Wilton Cruise Night — a car fancier’s dream

Americans’ love for cars was on full display Friday night as the Kiwanis Club presented its annual Classic and Custom Car Show at the Piersall Building in Wilton Center. More than a dozen cars were there from a 1926 Ford Model T forward to muscle cars and sports cars with plenty of admirers to enjoy them.

One sweet ride was a light blue 1957 Thunderbird convertible, which, if you missed it Friday night, you might see it on a weekend parked at Orem’s, because it’s owner, Henry Czarnecki, said he tries to drive it every week.

This was the last year of the Thunderbird two-seaters, he said, and over the course of 10 years he and his son, Kevin, a captain with the Wilton Fire Department, restored it to showroom condition.

“It’s all original,” the elder Czarnecki said.

He had his eye on the car for years before he finally got it, lost it, and got it back again.

“I bought it in 1990 from the original owner who was out on Long Island, drove it home and parked it in the garage,” he recalled. The owner, who had been a neighbor in Wilton, had seller’s remorse and asked for the car back.

Czarnecki agreed, but only if she agreed to sell it to him again, which she did in 2000. After 10 years of restoration it was on the road in 2011. Today, the car has 90,000 original miles.

Asked if there was a particular reason he liked this car, Czarnecki shrugged, said he always thought it was attractive, and added, “I graduated high school in 1957.”

At the other end of the spectrum was Lissa Seeberger’s 1926 Model T in the only color Henry Ford offered at the time — black. It was the penultimate year for Model Ts, which ceased production in 1927. She got the car, which was made in Canada, from her father. It was his first car, which he bought as a 17-year-old in 1953 with a friend for $75.

“It was his daily driver until 1961,” she said, when, with a wife and a child, the two-seater was put away in a barn. It sat there until 1970 when it was towed to a barn at her father’s new house in Rochester, N.Y. Finally, about a year and a half ago, she asked him if he was ever going to do anything with it.

“It hadn’t run in 58 years,” she said, when he gave the car to her and she got it from Rochester to Wilton. She started working on it herself, watching YouTube videos and asking other Model T enthusiasts for advice.

The car has an electric starter although it can be cranked. Driving it, she said, is a “completely unique” experience since the accelerator is on the steering wheel, not the floor. The three pedals on the floor are the brake, reverse, and high/low gear. There is no separate clutch.

She’s not sure how fast it will go, but she got it up to 42 mph on Belden Hill Road.

Another car that cruises happily within the speed limit on Wilton’s side roads is Mark Miloski’s 1931 Ford Model A Roadster Deluxe, fully restored with a beautiful yellow paint job. Complete with rumble seat and luggage strapped to the back, it’s not hard to imagine it pulling up to Downton Abbey.

Miloski, of Southport, is a member of the Connecticut Seaport Car Club and has several other vintage cars, all from the 50s and 60s. He’s been coming to the Wilton show since 2006.

He acquired this car, fully restored, in 2015 and said he has had more fun driving it than anything else. “Everybody smiles,” he said, when they see it. The 40-horsepower car cruises nicely at 35 mph, and the fastest he’s gone is 53 “down a long hill.” But, he said, it’s an old car with old brakes “like a bicycle” so going too fast is not advised.

Despite its good looks, the car has few comforts. A convertible, there are no side windows and no turn signals. It sold for $375 brand new and now has 58,800 miles on it. The gas tank holds about 10 gallons and it gets about 10 to 12 miles per gallon.

Across the parking lot Anita Kaplan and Mike Whitted were admiring the cars on their first visit to the car show. One that caught their eye in particular was a 1959 Jaguar XK 150S.

“To me, this looks like James Bond,” Whitted said.

The owners were not spies, but Laura and Bill Cody who take the car to shows and rallies.

“The most exciting thing is hearing other peoples’ stories about their cars,” Laura said. “The second best is driving it.”

When asked why he picked this car, Bill said, “I wanted to do classic car rallies and I fit in it,” he added with a laugh. “It’s fun to drive and I like the way it looks.”

The rallies they participate in generally last four days, covering about 250 miles a day. Each driver gets a map with a route on it and some are timed, some just for touring. The couple completed one in West Virginia and Virginia and one from New Mexico to Colorado.