After spending last Sunday afternoon covering the Old Wheels Car Show, I was a little disappointed not to have my story published. However, I came back on Monday with an open mind and worked on a compromise edit with an assistant city editor. Although the article is substantially less technical, I’m much happier with the final result. I need to remember that my audience at the Missourian is not a group of automotive enthusiasts, even if I would like them to be. By simplifying the technical terms and adding an emphasis on the car show itself, I believe the article is more complete and much easier to understand.
1980s’ muscle car on display at Old Wheels Car Show
Wayne Sommers’ 1986 Buick Grand National is on display at the 39th Annual Old Wheels Car Show on Sunday at Historic Nifong Park. ¦ JOEY UKROP
COLUMBIA — If Darth Vader had a driver’s license, his car of choice might be the Buick Grand National.
Only available in a menacing black that conjures up the image of Darth Vader, the Grand National’s svelte design was uncharacteristic for cars during the 1980s, especially those from the typically conservative Buick brand.
On Sunday, a pristine example of the iconic muscle car made an appearance at the Old Wheels Car Show at the Historic Nifong Park. Owned by local car enthusiast Wayne Sommers, the Buick was one of more than 100 cars from the early 20th century to the present day that were on display.
The show, which marked its 39th year, was held at several locations in Columbia before moving to the Historic Nifong Park last year, said Eddie Hedrick, president of the Old Wheels Car Club.
“It’s a nice marriage for a historic car show to be in a historic park,” Hedrick said. “It’s kind of a scenario you dream about, because the venue fits.”
The Buick Grand National represents a turning point for the automotive industry. It’s an oddity — a muscle car made long after the end of the muscle-car craze of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
That craze ended because of environmental smog restrictions which were put in place in the early ’70s. The following two decades of the automotive industry were characterized by increasing fuel-efficiency demands. Consumers and car manufacturers thought that speed and fuel-efficiency were exclusive, but Buick tried to unite the two with the Grand National.
The Grand National is also significant for changing the way people thought about V-6 engines. Prior to the ’80s, a V-8 engine was considered the only realistic option for high-speed cars, but the Grand National showed that a V-6-powered-car could go as fast as the legendary V-8-engine models of the muscle-car era.
That was enough to get the attention of Wayne Sommers in 1986. When his wife, Trudy, needed a new car, he proposed buying a Grand National, but she had something else in mind — a smaller, four-door economy car.
Undaunted, Wayne Sommers continued his quest for a Grand National. After being told by Columbia dealerships that it was too late to get one, he began to lose hope until he drove by a Buick dealership in late 1986 and saw one sitting in the lot.
“I called my wife and said, ‘Go look at this car now,'” he said. “‘This is the car you want.'”
Trudy Sommers didn’t like the car’s design, calling it ugly and decrying its lack of chrome. Her opinion changed after the couple took it on a test-drive.
“She drove it, and from then on, you couldn’t get her out of it,” he said. “She fell in love with the power. When she’d leave the house, I’d go stand on the front porch and listen to her leave, and she’d chirp the tires in second every time.”
After 27 years, Wayne and Trudy Sommers’ Grand National has racked up slightly more than 33,000 miles. The car, which still has its original paint and upholstery, looks as if it was just driven off of the showroom floor.
The couple has no intentions of selling it.
Half of the money raised by the show was given away in a raffle. The rest will be used for the Mel Koonse Scholarship, which will go to a high school student who plans to seek a career in an automotive field. Koonse was a longtime member of the club who helped start the car show 39 years ago. In past years, the scholarship’s amount has ranged from $500 to $1000, Hedrick said.
Supervising editor is Richard Webner.