YOUNTVILLE – The assortment of automobiles at the Father’s Day Invitational Auto Show was more than steel and rubber and leather — more, even, than works of mechanical art. For some of those at Yountville’s 24th annual car exposition Sunday, it was a time for vintage wheels to become a link to family memories.
Among the high-horsepower 1960s Detroit muscle cars and the curvaceous Jaguar sedans, one vehicle stood out for a subtler — and heartfelt — reason. Taped to the dashboard of a 1929 Ford Model A roadster was a photograph of the man who had turned it from wreck to showpiece: Bill Simons, a Napa high school teacher gone for a year but not forgotten.
“Him and I came up here for 10, 12 years,” said Simons’ son Bob, who inherited the convertible on his father’s death and brought it to the Yountville show. “I enjoyed coming up here with him, so I put his picture on the dash this time.”
While many visitors stopped by to admire the craftsmanship, others used their visits to remember the Ford’s rescuer, a shop teacher at Napa and Vintage high schools for more than three decades.
“It’s great today, because people are sharing these stories of my dad I never knew,” said Bob Simons, an information technology consultant in Napa. “It’s so fun to share it with all walks of life. I keep having people say to me, ‘I wouldn’t have gone on to school if it wasn’t for your dad’ or ‘I have the career I have because of your dad.’ If I touch a fraction of the lives my father did, then my life will be a success.”
Gathered in front of Yountville’s V Marketplace was a collection ranging from curvaceous Jaguars of the 1950s and 1960s to an entire section of brawny Ford Mustang coupes. More than 150 automobiles were on display, according to organizer Jerry Wuichet, who said the noncompetitive gathering attracts up to 3,000 spectators.
Immersing himself among decades of fast, stylish cars — with his wife, 10-month-old daughter and other relatives in tow — was a natural Father’s Day diversion for Robby Dulle, whose father-in-law, Tom Adams, had brought along his 1932 Chevrolet sedan for the occasion.
“I’m really into cars, my father-in-law is into cars, and that was part of the basis of our relationship — besides his daughter, of course,” the Lake Berryessa resident said with a smile. “I rebuilt a ’47 Chevy myself, and I’m really hoping I can pass it on to my daughter. My wife hates it but hopefully my daughter can appreciate it someday. She has her toy cars already — plays with them way more than her Barbies!”
Elsewhere at the show, other spectators lingered around a sports coupe as outrageous as it was rare: a long, lanky and red Dodge Charger Daytona, dominated by a rear wing as tall as the coupe itself. Its original and only owner, Jim Gehrke of Napa, patiently answered numerous questions about the Daytona, one of barely 500 copies made of the onetime NASCAR racer; to inquiries about its top speed he had only to point at the license plate: 145 EASY.
“I was mesmerized by it; it was so over the top,” said Gehrke, who bought the Dodge new in 1970 and restored it nearly two decades later. “People loved or hated the car; there was no in-between, and I used to get that ‘Hey, Batman!’ crap all the time (from other drivers) every few days, but I fell in love with it. I know it’s worth a lot of money but it’s not for sale — I’ve had this too long.”
Another Detroit-built specimen at the show was mingled with a Napa family’s loss, and a promise made between parent and child.
Shortly after buying a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air in 2012, Jim Finch and his daughter Nicole Hardy agreed to seek out a more valuable 1956 model. Finch would never get his chance, dying a year later, but opportunity fell into Hardy’s path immediately afterward.
“Three days after my dad passed, I saw this ’56 Bel Air on the street, with a for-sale sign on it,” she recalled. A few days later, she walked into her parents’ garage to find the Chevy inside — along with her mother, Carol, telling her, “It’s from your dad and he wanted you to have this car.”
Powder-blue with an aircraft-like hood marker and the muscular motor of a 2007 Corvette LS1, the Chevy presented a gleaming sight in the noontime sun. But it was not its speed or its looks that made it irreplaceable to Hardy.
“It’s an emotional day,” she said, her voice starting to seize up, “but when I’m inside this car, I don’t cry. I’m not in it right now, so I can cry.”