Miami Herald - November 03, 2005

Classic buffs grin as models return

This year's Memory Lane theme is, ''What's Old is New Again.'' Classic car collector knew it was just a matter of time.

Special to The Herald

Retro is big with car buyers these days. It all started with the wildly successful introduction of VW's New Beetle in 1999, and has mushroomed ever since.

Other carmakers jumped on the bandwagon, adding retro cues to some models, complete restyles to others, and even bringing back legendary nameplates like Chevrolet Impala, Pontiac GTO, and the Chrysler 300.

But there's nothing new about retro for members of the South Florida Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America, who put together the popular Memory Lane at the South Florida International Auto Show every year. For these guys, many of whom own original examples of the cars that have inspired retro designs, retro never left.

So it seems only fitting that the theme to this year's Memory Lane is, ``What's Old is New Again.''

Mel Mann, car collector and past president of the club, says organizing Memory Lane is a labor of love for members, who are celebrating the chapter's 50th anniversary this year. ``This will mark our 12th year presenting this display. The cars in the display are owned by our members; they're not owned by dealers, they're not owned by auction companies. This is pure passion.''

Choosing the 20 or so cars that will make the cut is no small job, and the selection process began, as it always does, in January.

''I get about 250 applications every year,'' said Mann. ``Our club conducts five or six events -- car shows. We attract several hundred cars at each of these events. It's usually at these events that we're able to pick out a car we've never seen before, and if it's unique and if it's special and, of course, if it is in top condition, then we want it.''

One rule for exhibiting is that no car is shown more than once on Memory Lane. The club chooses instead to draw from the large numbers of immaculate collector cars tucked away in South Florida garages. ''Our intention is to put on a fresh display every year'' said Mann.

Each year's Memory Lane puts the spotlight on one car, and this year it's a stunning, all-original 1959 Chrysler 300E with less than 50,000 miles on the odometer. Powered by a 413 cubic-inch ''wedge'' V8, it's one of fewer than 400 made. This bright red beauty is one of only a handful known to still exist.

It's also the car that lends its name to one of today's hottest sellers: The 2005 Chrysler 300 was Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year, and has been among the most successful domestic sedans in years.

But the only thing the two share in common is the name. The '59 is about 22 feet long and all about the 1950s. Yards of chrome adorn its sizable flanks, and fins beginning right around the rear seats continue rising all the way to the rear of the vehicle.

Found in a garage in California, the Chrysler is, incredibly, an unrestored car, possibly the best-preserved example of the model in the world.

Memory Lane's theme continues with a 1968 Pontiac GTO convertible, another legendary nameplate recently dusted off and put back into service. While the GTO name hasn't been around quite as long as the 300 moniker, the GTO is credited with starting the muscle car craze when it was introduced at the start of the 1964 model year.

Like the 300, the name is about the only thing the old car has in common with the new.

Other likely crowd pleasers keeping with this year's theme include a 1966 Mustang, a 1966 Corvette Stingray, a 1960 Chevrolet Impala and a 1958 Volkswagen Beetle. ''I tried to find old cars that are not only still being made today, but have served as an inspiration for what is being made today,'' said Mann.

The exhibit typically spotlights a famous TV car and this year is no different. A 1955 Buick in full California Highway Patrol regalia will stir memories among some of the '50s television series Highway Patrol, starring Broderick Crawford.

``Our goal is to take everybody down memory lane,` said Mann. ``We try to put cars in from the '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, and now the 70s.''

Anything newer isn't quite old enough to be considered a classic -- the official cutoff is 25 years. ''People come into Memory Lane,'' Mann said, 'and go, `yeah, I remember that car. Yeah, that's the car I had when I came out of the service. . . that's the car that my grandpa took me in for ice cream on Sundays, or that's the car that I got my driver's license on.' ''

Memory Lane will be open during regular show hours at the Miami Beach Convention Center, Nov. 4-13.