"For car show afficianados, it's a labor of love"
June 11, 2008 · Updated 11:01 AM
"Under the hazy glow of a street lamp, the poppy-red vintage station wagon gleamed and winked, beckoning other drivers.Nice car, a young woman in a white Chevy Malibu said as she drove past slowly, longing in her eyes. A young man in a long, lean Ford sedan, circa late 1960s, crept past to get a better look.This is no family grocery-getter, its a street rod, as hot as its color.From the shining bumpers and chromed radiator cover to the immaculate orange-and-white interior, to the dice perched atop the door locks, the 1955 Chevy Nomad is well loved by owner Dave Cowgill of Bremerton.Parked in front of All Star Lanes in Silverdale on a Tuesday night, the car and others like it attracted a lot of attention.They are like people magnets, said Billie Malkowski, a Port Orchard resident who owns a 1968 Ford Mustang convertible with her husband, Ervin. People honk and drive up beside you on the highway and say 'Nice car.' Steve Pritchard, of Bremerton, restored his 1949 Chevy two-door sedan himself. I just like old cars, he said, later admitting it's nice to have other drivers give you the thumbs up when you're driving down the road.The Malkowskis, Cowgill and Pritchard gathered at the bowling alley to discuss plans for Kitsap's Hot August Nights, a rock-and-wheels festival happening at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds this weekend. The four owners, who will be among an estimated 800 participants in the first-time event, said their reasons for owning and working on their cars revolved around people.We've met a lot of people and done a lot of traveling, said Cowgill, whose wife also enjoys the car. It's a family-oriented activity.Cowgill, who works at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, bought the car three years ago in Victoria, B.C. He stumbled upon it through a mutual friend. It was just an opportunity in life, said Cowgill, whose children are nearly grown. Since becoming its owner, Cowgill has changed the wheels, had air conditioning installed and worked on the engine. Even parts of the immaculate engine have been chromed, to shine as brightly as if they had come straight from the factory.Cowgill also keeps the car in mint condition by not driving in the rain, which in the Northwest means it spends much of the year in the garage, he said with a chuckle. The Malkowskis and Pritchard bought their cars through family connections. I bought it from my son-in-law, who bought it from his brother-in-law. It's been in the family for a long time, Pritchard said.The Chevy, called a Styleline Deluxe, was a pile of rust when it came to Pritchard in 1983. It took him six years to restore it. Now a subtle brown with plush interior, the car reminds Pritchard of his first ride, a 1951 Chevy.The Malkowskis bought their Mustang for nostalgic reasons too. Billie Malkowski always admired her sister's 1959 Buick convertible.The car came to them in 1996 from a distant relative of Billie's. It had been restored by a man in Puyallup in 1990 after being found near the University of Washington campus, with bushes growing it in, minus seats and engine, said Ervin Malkowski.Now the sleek, sunlit-gold convertible takes the Malkowskis over about 4,000 miles of road a year. The couple also belongs to the Kitsap Mustang Club; Ervin is the current president. Ervin Malkowski does much of the car's repair work himself. He spent five weeks in February and March this year taking apart the engine, cleaning each piece and putting it back together. The result? You could eat off the air filter cover.Ervin Malkowski said it's important to have a clean engine. At car shows, the hood is up and on the engine on display. The Malkowskis travel to street rod and car shows all summer. They have been to Reno, Nev., and Oregon in their car.Though he had never planned to own a Mustang, Ervin Malkowski said he doesn't regret it now. I might get another Mustang, but I would never trade this one in, he said. And it makes me feel a little younger.Steve Pritchard, who is retired from a job at PSNS, said owning and caring for a vintage car keeps him young, too.The big thing is associating with people of like interests. It keeps you going. You're not just sitting in your easy chair getting old. "