The Gainesville Street Rods keep the past alive


People look at classic cars during a Cruz-In hosted by the Gainesville Street Rods car club in Gainesville on Saturday, January 14, 2013. The car meet is held from 6-9 p.m. on the second Saturday of the every month.

Brett Le Blanc / Correspondent
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 7:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 7:12 p.m.

Charles Palle can still rattle off the places he used to cruise as a teenager.

Growing up in Miami, Palle and his friends had regular spots: Hotshops downtown, "The Wheel," a popular drive-in restaurant; Kendall Drive, a four-lane, quarter-mile road where TV crews used to hang out.

Cruising was just the thing to do. On weekends, weeknights, they'd hop in someone's car and take off.

They didn't go to movie theaters. They didn't have video games. There was no Internet or Facebook. They just drove.

Today, Palle and about 80 other Gainesville residents make up The Gainesville Street Rods, a nonprofit car enthusiast group that raises money for local charities, participates in cruises and hosts car shows in the area. For them, it's a way to commemorate a pastime they love.

"We grew up in an era where you could gun your car downtown and race," said Maggie Donnell, 63, a five-year member. "The Street Rods, cruising, it's what we spend our money on. It's how we socialize."

Curt James remembers how it began. Originally, there were only eight members.

"At first it was a beer-drinking club," he laughed. More people began hanging out. They all had an interest in car shows and cruise-in's.

So it made sense to become an official club. That was more than 30 years ago.

Since then, James has been to so many shows, he has about 70 or 80 plaques they use to identify individual cars scattered in his garage.

His prized cruise-in car is his street rod: a two-door, four-passenger, all black leather interior, all original steel beast that has an LT1 engine from an ‘85 Corvette lurking under the hood.

"That baby will get you in trouble," he laughs. "It's got the horsepower."

Cruise-in's start with Palle, the club's current president, who emails and calls everyone. They arrange a time and place to meet. They arrive with their novelty cars. Everyone chats, enjoys each others company, takes pictures. In March, they'll host their largest fundraising event of the year: A car show at Santa Fe College, with all of the proceeds going to Stop Children's Cancer.

Usually, they don't travel too far. With older cars, they need to be careful.

"You don't want to take your old cars too far," Donnell cautioned. "You could easily break down."

But they've ventured to other cruise-in's: Ocala to Orlando to Palatka, the Street Rods have traveled everywhere.

Normally, they cruise at night. Most older cars don't have air conditioning.

When the wind rushes over the hood and the big motor rumbles, that's the feeling members thrive on.

Take the time to listen to Palle talk about cars of the past.

He thinks the golden age is over, that cars had more style, more variation, during his time, and will lack those qualities altogether in the future.

"In ‘57, they had fins on everything," he said. "The ‘60s were a good time for cars, too. If you just looked at the back of a car, you'd see it jutting out for yourself. The next generation's just going to be Hondas and Toyotas."

Palle drives a ‘57 Chevy Bel Air with a black paint job. He gazes at the shiny enamel with pride. They've been through it all together.

With a new wired age around the bend, and talk of electric cars becoming more frequent, Palle knows modern cars are going to be an entirely different experience, one without as much as soul.

"It just won't be a fun car," he said.

So that's where the Street Rods come in: To keep a pastime bright and vibrant for these classic car enthusiasts.

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