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The culture of a classic

  • Joey Churin of American Classics customizes and fabricates for high performance and classic automobiles. Foreground is a '65 Shelby Cobra.

It's a unique club, made for those whose heartbeat quickens with the rev of an engine, those who have just a splash of motor oil in their veins. Some like to tinker, others are sentimental about the cars they cruised in as kids.

The classic car culture has always thrived in Petaluma. It's part of the reason George Lucas brought his 1973 coming-of-age tale "American Graffiti" to film in the city. It is a lifestyle that is celebrated annually with Cruising the Boulevard's Salute to American Graffiti, which will culminate on Saturday when Petaluma Boulevard will shut down to showcase 425 classic automobiles, including a 1956 T-Bird and a 1967 Citro? that were both featured in the original film.

"It's the Citro? that Richard Dreyfus actually drove in the movie," says John Furrer, a founding board member of the all-volunteer charitable event.

Furrer has always been a motor head. He likes that he can work on the cars himself, "no computers or smog checks needed." But there's also something sentimental about his fascination with the classics, which can be seen in his 1931 Ford Model A. "I bought that with my first income tax return check," he beams.

It's a story Joe Churin, a mechanic for American Classics and Performance in Petaluma, has heard many times before. The local automotive shop specializes in restoring the classics, whether that means just enough to get the motor running, or a full-scale, six-figure rebuild of the entire car.

"I did a Cadillac recently and it cost over $100,000," he says, explaining that the woman had held on to her college car until she could afford to restore it. "A lot of people, they want to drive in that car that takes them back to when they were kids."

Churin said he's often impressed with the range of customers the shop attracts, from wealthy older men who collect cars the way some women collect handbags, to the high school kid who's been saving up for years just to get his "baby" up and running.

Furrer said collectors from all backgrounds will come together this weekend for Salute to American Graffiti, which in past years has drawn spectators from 18 different states and eight different countries.

The day raises funds to put life-saving automatic defibrillators in schools, businesses and other useful places.

"We put one in every single police car, because they're typically the first to respond to an emergency," Furrer says, adding that the charitable event has raised $140,000 in its nine years, and also supports a scholarship program and gives to Christmas Cheer.

(Contact Emily Charrier at emily.charrier@ar guscourier.com)


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