Diane Butrym was recovering from breast cancer when she bought a 1931 Ford Model A.
Her husband, Matt, had stayed by her side and cared for her throughout her treatments and into recovery, and she felt a gratitude unlike any other.
“I knew he loved hot rods, and this opportunity came,” she said. “So I took it.”
It wasn’t exactly a hot rod when she showed it to him, though. It was in pieces, covered in dust and grime in an old garage. Its shell was orange. To the Butryms, however, it was a diamond in the rough.
Ten years later, at Saturday’s annual Schenectady Kiwanis Classy Chassis Contest at Crosstown Plaza, it had a brand-new look — a low roof, exposed silver engine, carpeted interior and a shiny, fire engine red paint job.
“The body has been chopped, which means the roof has been lowered about four inches,” said Matt Butrym, 55, of Schenectady. “The whole body has been channeled, which means it’s lower on the frame than it originally came. The exposed engine gives it a hot-rod look. You’ll see them around on Camaros and Mustangs, but not often.”
He was one of more than 50 proud car, truck and motorcycle owners at Saturday’s car show. In the plaza parking lot, outside Best Fitness and Ocean State Job Lot, engines revved, pipes coughed and cars sparkled in baby blues, sea-foam greens, cherry reds, silvers and golds.
Formerly known as the Ugly Car Contest, Schenectady Kiwanis Club President Amy Aldrich said the event’s name was changed to draw more car owners to the gathering.
“We got some feedback from some car folks that felt like they didn’t want to bring their beautiful cars to something called the Ugly Car Contest,” she said. “It was meant to be funny, but I think it prohibited some folks from bringing their nicer cars.”
Categories are the same as ever, though, including best sounding pipes, best graphics, best pre-1950, ugliest, people’s choice, best Corvette, best sound system, best muscle car and best stock car.
The Kiwanis have sponsored the event for three years, and Aldrich said the goal is to raise about $5,000 for the club’s youth service grant program and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Butrym’s Model A hot rod is believed to have been fashioned for drag racing in the 1960s. Since its restoration in 2002, it has traveled as far as Boston for shows and racked up trophies along the way.
“We’ve won best hot rod, best of show,” Butrym said proudly. “We’ve got over 60 trophies at this point. I’m shooting for 100 by the time I die.”
Tom Walsh bought his 1974 AMC Gremlin new during the oil crisis of the 1970s, when Walsh and other Americans could only buy their gas on even- or odd-numbered days, depending on their license plate numbers. The Gremlin was introduced as an economy car, but wasn’t as small as the Ford Pinto or Chevrolet Vega.
“So the Gremlin fit me better,” said Walsh, 71, of Schenectady. “It had a six-cylinder [engine], so I ordered it solely because it was good on gas and comfortable for me.”
He had the forest green car pinstriped about 25 years ago by Davies Custom Paint in Duanesburg. The tiny gold detailing since has won awards.
“I started collecting cars in high school,” said Walsh. “It’s become a hobby. My favorite car was probably a ’56 Ford Sunliner. It was just a beautiful car. It had a glass roof, it was long and it was sexy, if you will.”
Buying his 1931 Ford Model A sports coupe was bittersweet for Gary LaCourse. The man he bought it from lived in Canajoharie and had just restored the clunker when he was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
LaCourse, 74, of Duanesburg, didn’t have much to do by the time it was turned over to him. It was in working condition, with a shiny coat of sea foam green paint.
“We had the wheels powder-coated,” said his wife, Carol. “They were supposed to be straw, but when they came back, they were this bright yellow.”
Although Gary has put minor work into the car since his purchase 10 years ago, Carol has one steadfast rule about her Model A.
“I love these old cars whose engines haven’t been souped up and all that stuff,” she said Saturday, looking around at the sea of vintage cars. “I’ve been offered plenty of times, a guy will say, ‘Hey I’ll take your car and hot rod it for you,’ like it’s a favor, and I’ll say, ‘No, you couldn’t give me enough money to hot rod this car.’ ”