On a warm summer evening a rainbow of car hoods glisten in the fading sunlight, hubcaps shine, and owners beam at the admiration of their prized vehicles. It’s cruise night at the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers.
Dozens of car owners have parked in the back lot while hundreds of fans leisurely stroll around, taking in the array of vehicles from the 1930s through the present.
Tom Woo’s classic 1962 Ford Falcon Ranchero gets lots of oohs and aahs from spectators and car enthusiasts alike. A cross between a car and a pickup truck, the Ranchero is uncommon — Ford sold only 508,355 over 22 years of production according to Hagerty, the world’s largest provider of specialty insurance for classic vehicles.
Woo, a retired General Electric jet engine supervisor from North Reading, is among the 31 million enthusiasts and vintage car owners in the United States.
“Working since I was 14, I had a 1968 Corvette by the time I was 21. Oh how I wish I still had it,” said Woo, 69, reflecting on his lifelong love of cars and engines.
He also owns a 1967 Ford Fairlane XL-500, a 1968 Mustang, and “a 2015 Mustang GT 50th Year with the anniversary package modified with a Kenne Bell Supercharger 800 horsepower.”
Eric Siciliano, 49, of Waltham still has his first vehicle — a 1978 Ford F-150 pickup truck.
“I bought it as a work vehicle when I was 19,” explained Siciliano. “As a carpenter and contractor, I used the truck for work, then had fun with it — four-wheeling in the mud. I blew the motor in 1999, took it off the road, and stored it for years.”
Siciliano “never intended to become a car enthusiast” but in 2012 he decided to strip his vintage truck down to the frame, rebuild, and customize it.
Today Eric and his wife, Nicole, also own a 2010 Camaro and a 1999 Corvette C5. Nicole drives the Corvette and both cars are used “to shuffle kids to and from soccer.”
Active with the South Shore Antique Auto Club, Paul Pelland, 59, of Stoughton, has a 1966 Dodge Dart.
“My very first car was a 1965 Dodge Dart,” he recalled. “This is not exactly the same car, but it is close.”
After purchasing his car 10 years ago, Pelland took the recommendation of a family friend and joined the auto club.
“It is a small club and we always welcome new members. We get together once a month, have an annual barbecue, and share our cars in parades.” Fourth of July weekend was particularly busy for Pelland and club members as they drove in parades in Braintree, Randolph, Duxbury, and Stoughton.
For the Sicilianos, the cars are fun, but what keeps them as active car enthusiasts is the people they meet and the stories they hear from other classic car owners.
“There is a story behind every car,” said Eric, who is a founder of the Motorheads Car Club. “Our club, and the car show we run annually, is for all car enthusiasts. We don’t limit entry by age or type of car, we say you if you love it — bring it and tell us your story.”
Wess Murphy, 43, of Haverhill brought his 1985 Knight Rider replica to the recent Andover Center for History and Culture Car Show.
“Knight Rider,” a popular TV series from 1982 to 1986, featured KITT, an artificial intelligence crime-busting computer that was embodied in a Pontiac Firebird. More than a talking car, KITT became a four-wheel sidekick to star David Hasselhoff’s character, Michael Knight.
Murphy learned everything he knows about cars from his uncle, Russ MacLeish. He and MacLeish began the project to build his Knight Rider replica together. When MacLeish passed away, Murphy continued the 10-year project on his own as “time and money allowed.”
“At times, I relied on YouTube videos for help and Facebook pages for sourcing parts,” said Murphy, stressing he “is not wealthy and the doing all the work himself was a labor of love.”
Hagerty reports the average price of a collectible vehicle is about $28,500 — more affordable than a new car, and the largest percentage of classic cars and trucks registered were manufactured in the 1970s and 1990s, with 59 percent of all enthusiast vehicles in the United States having been manufactured after 1980.
“There are different types of car enthusiasts,” added Siciliano. “Some are purists that prefer the cars be restored to their original form. Others are more about customizing the drive to their own personality. Whichever you choose, it is a never-ending project.”
“When buying a classic car, choose carefully,” advised Pelland. “It will take up your time and with cars that need significant restoration, the work can become overwhelming.”
Woo enjoys the challenge of finding parts for his vintage vehicles by frequenting the monthly New England Dragway’s Swap Meet in Epping, N.H., and tapping into his nationwide network of suppliers. At the Danvers cruise night, several car enthusiasts came by to admire the “dog dish” hubcaps he had recently added to his Ranchero.
Enthusiasts love to share their passion for cars with the public. There are cruise nights scheduled across the region weekly and car shows through the fall.
The Sicilianos invite everyone to visit the free Motorheads Classic Car Show on Sept. 25 at Gore Place in Waltham.
“There is something for all ages and interests. It benefits a local charity, is family-friendly, and kids get to vote for their favorite car,” said Siciliano.
Linda Greenstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.