All Rev’d Up!

Cruising on Main Street is a popular pastime for Stillwater gearheads. For most locals, the preferred method of cruising is to park and chat with friends.

Story and photos by Jefferson Bryant

What is it about cars that fascinates us? Is it the shiny paint, the way the sun glistens off gleaming chrome in the summer heat? Or is it the smell of high-octane fuel burning through a rumbling V8, playing its siren song for all the gearheads to listen? In a world where the distractions are many, the intangible draw of the automobile is overpowering to many of us. Ever since I was toddler, standing in the front seat of my mom’s car (that was normal back then) mimicking how she worked the pedals, I have been a gearhead. That drive only got stronger as I grew up, spending hours building model cars, tinkering with my go-cart to make it faster and handle better, until the day I got my first car. Of course, that piece of junk Toyota Tercel had a booming stereo before it would even move under its own power.

I moved to Stillwater in 1997, when I was a junior in college. There were not too many car junkies on campus, so I searched out the locals. I found them at the carwash on Main and Hall of Fame. Every Friday and Saturday, the parking lot filled up with muscle cars, hot rods, motorcycles, and mini-trucks. Even though we all had our preferences, there were never any arguments over who was welcome. As long as you had high-octane for blood, you were cool. Rain, shine, snow, or ice, you could find us there. Stillwater had a powerful car culture.

Noah Ambrose, son of Kyle and Natalie Ambrose sits atop the family's classic 1964 Ford Falcon Wagon. Car culture is a big part of the Ambrose family's life.
Noah Ambrose, son of Kyle and Natalie Ambrose sits atop the family’s classic 1964 Ford Falcon Wagon. Car culture is a big part of the Ambrose family’s life.

Then slowly around the turn of the century, it started to fade. By 2005, there were no more hangouts at the car wash. By then, the car wash was gone, demolished for a parking lot. The mini-truck craze had moved on, and the hot rods were seemingly relegated to the garages. Sure, you would see them every now and then, and the local car shows would always have a collection of the usual suspects, but the culture took a big hit.

That doesn’t mean we stopped being gearheads, the culture just went underground. For many of us, the reason was the responsibility of a growing family. The early 2000s are when my peers got married and started having kids. There just isn’t as much money for horsepower when you are first starting out with a young family to support.  Of course, many of us found ways to keep the hobby alive and make it a part of our growing families’ lifestyles, and in the process we are passing the torch to the next generation of gearheads.

In June 2012, the Hot Rod Power Tour made a stop in Stillwater on its annual trek. Here, Josie Bryant stands next to a 1970 Dodge Challenger painted pink in honor of breast cancer awareness.
In June 2012, the Hot Rod Power Tour made a stop in Stillwater on its annual trek. Here, Josie Bryant stands next to a 1970 Dodge Challenger painted pink in honor of breast cancer awareness.

Today, the car culture in Stillwater is alive and well. It may even surprise you to learn just how big Stillwater is in the national picture when it comes to cars. There are two major manufacturers of car audio electronics located here with Stillwater Designs (Kicker), and Q-Logic Enclosures (yep, they are still here). There is a certain TV show aired on Discovery that features a Stillwater-area racer (Street Outlaws’ Joe Woods), a few nationally-known custom builders (Troy Scott, Red Dirt Rodz, and RK Machine), and even an automotive-performance magazine (Street Tech Magazine) is published here. The point is that Stillwater is a hotbed of automotive activity, even when it is under the surface.

Built by local shop Red Dirt Rodz, this 1967 Corvette was named on the Top Ten Hottest Hot Rods at the 2014 SEMA Show in Las Vegas.
Built by local shop Red Dirt Rodz, this 1967 Corvette was named on the Top Ten Hottest Hot Rods at the 2014 SEMA Show in Las Vegas.

While it has certainly tamed down a bit over the last 15 years, Stillwater’s hot-rod roots run deep. You don’t have to wait for one of the car shows held in and around Stillwater to see it, either. Just take a look out the window, where you will see classic cars and lowered trucks driving throughout Stillwater’s busy streets.

Wilson Chevrolet kicked off the summer with their first Cruise-in, on May 20, 2016. Additional cruise-ins are scheduled for the third Friday of each month all summer long.
Wilson Chevrolet kicked off the summer with their first Cruise-in, on May 20, 2016. Additional cruise-ins are scheduled for the third Friday of each month all summer long.

Now, thanks to Wilson Chevrolet, you can see them gathered in one place the third Friday of each month throughout the summer (weather permitting) starting at 6pm. The event is located at 4700 W 6th in the parking lot of the old Ron Shirley dealership (now owned by Wilson’s). Everything from a 1914 Model T to muscle cars, lowered trucks, lifted trucks, even late model performance cars are welcome at the event. You never know what will show up at a Stillwater Classic and Antique Car Club event.

We asked event coordinator Ron Shirley II about the origins of the cruise-in, he told us, “The idea originally started by myself as an offshoot of the annual Stillwater Antique and Classic Car Club Show at Ron Shirley. I was given the opportunity to continue it with Dathan and Aaron Wilson due to their passion for collectible vehicles.” The cruise-in is a non-competitive show, there are no trophies and no judging. This is all about having fun with your car, hanging out with friends, and meeting new people.

This event is not just for car owners, this is a community activity for all automotive enthusiasts, even those in between vehicles. Spectators are more than welcome to come by and check out some of the classic iron that will be on display. There is a designated parking lot available for spectators.

In the fall, the cruise-in series will culminate in the annual classic car show, with judging and trophies, but all of that will have to wait. So fire up your muscle car, Model A, or even grandma’s old Mercury, and cruise over to Wilson’s for a good time. This a family-friendly event, so bring the kids along too.

Classics and muscle cars alike gathered at the monthly cruise-in at Wilson Chevrolet. The event come-and-go, you don’t have to stay the entire evening.
Classics and muscle cars alike gathered at the monthly cruise-in at Wilson Chevrolet. The event come-and-go, you don’t have to stay the entire evening.