Indoor car shows are a bit of an oasis for car enthusiasts in the majority of the country. After all, there aren’t a lot of places where standing outside for hours in January is an enjoyable experience. The 51st Annual World of Wheels in Chattanooga hosted a wide spread of cars inside the warm and dry Chattanooga Convention Center January 11-13, and the event organizers Motorsports Productions were gracious enough to grant me media access to the show.
I didn’t make it ten steps inside the door before I was stopped in my tracks by a stunning gold ‘65 Plymouth Barracuda. It was relatively stock in appearance, but was meticulously restored. Upon closer inspection, I noticed a few go-fast goodies under the hood, an aftermarket shifter, and NASCAR-inspired side pipes. I made a lap around the car and decided that while I could just stay right where I was and drool over the car a few hours, I should probably move on.
Charlie’s Custom Creations sponsored the show and had two builds on display. Their Chevy II was a stunner in a shade of root beer brown, but I was more focused on their ‘55 Nomad. I’m usually not a fan of orange cars, but this Tri-Five was simply too nice for me to care about such finicky things as my personal color preferences. It sat perfectly on Foose wheels, and had enough sidewall on the tires that you had a chance to hit a bump without compressing your spine. An LS3 powers this sweet machine, and the engine bay featured enough bespoke pieces to improve the LS engine’s typically stale aesthetic without going too far. This is another area where Charlie’s impressed me, as many builders put on a metal-fab exhibition under the hood and make observers crane their necks to see any engine at all. I introduced myself to Charlie and some of his team, complimented the build, and exchanged business cards with him.
Later on, I multiplied my knowledge of vintage diesels tenfold when I met the owner of a custom classic Mack fire truck. His fire engine features an enormous 6-71 Detroit Diesel weighing an estimated 1,800 pounds. In other words, the engine alone in this fire truck weighs almost as much as a small sportscar. He spoke at length about Detroit Diesel engines tendency to have low oil pressure at idle, and how that makes them hard to rev, but once you build some rpm they’ll go “WHOOOM!” with a whack at the throttle. He eventually told me he bought the truck for a paltry $600, and the guy he bought it from paid only $300! I’ll take ten at that price, please and thank you.
Talking to Napoleon Dunson about his ‘66 Chevy II Nova was another highlight of the show. He’s owned the car since the mid-70’s, and restored it himself. His dad paid a measly $600 for it, and for a good reason. It didn’t run. Napoleon laughed and told me he cried when his dad had to tow the Nova home with another car. The car sat for a while when Napoleon was in high school without being fixed because he was busy with football practice, but he eventually got it on the road. He drove it to college, got married, had kids, and kept the car the whole time, recently taking it on Cruisin’ the Coast and Hot Rod Power Tour. Napoleon now owns a repair and restoration shop in Chattanooga. His Nova underwent some transformations over time, and is currently powered by an LS swap from a Corvette.
I also saw my favorite custom car of all time, the Legens Hot Rod Shop 1936 Pontiac 2-door Sedan.This spectacular automobile is pearl white with gold trim, custom Pontiac emblems everywhere, an interior to make Rolls Royce jealous, and an independent rear suspension with inboard brakes. Oh, and a supercharged LT4 under the signature Pontiac stainless waterfall. That waterfall was carried over the roof of the car in a beautiful and unimaginably expensive glass skylight. I met Robert Anderson, the owner and nicest guy imaginable, and he encouraged me to get up close and take more pictures. I sheepishly obliged, and got a few shots of the incredible custom gauge cluster and abundant saddle brown leather. I also got to talk to the builder, Steve Legens, although our conversation was cut short when he was approached by two men from SEMA. Yes, that SEMA.
World of Wheels is not the type of car show I usually visit. It’s full of high-end, spotless, unblemished rolling works of art, compared to the driver quality cars I often encounter at shows. That doesn’t mean everything was showroom perfect, as the show featured a couple rat rods and Schweaty Speed Shop’s ‘67 Pontiac LeMans. Those cars may not look perfect to the observer, but they are exactly what the owners want. After all, that’s what matters most. I tend to fall more on this relaxed end of the car enthusiast world, but after seeing the masterpieces at World of Wheels, I understand why some people are protective of their machines. If you’re shivering in your garage and having car show withdrawals, I recommend making the trip to World of Wheels in the near future. If you can’t wait until the next Chattanooga show rolls around, they also host a show in Birmingham, AL the second weekend of February.