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Classic-Car Fans Cherish Their 'Babies'

April 04, 1985|JOHN NIELSEN | Times Staff Writer

Ask Fred Hendly of Sepulveda about his 1937 Ford coupe "chop top" with custom paint and a Chevy 350 engine.

"This car is my baby," he will say. "It's my sanity. It's bigger than life. You couldn't print what it means."

Words like those are standard fare at "Cruise Night" at Kevin's Burgers in Reseda, where the San Fernando Valley's auto zealots stage a semimonthly communion.

On the first and third Fridays of each month since 1982, hundreds of people like Hendly converge on this Reseda Boulevard burger joint for a night of double cheeseburgers and mechanical bravado. They also drink a lot of beer and trade a lot of one-liners.

"Well, yes, we're pretty devoted," said Arthur (Junior) Washburn, a Simi Valley bricklayer who doubles as president of the valley-based Hard Times auto club. "It's real Americana. We're all good patriots."

Different Cruise Night

Cruise Night at Kevin's is not the same as cruise night on Hollywood Boulevard or Mulholland Drive or at Elysian Park. For the most part, the regulars here are family men in their middle to late 40s, with a love for cars built before the 1970s. Tire screeching is rare and rowdiness is frowned upon.

"Most of the time we just park and eat," said Steve Kershuk, a Canoga Park engineer who is president of the Classic Chevy club. "We hold a lot of meetings; then we walk around in the parking lot."

Kershuk says Cruise Night started when he stopped in for a burger at Kevin's on his way home one night. The food was good and one of the owners was a friend from work. One thing led to another, and before long at least four car clubs were meeting at the restaurant.

Wide Range of Autos

One recent Friday, parking lots surrounding the restaurant were filled with more than 100 gleaming autos, ranging from vintage Model T Fords to Pontiac GTO "muscle cars." Some of the cars had been carefully restored, others were a hybrid of customized parts. Many had lowered bodies or roofs--called chop tops--or monstrous, gleaming engines.

The owners varied just as widely. A 53-year-old engineer from Monterey Park drove a fully restored 1937 Ford pickup, reclaimed from a state of "absolute garbage" in 1972. A 42-year-old telecommunications specialist from Canoga Park drove a 1955 Chevrolet that he had painted eight times since he was in high school. A 40-year-old television executive claimed to have lost everything but his Ford roadster in recent divorce proceedings.

Felicity Lewis of Granada Hills was one of the few women with a car on the lot. Lewis, who works as a mail carrier, said she bought her 1955 Chevrolet Nomad with money she made by suing the owner of a large German shepherd that attacked her on the job last year. She said her interest in cars began long before the lawsuit.

Cam Shafts, Manifolds

Throughout the evening there was endless talk on automotive subjects. Ford men ridiculed Chevrolet owners, who quickly returned the favor. Motorcyclists were pointedly ignored. Cam shafts and manifolds were popular topics, along with leaded gasoline and metal-flake painting techniques. Occasionally, people stopped talking long enough to order more food or beer.

And for Kevin's co-owners, Jane and Shou Wei, Cruise Night works well.

"I think we might sell 1,000 hamburgers tonight," Jane Wei said.

"That sounds about right," said her husband. "Do they know we own a Toyota?"

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