Above: Photographs made at the 2009 Heavy Rebel Weekender Car Show, Saturday July 4th on Trade Street in Winston-Salem North Carolina.
The HRW Kustom Car Show is held in conjunction with Heavy Rebel Weekender, a three day music and culture festival celebrating real rock n’ roll, country-western, rockabilly and punk music, and an associated sub-culture of men and women dressing and living the part (for the unitiated, think the movie “Grease,” minus all the camp).
The event is a bit different from your usual car show. Missing are the correct M-Code Camaros and the too tall trophys. Also absent are the smirk of the one with the nicest car, and misplaced aggression. The cars and trucks here run more in the vein of the rat rod, or the slightly lower on the totem pole muscle car (envision a Dodge Dart Swinger).
The event is held on Trade Street in downtown Winston-Salem, a road many long-term residents will still not frequent, it being a bit seedy and drug infested just 10 years back. Now, the street is infected with downtown revitalization; cute coffee and beer bars and art galleries and stores selling tchotchke. On the Saturday morning of the Heavy Rebel Weekender event, the on-street parking is taken over by the cars, 8 or 10 blocks, for admirers to peruse. Car owners, sometimes seprately, or together under a tent advertising a car club, sit around grinning and talking shop.
Hundreds of people move up and down the street most of the day, pouring over the cars. Everyone seems to be in one of two camps. The HRW attendees, all who seem so pale in the bright summer sunshine, their squinting eyes giving away they are so much more happy in the night. Men sporting ducktails and pompadours acheived with a bit of hair grease stroll down the middle of the street in dark blue jeans, black boots or Chuck Taylors, and black t-shirts (my favorite proclaiming “That’s right asshole, I’m Elvis). They may be arm in arm with a pretty woman with short curly hair, the result of a permanent wave, or a previous night with pin curlers. Dressed smartly in a floral dress with bolero sleeves and a swing style skirt.
The other attendees are bewildered locals, who aren’t sure even what HRW is, but read “free car show” in the local paper and come out for a look-see. You can point them out because even though they are local, they seem to dress like tourists, shorts and t’shirts, with sneakers and white socks pulled up to just below their knees.
If you have ever worked on restoring an old car, you will be instantly struck by the attention to detail. In the pictures above you see the very stock Dodge Dart Swinger. Not a lot of customizing, yes, but the car is so clean and detailed, the photographer can not only see himself in the paint, but the people behind him. The purple 40’s car draws your attention in with the metal sculpture of the ominous rat (an ode to the “rat rod”), but don’t forget to notice how the restorer took his time to completely paint the car in metalflake purple, then take a brillo pad and oven cleaner to the new paint job to age the paint into a mix of rust and old patina.
The other signature of these cars is the appropriation of rock-n-roll lore and imagery in the restoration. One rat rod above has used a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer atop the carbeurator, serving as a stouter, more colorful air cleaner. The same car’s 40’s style Ford front was ripped out, and in its stead is the front of a similar vintage Farmall Tractor. The Oldsmobile Rocket engine above, a legend even if left alone, has also been customized by its owner. A hip-size whisky bottle serves as the radiator overflow, lashed to the frame with a leather belt. A black die screw keeps the alternator bolted to the block, and a coke can (not a new one, but the old pull tab kind) functions as the fuel overflow below the carb.