Vintage cars race to Port Washington

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Vintage cars race to Port Washington
One of the vintage cars that will be taking part. (Courtesy of the Cow Neck Historical Society)

Earlier this year, the Cow Neck Historical Society approached John Ruvio about holding a classic car show in Port Washingon. Ruvio, the president of the Great Neck-based Vintage Flathead Timing Association, decided to add something a little more exciting.

“They approached me about doing a car show, but I told them that car shows are kind of boring on their own and we should do something a little different,” he said.

On Sunday, cars from 1908 through 1940 will take turns trying to set the fastest time on a course that will take them down West Shore Road and up a hill. The inaugural Wheels Through Time will begin at 9:30 a.m., with the starting line at North Hempstead Beach Park. Admission is free for the general public.

“I think a lot of people … they don’t pay attention to the history of the island and what went on,” said Bill Gordon, who is on the board of the Cow Neck Historical Society and was a driving force for this event. “This is such a visual way to allow people to go back in time. When people see an old car, it’s like, that’s really cool.”

The cars will first take part in a time trial. The course runs from the park to Beacon Drive and requires the cars to climb a hill, which Gordon said would push the engines of these cars.

“It will be interesting to see how long it will take to get up that hill,” he said. “When they were developing these cars, these kinds of hills were not anticipated.”

There is a fair amount of leeway in what kind of cars can take part. All the bodies of the cars must be older than 1940, while transmissions and rear axles must be pre-1953. Four-cylinder engines are preferred, and drivers are encouraged to dress in period clothing to match their car.

Ruvio said the oldest car taking part is the “Black Beast,” a 1908 car manufactured by the American Locomotive Co. and owned by Town of North Hempstead historian Howard Kroplich. Ruvio said his favorite was a 1928 Ford that he worked on with students from Great Neck in an automotive class.

He said that his interest in vintage cars was passed down from his father and grandfather.

“I kinda just grew up with old cars in the family,” Ruvio said. “My grandfather and his brother, they used to race cars at Freeport stadium in the 1960s… my father was interested too. My passion came from them.”

There will be a chance for visitors to view the cars up close, of which there will be about 35, according to Gordon. Following the completion of the time trials around noon, the cars will make their way to the Sands-Willets House at 336 Port Washington Blvd. for the car show. Visitors will have a chance to talk with the owners and there will be tours, live music, hot dogs and popcorn.

Gordon said that car races were popular throughout Long Island in the early 20th century, although they were much more dangerous then.

“Going back to the evolution of the car, they would have these big races, and [William] Vanderbilt would sponsor them,” he said. “The problem was people would wander onto the road and would get killed since they didn’t have a handle on the whole car thing back then.”

The inaugural Wheels Through Time should be much safer.

In the event of rain, the time trial and car show will be rescheduled to Sunday, July 8. For more info, visit www.cowneck.org.

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