Life as a car enthusiast means always wondering if an elusive MG or Jaguar is behind every garage door.

Then the fun part begins: tracking down those classic cars and restoring them to tip-top condition.

Members of the local Knights Auto Club will showcase their auto success stories today during the 23rd annual car show at Woodland Veterans Park in Shawnee. Some 200 vehicles, from street rods to muscle cars to souped-up trucks, will fill the park, many with hoods up and ready for public exploration.


Life as a car enthusiast means always wondering if an elusive MG or Jaguar is behind every garage door.
Then the fun part begins: tracking down those classic cars and restoring them to tip-top condition.
Members of the local Knights Auto Club will showcase their auto success stories today during the 23rd annual car show at Woodland Veterans Park in Shawnee. Some 200 vehicles, from street rods to muscle cars to souped-up trucks, will fill the park, many with hoods up and ready for public exploration.
Knights members Ray and Marci Utter are among club members who will be on hand, this year with a 1937 purple and white (and a little orange stripe) Chevrolet. Although it’s a classic car, it’s not short on modern conveniences.
“It has a modern drive train, a 350 V8 engine, air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, all the modern things it didn’t have in 1937,” Ray said.
The Utters have been members of the Knights Auto Club for a number of years. They were inaugural members when the club began in the mid-’80s, then after a break, they rejoined a few years ago. Being in the club allows Ray to share his lifelong love of classic automobiles with others and discover ways to give them new life.
Because his father has always been restoring one car or another, it was natural that Ray enjoy the pastime too, he said. He got his first car at age 12 and helped his father work on everything from an early Rolls Royce to Jaguars to classics of the ’30s and ’40s. At age 14, he and his father began working on a 1958 MG, a two-seated roadster with convertible top that he later drove to high school.
“I learned to like all of them. I grew up with a wide range of exposure to cars,” Ray said. “I was always helping my dad from the time I was big enough.”
Marci rode in Ray’s MG while they were in high school, and after they were married, she found herself part of the hobby as well. They’ve always taken their children to car shows and cruise-ins, she said, because it’s a family-oriented activity. “We’ve made a lot of nice friendships,” Marci said. “It’s often the only place we see some of the people, but we visit and catch up on what’s going on.”
Ray said he has a few car projects going at any given time, and he’s always curious what might be behind a curious-looking garage door. Over the years, he has restored a 1968 SS396 El Camino, a ’57 Chevy Nomad station wagon and a couple of ’68 GTO convertibles.
During the restoration process, he learns as much as he can about the vehicle’s past life.
“I always try to find out the history of a car, who has owned it, where it’s been all along,” Ray said. “One time I was working on a ’65 Honda 150 motorcycle. When I took the panel off, there was a name and address under there. I called the guy; he was the second owner. He was real surprised to hear it was still around.”
Ray’s ultimate cars to acquire and restore are the 427 AC Cobra, a mid-’60s model that “would outperform anything available at the time,” and his father’s 1953 Ferrari. The cars would be difficult to find and expensive, he said, but he never stops thinking about them.
Ray’s work with cars also has given him an insider’s perspective on what might combat the crisis of rising fuel costs. When gas was cheap, it became too easy to stick the nozzle in the tank, fill up and go, he said. Today, affordable alternatives aren’t readily in place, he said, but he’s interested in the possibility of a steam-powered vehicle, in addition to the electric and hydrogen-powered options that are beginning to appear.
“In the late ’20s and ’30s, several companies built successful steam cars,” Ray said. “They were inexpensive to operate, but their main downfall was the inability to develop steam in a short period of time. You had to wait for it to heat up and build steam.”
Registration for today’s car show begins at 8 a.m., and the show runs all day, until awards are presented around 3 p.m. Vehicles will compete in several dozen classes, and awards will include Best Paint, Best Interior, Best Engine and Most Unusual. There is no charge for the public to attend.
The Knights Auto Club meets at 6:30 p.m. the first Monday of every month at Billy Boy Barbecue. Anyone interested in joining is welcome to attend. Local car enthusiasts also have less formal gatherings in the area several times a month, including every Saturday evening at Brown Derby drive-in, every fourth Tuesday evening at Kountry Fried Chicken and Catfish and every Thursday evening at the Sonic Drive-In at the Choctaw exit of I-40.
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April Wilkerson may be reached at 214-3926 or april.wilkerson@news-star.com.