Once a year The Gunnison Car Club, under the able direction of Mike Callihan, takes over downtown Gunnison, Colorado, filling the streets with street rods, muscle cars, sports cars and pickups. This year the club selected me to receive The Lee Iacocca Award.
Gunnison is 224 miles from the Denver International Airport — and 1,138 miles from The Lodge at Pebble Beach, where I was the previous weekend. On Saturday, instead of ogling Ferrari Enzos, Delahaye 135Ms and Hemi ‘Cuda convertibles, I found myself walking by three restored Ford Mavericks, a Superbird, two Austin-Healeys, a “Drag Pack” Ford Torino GT 428 Cobra Jet and a Dodge Palomino pickup truck — along with more than 200 other special interest cars.
The town is located at the crossroads of U.S. Route 50 and Colorado State Highway 135 and is named for John Gunnison, who explored the area in 1853 while trying to find a route for a transcontinental railroad. The town has a population of about 6,000.
I’ve been through Gunnison several times before, as it is on the route of the Colorado Grand. This was the first time I stopped and enjoyed what the town has to offer.
My eight-year-old son Bradley accompanied me and, using an iPhone 4, was my official event photographer.
Our days have been full. Thursday, Bradley and I had dinner with country singer and Iacocca Award-winner Dean Dillon. The next day we took a Scenic River Tours excursion down the Gunnison River. That evening we watched a vintage dragster carry the American flag down Main Street.
Saturday was the show. I noted with interest that there were five Saturn Skys and Pontiac Solstices. When Best of Show was announced, it wasn’t an Isotta Fraschini. Instead, the award went to an immaculately presented 1967 Volkswagen Beetle that had been fitted with a front-mounted V8 and used as a drag racer. The Bug is owned by Gary Thompson of Montrose, CO.
After the show was the Poker Run, and our ride was a 1958 Ford retractable hard-top. In the hot afternoon sun, it was the perfect time machine to transport myself back more than a half-century. Bradley especially liked bouncing around in the back seat without a seat belt.
Sunday, we drove a Maserati TC (fitting, as the car was conceived during Iacocca’s tenure as head of Chrysler) on a morning top-down drive to the resort town of Crested Butte. After breakfast, we took a chairlift and got very close to the 12,162-foot summit.
That afternoon we went to The Gunnison Pioneer Museum, which included collections of mining equipment, vintage telephones, horse-drawn buggies and a narrow-gauge train.
We are finishing up today with an overnight horse-camping expedition, which is about as far from an MG TC as you can get (there was a beautiful one in the show, which arrived towed behind a Corvette — something you won’t see very often).
The weekend reinforced the notion that Americans have an ongoing love affair with their cars, of every type, from every era. Being at the Gunnison Car Show the weekend after Pebble Beach was a reminder that you don’t have to be around million-dollar cars to have fun on four wheels.