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SPRING HOPE — As Richard Freeman peered over the polished metal dashboard and through the windshield, Railroad Street transformed into a slice of open-road Americana.
“Guess what route I’d like to drive this car on,” Freeman asked the 1957 Chevrolet 150 coupe’s proud owner.
“Route 66,” Cecil Martin replied with a grin.
Freeman enjoyed gawking at a Corvette Stingray, ogling a 1933 Ford roadster and even taking in an antique tow truck during Saturday’s classic car cruise-in hosted by the Spring Hope Area Chamber of Commerce, but Martin’s ‘57 Chevy was his favorite.
“I love these cars and I love this car the most because of how it was restored,” Freeman said. They paid homage to the original car. You can’t beat that. They restored it with really such care. If you step back and look at it and start from there, the lines just carry all the way through the way it’s supposed to from the original era.”
Paired with a merchants’ sidewalk sale and daylong baseball tournament, the cruise-in was part of a chamber promotion designed to draw visitors to downtown Spring Hope.
Martin, whose rural Wilson County home has a Bailey address, acquired the ‘57 Chevy in a trade but has restored two similar classics, both 1955 models, on his own.
“I was born in 1942, so I’ve come up with these cars,” Martin explained. “I drove a ‘55 when I was dating my wife. After I retired from my job at the glass house I started working on them a lot more.”
Freeman, who lives in Spring Hope, shares a sense of nostalgia for 1950s cars’ fins, scoops, spoilers and chrome trim.
“I was born in 1960, but I feel like I should have been born earlier,” he said. “I like older music. I like cars that are restored to look just like they came off the showroom floor.”
Automobiles of that vintage were built to last, Freeman said, and wouldn’t crumple like an accordion at the slightest fender-bender.
“These older cars were not the best on gas, but from the standpoint of durability they were much better,” he said. “If I had to have a wreck, I would much rather drive a car like this than some of these newer cars. This car’s metal and most of these cars today are fiberglass.”
Martin said the ‘57 Chevy was restored to original condition but upgraded with a motor, transmission and fuel injector from a 1989 Camaro. The paint is Viper red — the vibrant shade created for Dodge’s 10-cylinder Viper sports car.
His daily driver is a pickup truck, but Martin makes sure to rotate his three classic Chevrolets so each gets some road miles.
“I enjoy driving them,” he said. “You go into town and people will start turning around looking. I try to drive each one of them every month. I’ll drive to church, something like that, or go to a cruise-in.”
Martin enjoys tinkering on antique cars and has mastered the restoration art despite never working as a mechanic.
“My dad used to work on cars and I took a lot of it from him,” he said. “I’m working on somebody’s about every week.”
Freeman said he’s tried his hand at restoring old Jeeps, but noted he’s “never gotten into anything like this.”
“If I had won the lottery, I would not own a new vehicle,” Freeman said. “I would go and buy all restored vehicles.”