All year round, Wheels of Yesteryear, an auto and truck museum near the Myrtle Beach Speedway, remains in overdrive thanks to one man’s collection to preserve history from the fast lane so anyone can spend a leisurely afternoon walking down memory lane.
“That’s what this is,” said Paul Cummings, who grew up on a tobacco farm in North Carolina. “This is a memory lane.”
Stepping out Sunday from behind the counter for a break from polishing an accessory, he called this collection of more than 50 vintage cars the result of “50 years of work and love.”
About 80 percent of this multitude of vehicles represent “muscle cars,” and the sprawling complex radiates in color, memorabilia, posters, old license plates and music from the heyday when these retired cars’ horns were honked. Even the music on the building’s stereo speakers flexes the muscle in these cars with such songs as Roger Miller’s “King of the Road,” Lloyd Price’s “Stagger Lee” and Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.”
‘My first drag machine’
Popping the hood of a 1963 Monza Spyder convertible in adobe beige, Cummings thought about “my first drag machine” with this model. He showed how its engine was “all air-cooled.”
Across the row, a red 1974 Corvette coupe includes its manufacturer’s suggested retail price label, a final tally of $6,977.50, denoting a stereo that, at $275, cost $25 more than the turbo-jet accessory.
Other ‘70s relics include a pair of former American Motor Co. products, a Pacer – think of what Wayne and Garth rode in for both “Wayne’s World” movies – and a Gremlin, “a poor-man’s Corvette.” Cummings said he stopped driving the former because people would follow him home out of sheer curiosity.
The car David Spade used in the movie “Joe Dirt,” about an orphan who travels cross country to find his parents, fills its own corner. This 1969 Dodge Charger was aged in looks and left unchanged for display. Wall cards note how cars and Hollywood stay “inextricably linked,” through promoting movies and films making international stars, such as James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5.
Creative paint colors
Read up on the hues of many of the cars, such as “Montero Red” on a 1965 Pontiac GTO, “Sahara Rose on a 1962 Ford Thunderbird coupe, and “Sub-Lime” on a 1970 Plymouth Superbird, complete with an emblem of Warner Bros’ famous coyote-eluding roadrunner.
Cummings said if touring his collection makes someone’s day, that’s all it takes to delight him. A product of times when metal made up the main ingredient in auto assembly, he said he hears reactions the likes of “I didn’t know cars used to be big.”
“There’s a lot of history in here,” he said, happy to call 12 models under his roof “survivors,” as-is from their time before retirement, without any major restoration.
Guests might notice turn-signal indicators, on the corners of the hood on a black 1969 Dodge Dart GTS. Such little, but visible, lights also once were positioned on other cars’ fenders and on other, more central coves on the hood, Cummings said, wanting everyone to ask questions.
Trivia buffs take note: The first flat-head V-8 engine was built ... in a 1951 Ford Coupe, as Cummings will show.
Station wagons appear relegated to history and movies such as “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” but look for something peculiar on a long, 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air Nomad: It has only two doors, an impractical element that might have contributed to its discontinuance after a year.
A 1969 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II contains red and white streaks in honor of Cale Yarborough, the former NASCAR driver inducted in March into the S.C. Hall of Fame, housed in the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.
Steve Campbell of Cape Cod, Mass., walked among the cars with his 25-year-old son, on leave from the Army and snapping photos with his smart phone. The father said he was most impressed by the AAR ‘Cudas, triggering his own memories of a 1973 model, and feeling at ease walking around “so many cars and trucks in one spot.”
Since opening the museum in September 2009, Cummings starts every new year by rotating the inventory, and swapping in about 12 other cars. A “coming attractions” wall list includes a 1949 Dodge truck, a Ford Fairlane and Plymouth GTX, both from 1967, and a ’70 Dodge Challenger Six Pack – “Dodge’s answer to the Mustang and Camaro,” a sign states.
Not just for guys
Retired from more than 30 years in the convenience story industry, Cummings has observed among enthusiasts for classic cars, “only a few people as foolish as I was to collect and keep them.”
His wife since 1965, Carol Cummings, who also helps man the museum, said as many women and girls pass through their doors as their male counterparts, about a 50-50 split in gender.
“It’s surprising,” she said. “Sometimes it’s the woman who’s the car aficionado, instead of the man.”
She said such a museum lets generations of families spread the appreciation of these former icons and identity of U.S. roads, “so they can see cars had style and were made of metal.”
The family and their small staff have welcomed visitors from all 50 U.S. states and “many foreign countries,” Carol Cummings said.
“The people from overseas are especially amazed and awed by these cars,” she said. “They love American cars.”