Frank and Jennie Stein look at a 1937 Terraplane Hudson Utility, owned by Abe Burns.
Madisonians descended on State Street on Saturday to witness something that hadn't been seen on that road in 30 years: gridlock. Yes, State Street, Madison's famous pedestrian mall which was closed to most traffic in the seventies, was bumper-to-bumper with cars on Saturday as it played host to the inaugural "Cars on State" event.
Over 100 classic cars, ranging from a 1926 Ford Model T Roadster to a 1982 Mercedes 280 SL, lined the street from the Capitol Square to the Library Mall for the show. For some historic car owners, this was just another car show, albeit an unusual and very relaxed one. For others, "Cars on State" was a kind of homecoming. Gary Lewis, owner of a pristine 1929 Ford Model A which his grandfather bought when it was new in 1929, remembers driving his car on on State Street as a young man. "You used to be able to drive up and around the Square then down State Street and go to the bars," he recounted with a cheerful smile.
The show attracted a large and diverse crowd over its six hours. Everyone from families with small children, to high school and college kids, to old-timers remembering cruising in their dad's coupe back in the day turned out to enjoy the sun and look at the cars. Walking around, one would pass a group of car buffs talking shop about engines, welding and the superiority of original filters, and then two steps later pass some 20-somethings noting, "that is so gangster," about a 1936 Ford Cabriolet.
Among the show's many highlights, John "Saint Vince" O'Neill attracted quite a crowd with his elaborate Packers costume and his matching 1957 Chevy station wagon decked out in everything green and gold. His wife, Mary Beth Johnson, turned some heads as well with her matching pink vintage 50s outfit and blazing pink 1959 Cadillac convertible.
Event organizers said they were shocked at the tremendous interest the idea received in its first year. They had expected to get between 30 and 40 entrants when they put out the call for classic cars early this year, but by early May they were having to turn away dozens of applicants, according to Hawk Schenkel, owner of Hawk's Bar and Grill and one of the event organizers.
Although the show was non-competitive, there were some strictly-subjective awards given by a panel of Madison-area celebrities (UW football coach Bret Bielema, athletic director Barry Alvarez, radio mechanic Matt Joseph and Mad Rollin' Dolls--Vanna Whitetrash and Paine Mansfield). "Best in Show" was awarded in three categories based upon the judges' feelings regarding which car they would most like to see in their garage. There were also 10 "Funny Bone" awards given in random categories, including "Best Getaway Car," "Best Prom Date Car" and "Car With the Best Shifter for Form and Function."