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Residents cruise in cars with personalities to match

Published: Thursday, June 13, 2013 12:05 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:57 p.m. CDT

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BERWYN – Some are quick. Some are cute. Some are just plain quaint. But, there’s one thing all cars are, especially to baby boomers – cool.

There were enough cool cars at Berwyn’s first Cruise Nite of the season, which was in the Historic Depot District on June 3, to drop the temperature by several degrees as the gear heads parked into their slots on Windsor Avenue.

And just as cool as the two-tone “boats” and two-door convertibles were their owners.

There were hot rods, antiques, muscle cars from the ’60s, vintage rides from the ’50s and high performance rockets from today. All of them looking like they just pulled off the showroom. They didn’t start out that way, however.

Jose Favela’s story about the black and gold 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass he bought in 1994 is much like that of most classic car enthusiasts.

“It was a rust bucket. When I brought it home I wished I had never bought it,” the Berwyn resident said. “In 1998, my friend wanted it so bad, so I sold it. Then I bought it back in 2001.”

And then, like all car nuts, the madness set in. Hours, then days and months were spent bringing the rust bucket back to its two-lane blacktop glory.

“I always wanted a convertible,” he said. “You’ve got to be an old car enthusiast.”

Dave Bonk’s 1957 Rambler Nash Metropolitan convertible drew a steady line of smiling visitors, each looking at the little car like it was a puppy needing a hug.

“It’s a fun little car,” Bonk said. “People come up to me all the time. Everybody’s got there ’57 Chevy. I have my ’57 Nash.

Bonk, also a Berwyn resident, found his diamond in the rough in Mount Prospect in 1983.

“The body was sound but the engine was locked up. It hadn’t been driven in 20 years,” he said. He eventually unfroze the motor, put in a new clutch, brakes and had it painted the classic two-tone turquoise and white. He had the upholstery done about six years ago.

There are varying degrees of fanaticism when it comes to classic car restoration, said Bonk, a truck mechanic by trade.

“Some cars, you could eat off of them,” he said. “Mine’s a driver.”

Bonk said when he was 15, he and a friend bought a Metropolitan in 1968 for $25. The plan was to fix it up in his friend’s parent’s garage and get it on the road. But his friend’s parents grew tired of the hulk taking up space and sold it.

“I’ve always been haunted by it,” Bonk said.

When Richard Rychlicki pulls in with his 1956 Oldsmobile, one of the “boats” of the ’50s, people look and are transported back on time. In the driver’s window sits a car hop’s tray, a basket holding a burger and fries and shake. It’s “Happy Days” all over again. Marylin Monroe, at least her cardboard likeness, is sitting teasingly in the passenger seat.

“The car is almost as old as I am,” the 78-year-old from Berwyn said. Rychlicki bought the car from a guy for $900. It was in shambles.

“It had no tail lights, no exhaust system and no emblems, including the hood ornament,” Rychlicki said.

He’s been working on it for nine years.

“I can’t wait for the Cruise Nites and car shows,” Rychlicki said. “It gets me out. Its just a cool night out.”

Then there’s always a guy with a car that has an engine that sounds like the end of the world is near. Miguel Rodriguez turned over the engine to his purple 1934 Plymouth hot rod and snatched the breath out of many onlookers.

“It was a junk, in pieces,” Rodriguez said of the once primer-white roadster. He put on a new front end, rear end and tires. The frame is from a Ford. It may have started out as a 1934 roadster. But he redesigned the body and eliminated the doors altogether. It’s now climb-in only.

Rodriguez did all the work himself, with the exception of the engine which was put together by Fast Lane Tony in Lyons.

“It’s very fast,” he said. “The car weighs 1900 pounds with me in it. It’s got 640 horses. Do the math. It’s sick, I know.”

Jim Martin of Berwyn has had his ivory and black vinyl top 67 Chevy Malibu for nine years.

“I rebuilt it from the ground up. When I bought it, it didn’t have an engine, no transmission. There were just some of the original parts on it,” Martin said. “I probably have a couple of thousand hours into it. I built the motor myself. I try to do all the work on it myself. That way I know there’s no mistakes.”

Martin exemplifies the muscle car owners of the ’60s who are still carrying a torch for the one that got away years before.

“I had a ’68 Chevelle when I was getting married. I had to get rid of it. I cried,” he said.

He’s also been the owner of a ’69 Oldsmobile, a ’66 XR-7 Mercury Cougar, a ’63 Buick Riviera and ’69 Ford Mach 1 Mustang.

“I had so many cars one year that the Secretary of State said if I didn’t quit I would have to apply for a dealer’s license,” he said. “Once you’re a car guy, it’s hard to stop. I don’t think you ever get over it. It’s an addiction.”

Martin expressed heartfelt sorrow for young people today who can’t see beyond the utility of a vehicle.

“Cars are just transportation to them,” he said. “In our day, a car was a statement about who you are. It was more personal. It meant more.”

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