All American appeal

ISOBEL EWING
Last updated 09:28 01/03/2014

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Stars and stripes, cowboy hats, leather pants, mullets, a jacket embroidered with flames.

Dressed in jeans and nondescript floral top I feel like a bore among the Americarna crowd.

Gathered at Pukekura Racecourse before the ride out to Whangamomona, the festival-goers are an eclectic bunch drawn together by a shared love of American beauties with big engines.

Even a broken toe can't wipe the grin off first-timer Glennis Harris's face.

"Nothing would have let me not be here."

Harris, originally from New Plymouth, used to gaze wistfully at the Americarna convoy as it passed the Brooklands rest home where she worked.

"I always wished I was involved."

Then she met Les Smith and the wish was granted.

The couple wear matching Taupo Hot Rods Club shirts and have driven over from Tokoroa in their restored 1942 Dodge truck.

A trip to the GP is planned for after the festival but for now Harris is content to hobble.

"I've never been to Whangamomona. I'm just so excited."

I hitch a ride with Diane Rae in her 1933 Ford.

"Inglewood always goes all out, don't they?" she comments as we cruise through the town festooned in blue, red and white.

Packs of schoolchildren and elderly in fold-out chairs wave American flags as our fleet goes by.

We turn east before Stratford and the crowds thin out to the odd flag- waver on a verandah or group perched on a fence waving wine glasses.

It's this uniquely New Zealand community involvement in the festival which wooed Californians Paul and Margaret Barrow, who are back for their second Americarna.

You'd never see such public involvement in the car rallies back home, Paul says.

"To see the school kids come out of class dressed in blue and red and waving flags they made themselves, it's really touching. That just doesn't happen in the States."

Last time they were in New Zealand the couple bought a mini and were told they had to see the film Goodbye Pork Pie.

This time they're going home with four copies of the DVD for their friends in their home car club.

For the amiable pair who joined their car club 36 years ago, cars are more than a way to get from A to B.

"With us, cars are an emotional experience.

"The styling on some cars is like artwork; we like to individualise them to reflect our personalities."

Winding our way up Strathmore Saddle I turn to watch the cars snaking through the brown landscape, glinting black and red and purple in the sun like a trail of beetles.

A Plymouth Fury lumbers around the hairpin bends and rolls over the Ohura peak where a cluster of farmers wave furiously.

The hot sun has loosened stones on the tarmac which rattle against the chassis.

Just when we're starting to doubt the decision to change the rally destination from Opunake, the Republic sign materialises and we round the corner to a Whanga-style welcome.

"Fresh baking" is advertised on a blackboard outside the town hall and a country duo belt out Lynyrd Skynyrd and John Denver from the balcony of the Whangamomona hotel.

Whanga local Mark Coplestone stands in the main street with a loudspeaker welcoming the hundreds of shiny, clean visitors to the dusty little valley.

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"I've lived here for a while and I haven't seen anything closely resembling this," he said.

"I'm impressed and I'm a bloke that doesn't know the difference between a distributor cap and a muffler."

Whangamomona was also playing host to another variety of horse-powered visitors this week.

Martin Gorrie of Okato was part of The Great New Zealand Horse Trek, which had traversed the back country from Awakino and was spending the night camped at the Whanga rugby ground.

Although happy to enjoy the Americarna atmosphere, Gorrie was quick to fire a cheeky quip at the engine enthusiasts.

"I'm thinking about getting my horse and backing her up to one of these convertibles and seeing if she'll dump a load in it."

On such a scorching day a dip at Opunake would have been welcome, but on all other counts Whanga seems to have won the crowd.

My ride back to New Plymouth is with policeman Shane Hurliman in the restored Dodge Challenger which is bequeathed to his daughter.

"The first time she saw it she fell over the bonnet and said, 'Dad, do I get this when you're dead?' "

It was a three-year labour of love for Hurliman to restore the cherry-red 1970s muscle car of his childhood dreams.

Tearing down a stretch of empty road as Metallica blasts through the warm air rushing in the open windows, I may not look the part, but I certainly feel it.

- Taranaki Daily News

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