N.H, “but I chose these guys.”
He bought his aqua-blue ’57 Caddy from Corso, who was ready to flip it and take on a new project. But it’s never easy to part with a car you’ve restored, they said. “You almost cried the day I picked it up,” St. Pierre teasingly reminded Corso.
The enormous Cadillac, all 5,000 or so pounds of it, had one owner before a dealer took it in trade and put it away for years. St. Pierre, who sports a waxed mustache that suggests a time before automotive transportation, showed off one of the car’s innovative features: a gas cap concealed under a hinged taillight. And beneath the car’s rear bumper hung a Ring Reckers plaque, a prized possession.
For the members, these cars are works of art that connect them to the not-so distant American past. Holmes found his black ’33 Ford coupe on eBay, driving nonstop to Missouri to pick it up.
The model had been his dream car since he was a boy, when he had a cherished purple Matchbox version. He thought that at $32,000, the real big-block five-window coupe might be a deal too good to be true. When he realized it was a genuine steal — he estimated its value at about $65,000 — he paid cash.
“I was there for seven minutes,” he said.
There are still three or four old-timers around town who are no longer active but keep Ring Reckers plaques on their cars, said Holmes.
“The history of the club means everything to us,” he said. “We still have the same bylaws.”
Except the one about being fined a quarter for getting a speeding ticket.