Mustangs stampede through Steamboat

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Terry Dale left home to change the oil in his car. He came back with a 1995 Mustang.

"The car dealer said, 'Come on, I want to show you something,' and that was that," Dale said. "My wife doesn't let me go down to the dealership alone anymore."

The Littleton resident had his first chance to show off his red SVT Cobra on Saturday at the 16th annual Rocky Mountain Mustang Roundup.

At Saturday's "Show and Shine" event, the sun glinted off the freshly polished chrome of hundreds of Mustangs lining Lincoln Avenue from Fifth to 12th streets, many of them from Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. Several bore license plates such as "PONYPWR," "VENMOUS," and "HORSEPLA," and stuffed-animal horses and cobras perched on car seats.

Almost 480 cars registered for the event, and about 40 percent won plaques in the showing, head judge John Marsico said.

While some participants were old pros, the Roundup was a new experience for several of the Mustang owners.

"I'm a little overwhelmed. I walked 10 blocks, and there's Mustangs everywhere," Dale said while standing next to his Cobra.

Black fuzzy dice with flames bobbed from his rearview mirror, and under the popped hood stood a white bear wearing a red, white and blue vest and singing the national anthem. A toy soldier marched to "We Will Rock You" on the engine. Although it has gotten him into trouble at time, Dale relishes the Cobra's speed.

"I had it up to one hundred and a quarter already, and there was plenty of room left," he said of his "special toy."

Paranoia about dings, scratches and fingerprints doesn't plague Dale too much, however.

"I don't leave the car anywhere. So I don't get paranoid. It never goes to malls or anywhere like that," he said.

But then why own a Mustang if you rarely drive it?

"Just to have it," he said.

And to love it and to pamper it. Owners stood watchfully by their cars, ready to wipe off any stray fingerprints.

"You could eat off some of those engines," Roundup judge Judy Hanna said.

Hanna, who is visiting from Ohio, volunteered to judge the event with her son, Scott Campbell, from Steamboat Springs.

"At first, I thought they all look so great that I wouldn't be able to tell the differences between them. But once you really start looking in detail, you can see some pretty major differences," Hanna said.

The judges critique the cars on cleanliness, craftsmanship and quality. Craftsmanship measures the quality of restoration and workmanship.

"Did they do a good job reworking some part, or is there duct tape hanging down?" Campbell explained.

"Basically, did they put a lot of time, effort and money into it?" Hanna added.

Quality measures how much attention the owner pays to detail.

"Are the nuts and bolts shiny and new, for example? A rusty bolt wouldn't score as well," Campbell said. "But some of these guys actually wax the bolts in their engines. They look like silverware."

Not all the Mustangs were always so pristine.

Jim McCready displayed a Mustang that "once was a coupe that became a convertible that became a fastback," he said.

Two years ago, he bought a 1966 coupe that a tree fell on, and he cut the top off it. At the same time, he bought a 1965 fastback with a rotten belly. They both had been "left out to pasture," but he took the fastback's top, put it on the coupe and restored the car to look like new.

"That's why I call it 'Frankenstein,'" McCready said. "There's no other like it in existence that I know of."

In addition to the Mustang owners, hundreds of spectators also streamed by, gaping at the cars. Some peered under the hoods, others plied the owners with questions about the price or restoration, and many seemed to reflect nostalgically back on an old Mustang or other cherished car they once owned.

But some just admired the paint jobs.

"Cool! Look, Grandma. You can see the flames up close," said 9-year-old Daniel Gardner, who was visiting his grandparents from Florida.

His grandfather, Jay Goree, examined the Mustangs and reflected briefly on the one that got away.

"I used to want a Thunderbird, but I never did get it," Goree said.

Gardner went on to enthusiastically describe the Mustangs whose paint seemed to change between purple and blue.

"That was really neat," he said.

As for his own idea of a dream car, he's thinking high-tech rather than classic muscle.

"I want a hover car, if it comes along," he said.

Failing that, though, he'll settle for a new Mustang, he said.

--To reach Kristin Bjornsen, call 879-1502.

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