Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The WOW factor

Piston Ring's annual World of Wheels car show gets our motors running

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If you were among the more than 40,000 folks who checked out Piston Ring's 39th Annual World of Wheels car show last weekend, you don't need me to tell you what an action-packed event it was.

But for those who missed the show that unofficially kicks off the cruising season in this car-crazy town, let's sum it up in one word: WOW!

With a spectacular array of classic and special-interest vehicles on display from just about every segment of the automotive hobby, the Winnipeg Convention Centre was buzzing like a Plymouth Super-Bee.

Thanks to my handy press pass, I was able to sneak into the show early Friday before the doors opened to the public, and the excitement in the air was palpable as exhibitors assembled dazzling displays and put the finishing touches on their prized rides.

Moments after the doors were cracked open at 5 p.m. the show floor was packed with smiling spectators, and it pretty much remained that way all weekend long.

It's always fun to get reaction to the annual show and, with the exception of a few grumpy gearheads who probably wouldn't like the colour of the Corvette they won, by most accounts the entire weekend was a resounding success.

"It was neat to see the three generations of the Batmobile, and the cars from out of town are amazing," said Edgar Krahn, who came from Cooks Creek to check out the show on Friday night.

"But what really stuck out for me was the huge variety of really nice cars built here in Manitoba. We see them in passing on the streets throughout the summer, but it's great to get a chance to see them up close and talk with the owners."

In addition to the more than 150 vehicles on display, there was also 50 different vendors with exhibits that featured a wide assortment of goods and services catering to the automotive hobby.

"For us, this really is the must-attend car show of the year," said Dale Loewen, owner of Sandale Fabrication, a custom auto shop in Grande Pointe.

"It's not only an opportunity to show people the work we do, but it also gives us a chance to connect with our friends in the car community. It's always a fun and exciting weekend."

New this year was CycleRama, a motorcycle exhibit that transformed the convention centre loading-dock area into a gritty garage. Presented by Lone Star Harley-Davidson, the CycleRama portion of the show had a nice line-up of custom motorcycles on display alongside the latest Harley models.

"We really like the way they set things up," said Lone Star sales manager Keni Harvey. "This area has a definite garage feel to it, and it's a great spot to showcase motorcycles."

There was also indoor motorcycle stunt shows on the loading dock throughout the weekend, with a pair of daredevil riders from Alberta delivering countless thrills and even a few spills.

Although the show is presented by Manitoba's own Piston Ring, it's actually brought to us by Championship Auto Shows, a Detroit-based operation that orchestrates more than 20 car shows each year throughout North America.

"We've been coming here now for 39 years and Winnipeg is probably the most passionate Canadian market that we're in," said company president Pete Toundas.

"I think this has just been a phenomenal weekend. Attendance was strong and the enthusiasm was great.

"Bob Chubala, our show chairman, has done an outstanding job changing the show every year and I think expanding to the back loading-dock and doing something interactive with the sport-bike stunt show was really cool."

Toundas spends countless hours at ground-zero in the car-show world and I asked him how the scene has changed over the years.

"The passion for the hobby is always there, but the style of the cars changes dramatically," he said. "In the past few years we've seen tuner-cars come in and out, and today traditional rods are very hot."

And it's not just your daddy's Oldsmobile either, he added. "We're seeing young guys in really nice old cars in every city, and the future of the automobile hobby looks bright."

Toundas said the biggest change in Winnipeg's World of Wheels show will come come with the expansion of the Winnipeg Convention Centre, slated for completion in 2015.

"We will have double the space to work with, and we're confident Winnipeg has enough quality show cars to fill the entire area," he said. "We're also really looking forward to celebrating our 40th anniversary here in Winnipeg next year and have some floor-plan changes in mind that will knock you out."

Speaking of knock-outs, my favourite car on display was the absolutely stunning 1967 Chevrolet Nova owned by Jim and Judy Lippert, who brought the car all the way from Green, Kansas.

The Lipperts apparently own a herd of Novas, but this one is the most coveted in their collection. With a sparkling green paint job, a fresh Chevrolet LS9 crate motor under the hood and enough bling to make a jeweller jealous, this beauty masterfully combines new and old.

These cars have always been among my favourites and, throughout my high-school years, I cruised in the Canadian version of the Nova, a green 1966 Pontiac Acadian. (Imagine my horror last Friday when I incorrectly referred to a photo we published of Motion Performance owner Sheldon Root's 1962 Pontiac Acadian as a Chevy. Yikes! Thanks for all the emails correcting me; you guys definitely know your stuff!)

Another car that caught my eye was the beautiful 1937 Ford street rod that Jim McNeill was displaying in the Pony Corral exhibit. As well as being one of the cleanest rides in town, the car has served another very important purpose: It became therapy for McNeill, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2003.

Thankfully, he beat it, and building his dream car actually played a huge role in his recovery.

"My doctor asked me if I had a hobby, and when I told him about the car he advised me to get back out in the garage, even if only for a few minutes each day," said McNeill, who is 67 and retired from Manitoba Hydro.

It turns out the doctor was right, His strength and enthusiasm returned, and before long those few minutes in the garage turned into hours. What you see in the photo on this page is the culmination of a lifelong dream.

Although the weekend was filled with smiles for those behind the scenes at the show, there was a somewhat sombre tone in the air. In August, long-time World of Wheels executive Tom Williams, who came in from Detroit every year to help manage the show, lost his battle with cancer.

"He was a really super guy and, over the 20 years we worked together, we became great friends," said Shelley Ostrove, a Winnipegger who handles promotions locally for the show.

"Tom was a deeply religious man and a true gentleman, and I'm certain he was with us in spirit throughout the weekend."

Check out Willy's Garage next Friday for a complete listing of all the show winners and bios on this year's inductees into the Manitoba Motorsports Hall of Fame.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 12, 2013 A1

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