How on earth did the country’s largest one-day custom, street rod, and muscle car show wind up here?
Positioned on the southern tip of Michigan’s remote upper peninsula (affectionately known to the locals as the U.P.), sits the small city of St Ignace, your first exit off of I–75 after crossing the Mackinac Bridge, or ‘Big Mac’ to us cool guys. ‘Big Mac’ is not only the world’s longest suspension bridge (spanning a 4–mile post-glacial carved gorge), but more importantly, serves as the only convenient entrance point (the other being through the remote section of Wisconsin) to the U.P. and the show’s host city, St. Ignace. Soaking in Mid–Western charm, St. Ignace, with the Caribbean colored water of Lake Huron as a tantalizing backdrop, is a little slice of heaven, absent of even a traffic light and book marked for years as the place you parked your car for the ferry to the touristy and vehicle–free Mackinac Island. A city that still remains a bit of an anachronism despite its increase in popularity, a city that also welcomes generations of the cruisin’ culture to parade their iron machinery through its singular artery, and where people still park their cars for the ferry!
Ed Reavie, show originator and St. Ignace native, spent many hours during his teens perusing the pages of Hot Rod, Rod and Custom, and Car Craft magazines. Intoxicated by the imagery of custom cars and street rods created by ‘Big Daddy’ Roth; California legend, Gene Winfield; George Barris; Sterling ‘Mr. Merc’ Ashby; the Alexander Brothers, and many others, Ed could only dream of the day he could meet these and other ‘Custom Rodders’ who graced the pages of these monthly periodicals. At the time, it was a one–way admiration mentioned famed Chevy customizer, Frank Livingston, who was quick to point out, “He (Ed) knew all of us long before we knew him”. Realizing the improbable odds of ever meeting all the heroes in his world, Ed stopped dreaming and decided that if you can’t go to the mountain, have the mountain come to you. So in the June of 1976, he organized the First Annual Straits Area Antique Auto Show, a decision that has concurrently changed Ed’s life and the town he grew up in, forever.
Ok, but that still doesn’t answer the question, why would participants be willing to plop down toll money and drive 300 miles north of the Motor City? After all, the year was 1976 and America was still feeling the gas pump pinch from the ’73- ’74 OPEC embargo. But whatever his reasoning was at the time, Ed’s wise decision to offer potential show participants an incentive by paying the bridge toll and gasoline allotment for all preregistered out of town participants, managed to attract 150 cars that inaugural year. The show has continued to expand since its inception and has become THE place to be by the automotive world.
Today, the event’s success dresses Ed’s oversized museum/office with memorabilia overflowing with accolades from the idols he grew up admiring. Yes, many of the old magazines are still there, but today they wear the autographs of Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill, Art Afrons, Gordon Johncock, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, the late Zora Arkus–Duntov (father of the Corvette), Linda Vaughn (First Lady of Motor sports), and an encyclopedia of colorful characters from the street-rod/customizing world who decorate the paneled walls.
A neat ’58 Car Craft magazine featuring a Frank Livingston Chevy creation on its cover sits proudly next to an autographed Shirley MulDowney poster, while notaries like Jerry Weesner, editor of Rod and Custom magazine, Gray Baskerville, senior editor of Hot Rod magazine, Tom Gale, Executive President of Daimler/Chrysler all call Ed their friend. One man and one man’s dream has single handedly put this once–upon–a–time ‘parking lot’ for the ferry service, on the map. “The Car Show is Ed Reavie”, proudly echoed Keith Crain, this year’s Guest of Honor and Chairman of Crain Communications whose publications include Autoweek and Automotive News, among others, and who by his own admission, is just another ‘Car Guy’. It’s a dream whose grand scope even Ed could never have predicted. Come cruisin’ with me in part two as St. Ignace celebrated its 25th year this past June 23rd–24th......Walter Pietrowicz