Viejitos were in the house
Cars — all kinds of cars — were parked at Socorro’s historic Plaza on Sunday. There was a sun-yellow Camaro, a cherry-red Camaro with white racing stripes, a pastel-red Mustang, a lipstick-red Mustang, a ruby-red Corvette Stingray, a red Bel-Air with a white top, a deep-red Chevrolet Deluxe, a jet-black Chevrolet Super Deluxe, a night-black Impala, a powder blue Cadillac with metal trim, a white Monte Carlo with black paint on the hood, an ocean-green Buick 8, a lime-green Chevrolet Deluxe, a mint ice cream green Bel-Air, a wood-paneled Fleetline and a gold with black vinyl GTO.
The Viejitos Car Club, an organization that hosts car shows around the country, brought numerous classic vehicles, such as the ones described above, and their owners from California, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma and even Mexico to Socorro on Sunday for the fourth time in as many years. The Viejitos Car Club in Albuquerque represented New Mexico at the event.
For a few locals, it was an opportunity to display the labors of their love.
Manuel Chavez, a mechanic at Leseberg’s Auto on U.S. 60, who has lived in Socorro his entire life, got into rebuilding cars because his job asked him to. He speaks affectionately about the two cars he brought to the Plaza.
“This is a regular Chevrolet ’57 T-post car,” Chavez says, pointing to the red roadster with two white racing stripes running from the hood to the trunk. “I’ve had this one for six years. I’ve been rebuilding it. I started from scratch, all the way from the bottom.”
Everything is new in the car except the engine, a 283 Chevrolet small-block V-8 that gets a maximum of 315 horsepower.
“It’s the original engine — I just tuned it up a little bit,” Chavez says. “You could take it out on the highway. This one would give you about 20 mpg.”
He smiles a little mischievously then and points to the ’77 Chevrolet Camaro, which he’s had for three years. The sports car shares the same paint job as its predecessor sitting next to it.
“That one,” he says, “that one, if you took it out for an hour, it’d probably waste you 10 gallons of gas. That’s got a 383 stroker in it. That’s a big motor.”
Chavez speaks the truth. The Chevy 383 stroker increases the stroke of the pistons, which in turn increases airflow through the engine. This leads to more horsepower and more torque.
Along with the cost of the new engine for the Camaro, Chavez has put thousands of dollars into each of his cars.
“This one, the ’57, I probably have about $10,500 in it,” he says. “And this one (the Camaro), the whole complete car, I probably have $13,000 in it.”
Regardless of the price, Chavez already has his next project in mind.
“I got a ’65 GTO I want to rebuild, too. That’s a nice car,” he says. “Yeah, (working on cars) is just a little side job and I like to do it, you know. It keeps you busy on the weekends.”
For local Eddie Rodarte, his white ’85 Monte Carlo with black block designs on the hood and roof is more than just a side job that keeps him busy on the weekends. Rodarte wants to get his car into a magazine.
And, so far, he’s put $20,000 into that goal. However, his love of cars started out with machines that are much simpler.
“When I was young, I was building bikes — low rider bikes,” Rodarte says. “As I got older, I started saving up for the cars.”
Rodarte likes driving around in the machine in which he’s invested so much money, but he understands the risk involved in actually driving it around, especially on the highway.
“It’s nice to have nice cars,” he says. “Like (you) put a lot of money into them, but it’s risky with an accident or whatever. But I like taking my cars out for a cruise.”
Cruising was the last thing on the mind of Kenneth Bowden at the show. A “For Sale” sign was in the window of his red ’66 Ford Mustang.
However, business seemed to be far from most people’s minds on the plaza that day. The atmosphere was fun and festive. Smiling little kids ran around or jumped in the car-inspired bounce house, denizens shopped at a few vendors that were selling T-shirts and jewelry, and a few couples (Chavez joined in from the sidelines) danced in front of the gazebo to the live music performed by some local musicians that alternated between mariachi and classic rock tunes. A staple at the event was the song “Low Rider” by War.
Blaring over the music though were the ambulance sirens that are the finishing touch on every Viejitos Club automobile. These sirens have actually been trademarked by the club. Another tradition is for members to yell “Viejitos in the house!” whenever asked the question of just who exactly is in the house.
The club (whose name, “Viejitos,” translates to “old men”) was founded in 1985 for lovers of Bomb-type cars — cars made before 1959. Out of the four cars profiled above, only Chavez’s 1957 Chevrolet would qualify for inclusion in the club, but he has no desire to join.
“They travel around too much for me,” he says.
Traveling is indeed a major component of membership, but, on Sunday, the Viejitos were in Socorro’s house.