Graffiti 2023

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Where Everybody Knows Your Name
Graffiti Classic Car Show 6 Building the Classics 12 Graffiti Festival 16 The State Theatre 18 North Modesto Kiwanis 20 Restoration for Beginners 22 Classic Car Insurance 23 Cruises of the Past 24 Spicy Ride 26 Walk of Fame 28 Graffiti CONTENTS 12 23 6 16 28 20 18 JUNE 2023



Hank Vander Veen


Sabra Stafford


Christopher Correa

Jeff Benziger

Joe Cortez

Kristina Hacker

Marg Jackson

Virigina Still


Harold L. George


Sharon Hoffman


Chris Castro

Beth Flanagan

Rich Matheson

Karen Olsen

Corey Rogers

Melody Wann

Charles Webber


Larry Dovichi

Summer time is upon us and the engines are revving up for the return of the everpopular Graffiti festivities.

This yearly event is a beloved tradition for classic car enthusiasts and routinely brings in thousands of visitors to Modesto and the surrounding areas. Whether it’s the parade of classic vehicles through downtown Modesto and out to McHenry Avenue or one of the many car shows happening over the month of June, the Graffiti festivities are a special time of year for the community.

In this special issue of “Graffiti” we have highlighted some of the car clubs like the Modesto Area Street Rod Association that have become synonymous with Graffiti and the service club North Modesto Kiwanis, which every year does a spectacular job of organizing the Graffiti Festival and Car Show.

There’s a profile on Richard Ruth, who was responsible for building many of the classic cars seen in the movies, including “American Graffiti,” and local 209 resident Bob Rose, who earned a spot on the Graffiti Walk of Fame.

The Graffiti festivities remind us all of the qualities that make the 209 such a great place to live, work and play.

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JUNE 2023

Graffiti Classic Car Show kicks off summer schedule

Nothing says ‘American Graffiti’ quite like cruising down McHenry Avenue and no local club does that better than the Modesto Area Street Rod Association.

The group of classic car enthusiasts, in fact, hosts the kickoff event for Modesto’s Graffiti Summer and this year, their Graffiti Classic Car Show is scheduled for June 4.

Club member Ray Lee serves as chairman for the show and he said it is a great way to showcase some favorite classics.

“We encompass the entire interior of McHenry Village at McHenry and Briggsmore,” Lee said of packing cars into the parking lot of the shopping center. “We get about 500 classic cars and our show is very unique because it’s in the interior of a shopping mall; the businesses are open and it’s just a unique venue.”

Hours for the show are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; McHenry Village is at 1700 McHenry Ave., Modesto.

“The mall itself lends to that uniqueness, it is the oldest shopping center in Modesto,” Lee said of staging the show along McHenry, famous for the long-ago weekend cruising that inspired the George Lucas film “American Graffiti.”

This is the 16th year for the club’s annual Graffiti Classic Car Show. The first four years were held at the MJC West Campus, said Lee,

6 Graffiti 2023

and the last 12 years have been at the current location, the McHenry Village Shopping Mall.

“Also a highlight of our 2023 show is our Corvette Corral, celebrating 70 years of the iconic Corvette,” Lee said, with the car making its first appearance in 1953.

Lee and his wife Marsha are both active in the Modesto Area Street Rod Association, and Lee classified it as a “small car club” with a limit of 45 member families. They are not currently taking in new members but they welcome all to attend their shows and enjoy looking at the classics and talking some shop.

The club has been in existence since 1975; Lee has held “every position” in the club, including serving two terms as its president and he is also a charter member of the club.

Current president of the Modesto Area Street Rod Association is Steve Cunha.

“We have several classic cars,” Lee added of himself and wife Marsha. Among them are a 1968 Camaro, a 1968 Nova and a 1966 C-10 pick-up.

“Most of the classic car owners seem to have more than one,” Lee said, chuckling.

Members of the club gather twice a month for a business meeting and dinner at Perko’s, at the corner of Oakdale and Sylvan in Modesto.

“We get together for a lot of different car shows,” Lee explained of the members, adding that they like to support other car clubs around the region. “We travel up and down the valley.”

The local group also does a great deal of charitable work, raising funds for various causes, and helps support the Graffiti USA Classic Car Museum in Modesto. The club also is noted on the historic Cruise Walk of Fame downtown.

Lee said their kickoff event on June 4 is just the start of a hectic, but fun, week for club members as Graffiti Summer revs up into high gear.

On June 5 they will be at the American Chevrolet Show and Shine; The night of June 6 at Century Center; June 7 will be centered around the Walk of Fame in downtown Modesto; June 8 the club will be at Cool Hand Luke’s in 

7 Graffiti 2023

Riverbank and June 9 brings the big cruise down McHenry. Then, June 10 and 11, a classic car show takes over a portion of the MJC West Campus.

Lee said the whole week brings back a lot of good memories of a simpler past.

“It’s one of those things; I was always involved in cars, my dad got me involved,” he said. “A group of us would get together and cruise on the weekends, we’d meet up on McHenry … we just had that common bond with classic cars.”

With the kickoff car show serving as a fundraiser for local charities, Lee said it’s a good feeling to know the club can help people and organizations in need while having the chance to share their love of classic cars along the way.

“It’s hectic for us because for a small club, we put on a big show and we’re very proud of it,” Lee explained. “We get cars for all over and it’s a fundraiser for charity, for non-profits … that’s what we really do it for.” ●

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Building the Classics

This year marks the 50th anniversary of a piece of cinematic brilliance called “American Graffiti,” written and directed by Modesto native George Lucas.

The best-picture nominee, which has virtually no plot to speak of, focused on a simpler time, when simpler pleasures — like cruising, rock ’n’ roll, hamburgers and cherry Cokes — seemed to matter most.

While the film launched the careers of Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfus, Paul Le Mat, Cindy Williams, and Suzanne Somers, it also made a star — albeit a reluctant one — out of a former juvenile delinquent from Southern California named Richard Ruth.

After spending nearly 40 years in the 209 (Merced), Ruth is now retired and living in Arizona with his longtime companion, Wanda Keenan. He was 27 years old with two young children when production started on “American Graffiti,” living and working in Southern California, trying to make ends meet. He

had recently started a business called Competition Engineering, and was gaining a reputation as one of the best race-car builders in Southern California, if not the nation.

But it was building a “pretend” race car for the Silver Screen — a 1955 Chevy 150 — that would make Ruth a household name among classic car aficionados.

To start with, the ’55 Chevy driven by Ford’s Bob Falfa character in “American Graffiti” wasn’t even really Falfa’s car. It first belonged to a movie character called “The Driver,” portrayed by legendary musician James Taylor in the 1971 Monte Hellman film “TwoLane Blacktop.”

Talk about a movie with no plot, “Blacktop” makes “Graffiti” look like “Doctor Zhivago.”

In that movie, “The Driver” and “The Mechanic” (portrayed by Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson) drive around looking for cars to race. Ruth has a cameo in the movie, playing a gas station attendant who comes out to look over the ’55 as it’s being filled

12 Graffiti 2023
Richard Ruth, in the early 1970s

with gasoline.

He even has a few lines.

He asks The Driver if he built the headers himself. The Driver nods. The Mechanic, up for a challenge, asks if there’s anything worth racing around here (the scene was filmed in Needles, a wide spot in the road near the California-Arizona border) and Ruth’s character replies, “Got a Thames panel truck; it’s got a little bit of transmission trouble right now, though.”

Overall, it’s a meandering mess of a movie, but we were a meandering mess of a nation in 1971, and perhaps Hellman’s vision of two aimless hippies searching for meaning in their lives speaks to the malaise in which the Vietnam War generation found itself.

But no matter what you think of the film (it has a cult following today), the car became the star, and it has become inexorably linked to its builder.

Richard Ruth was born in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1945, the son of Emral Ruth, an Arizona Highway Patrol officer, and Virginia Holtzwart, a native of St. Louis,  Missouri — the Show Me State.

It is perhaps because of his mother’s home state’s motto that young Richard developed a show-me attitude. Never content to be presented with a toy, he needed to know how it worked, how it was made, what made it go.

After moving to Southern California, his parents split up and he and his sister, Lyn, were raised by their mother in Highland Park. She found work as a secretary at Remington Rand (later Sperry Rand), where they built typewriters and adding machines.

“My mom could type 100 words a minute — probably more — on those old, manual typewriters,” recalled Ruth. “She had forearms like Popeye’s.”

Young Richard would stop off at his mother’s office after work and hang out with the repairmen in the back shop until it was time to go home.

They soon took notice of the boy’s skill and gave him the mechanical aptitude test given to all prospective employees.

“I aced it,” said Ruth, who was 8 or 9 at the time, by his account. “At least they told me I did.”

Virginia was stunned to learn that she had a “mechanical Mozart” on her hands. But while the boy was a whiz in engineering and mechanics, he struggled in other areas of school.

“I couldn’t read and write too well,” said Ruth, the subject of a recent documentary called “You Can Never Go Fast Enough: The Richard Ruth Story.” “I never graduated from an elementary school, a junior high school, high school … nothing.”

And there were fights. Lots of fights. Older boys thought they could bolster their reputation by beating up the big-for-his-age youngster. 

13 Graffiti 2023
The 1955 Chevy, as it looked for the filming of 1971’s “Two-Lane Blacktop.” Cindy Williams and Harrison Ford inside the ‘55. The 1955 Chevy, as it looked for the filming of 1973’s “American Graffiti.”

They were wrong.

By his own accounting, Ruth was undefeated in these street fights. If his mother had forearms like Popeye’s, he had the strength of the cartoon sailor.

“If you get into a fight with somebody, you have to make sure they know you won,” said Ruth. “I remember fighting this one kid in elementary school, then I had to fight his older brother, then I had to fight their uncle, who wasn’t much older than they were, but still.”

Eventually, his behavior landed him in reform school. While there, however, he learned to weld. That led to jobs working on cars, which led to him opening up his own shop, which led to him becoming one of the most sought-after race car builders in Southern California.

And when “Two-Lane Blacktop” associate producer Gary Kurtz needed an iconic hot rod for his movie, Ruth was the logical choice, though he insists it wasn’t that easy.

“I knew a guy named Billy Kinchloe, who was was working for Universal Studios,” said Ruth. “He was a grunt kind of a guy, but he knew they were talking about making a car movie. So, he came to my shop and talked about it with me. I had to submit a bid. I guess I was the lowest — there were three or four other people bidding on it. But I had to go down to Universal and talk to them. They gave me some money up front, and I was on my way.”

The car Ruth created became one of the most iconic in the history of cinema. Kurtz ordered three 1955 Chevys, one to be used as a stunt car, another as a camera car.

According to an American Graffiti fan page, “While Ruth was building the ’55s, a local Chevy dealership arranged through GM the delivery of three big-block crate motors and transmissions to his shop. One of the ’55s received a leftover 1969 L-88 427 Chevy big block, while the other two were equipped with the new 454’s. Ruth installed a Weiand tunnel ram intake manifold with dual Holley carburetors on the two main cars, and a single four-barrel on the stunt car, which had a full roll-cage and was equipped with a Ruth-designed right- and left-braking system so it could be intentionally thrown into a skid and rolled over for a scripted scene.”

After production wrapped on “Blacktop,” the cars were put into storage on the Universal lot, only to be resurrected two years later when Kurtz began collaboration with Lucas on “Graffiti.”

Ironically, Ruth had nothing to do with “American Graffiti,” save for the fact that his ’55 was painted black and given to the Falfa character, who spends his night looking for hot-rod ace John Milner (Le Mat) and his ’32 Ford coupe. The two eventually meet up for a street-race duel on Paradise Road in the predawn light.

And yet, it’s because of the Chevy’s appearance in

14 Graffiti 2023
Richard Ruth, seen with the iconic 1955 Chevy at auction in 2014

“Graffiti” that the car became a cultural touchstone.

“I didn’t know about any of this when Richard and I got together,” said Keenan. “I had never seen ‘Two-Lane Blacktop.’ But he mentioned one day that he built a car for a movie. Naturally, I thought that was interesting, so I started researching it on the internet. I found all these “Blacktop” fan pages on Facebook, with thousands of followers. And the most amazing thing ... it’s worldwide.”

“American Graffiti” is about one summer night in Modesto, a look back to a simpler time when you were defined as much by your “wheels” as anything else.

In the movie, there was a 1958 Chevy Bel Air Impala, a 1958 Edsel Corsair, a 1956 Thunderbird, a 1955 Studebaker, a 1951 Mercury Sport Coupe, and the 1932 Ford five-window coupe.

But the car that had the most lasting impression was the 1955 Chevy 150 that was designed for a different movie altogether, by a builder who never wanted notoriety in the first place.

Some years ago, Ruth was riding his motorcycle

across the country when he heard about an “American Graffiti” convention being held in Arizona. He decided to stop and check it out. After milling around for a while, he noticed people standing in long lines to get the autographs of actress Candy Clark — she received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 1973 for her portrayal of ditzy blonde, Debbie — and Le Mat.

However, Ruth was soon recognized by a fan and word spread throughout the convention that the builder of the iconic ‘55 Chevy was on the premises. Quickly, the line to greet him was greater than those for the actors.

“This has humbled me a lot,” said Ruth of his association with the films. “I’m really nothing more than a hot rod guy, just doing his thing. That’s all I was doing then. And, I did it because it was fun to do.

“But, sure, I’m proud of it.” ●

Editor’s note: Turlock Journal staff writer Joe Cortez is the step-son of Richard Ruth.


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Graffiti Festival

Three days of festivities celebrating Modesto’s connection to the classic car culture will rev up this June with the 24th Annual American Graffiti Festival and Car Show.

The yearly celebration kicks off with the cruise of shiny and supped up classic cars and trucks. The parade will wind

its way through downtown Modesto to McHenry Avenue and loop back around. The parade will include an estimated thousand vehicles from 1980 or older and is expected to last approximately two hours, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The parade harkens back to previous decades when cruising 10th Street and later McHenry Avenue on Friday

16 Graffiti 2023

and Saturday nights was a right of passage for Modesto teenagers and inspired George Lucas’ “American Graffiti.” Now, the annual festival draws in thousands of visitors — some to relive the days of their youth and others who just want to marvel at the automobiles.

This year’s parade will feature “American Graffiti” actresses Mackenzie Phillips and Candy Clark, as they help mark the 50th anniversary of the movie.

The car show and festival will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 10 and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 11 at the Modesto Junior College West Campus at 2201 Blue Gum Ave. The car show draws in an estimated 1,200 to 1,400 classic vehicles from both near and far. Admission is $10 per person and children 12 and under get in for free. ●

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-up comedy competition Stand

hits The State Theatre stage

Bringing laughs to the American Graffiti celebration in Modesto with the inaugural American Laughiti is sure to be an entertaining and laugh out loud good time. State Theatre, Board of Directors President, Sam Pierstorff has taken the lead in bringing a comedy competition to the State Theatre on Saturday, July 22 at 7:30 p.m.

“At the State Theatre we have had some success with what I simply call competitive programming,” said Pierstorff. “We have a 48-hour film competition and we have a battle of the bands. So, I thought a natural fit for us would be a comedy competition. I love comedy. In fact, I’ll be hosting the event.”

They will use the same format as they use for the Battle of the Bands by soliciting comedians from all over the country

and creating a website. The first part of the competition will be online where participants can view a five-to-sevenminute clip from the comedians and then vote for their favorite. The top eight comedians will then move on to the next round which is a live competition at the State Theatre on Saturday, July 22 for the all new American Laughiti.

The Grand Prize is $5,000 and Audience Choice is $1,500. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m.

There will be a panel of judges that will select the grand prize winner and then the audience will choose their favorite comedian.

“There is a lot of audience participation in the competitive programming that we do,” added Pierstorff. That’s part of the

18 Graffiti 2023

reason we like to do it. Get people involved in both being entertained and be a part of the outcome of the event by voting.”

Pierstorff explained that he is a creative person and has been doing events at the State Theatre for years. After becoming President of the Board of Directors for the Theatre he saw an opportunity to do more in-house programming that directly benefits the State Theatre.

He said, “I think a small pivot that I’ve made as president is to try to create some new original programming that is, you know, built by the state for the people.”

When Pierstorff decided to do a comedy show he wanted to tie it into the American car culture that is vibrant in Modesto. Through an Instagram poll he asked the public for help in naming the event and from there American Laughiti was created.

“I really want to capture the sort of lore and love of old cars and my own love for comedy and the community’s love for great entertainment and I just kind of want to put that all together as a nice end of summer,” remarked Pierstorff. “I think laughter is just so important these days. We just need to laugh and I have very strong opinions about comedy. I feel like it’s the last bastion of free speech left and it’s the last place where people could just cut loose and relax about everything. We just live in such a tense culture; laughter’s a release and we need that.”

Pierstorff noted that they plan to host the comedy competition annually with hopes that it grows bigger and better each year and the goal of making Modesto a destination location for comedy.

For more information, to enter the show, or purchase tickets visit ●


North Modesto Kiwanis

brings Graffiti Festival to life

There would be no annual American Graffiti Car Show and Festival without the vision and dedication of the North Modesto Kiwanis Club.

The Modesto service club has a long history of giving back to the community by raising money for local nonprofit organizations. The club’s first fundraiser was Chicken a Go Go, which ran for 50 years before the club then started hosting the Concours d’Elegance Car Show. That annual car show was the spark that led to the founding of the American Graffiti Car Show and Festival 24 years ago. John Sanders led the show for almost two decades, before handing it off to fellow Kiwanian Brent Burnside.

Burnside, owner of Burnside Body Shop, was a natural choice to take up the Graffiti Festival mantel as he has a longtime love of cars and cruising. Burnside said he has fond memories of watching cars cruise downtown Modesto with this dad when he was a kid in the late 1970s.

“There was not much to do Modesto back in the day. But we have plenty of flat streets and long streets to do a drag race. So, the kids would hang out at the Burgess diner just like the movie (American Graffiti). You know it was for three or four months during summer and it was a weekly event, cruising,” he said.

The festival is now the biggest event for the club, with planning happening year-round and involving 150 to 200 volunteers. Over 90% of the club’s overall funds comes from the festival, with all of it going to children’s programs, scholarships and Christmas baskets for families in need throughout Stanislaus County.

The festival has grown so much, it’s become legendary for a Central Valley car show event.

“A car show that gets over 1,000 cars is pretty unique, especially here in the Valley…It’s just steadily grown since I’ve been in it. I remember my first year we reached 600 (cars) in the parade, and now to be over 1,000 before COVID. Now we’ve agreed, just for safety reasons number one, and so the cruisers get a chance to go around a couple times instead of sitting so much because we had so many cars, we cap it at 1,000,” said Burnside.

Burnside said the club is hoping to continue the festival for years to come by drawing in more of the younger crowd. While the Graffiti Festival is based on the 1973 movie “American Graffiti” starring Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams and Candy Clark, among others, younger car enthusiasts are more likely to connect with the car culture in the “Fast & Furious” films that span from 2001 through

20 Graffiti 2023

2023, said Burnside.

To encompass a broader range of car enthusiasts, the club started getting involved in the Cars and Coffee group, a movement that can be seen in cities across the country.

“So, it’s for any type of car, motorcycle, any year, make or model, and it’s really to celebrate cars. For a lot of folks their car is their pride and joy. I’m a hot rod guy myself and I like having a couple of classic cars, but they take a lot of work. The nice thing about Cars and Coffee is everybody you can do their own style,” he said.

The next Cars and Coffee event will be held at 7 a.m. June 11 at the Modesto Junior College West Campus.

While widely recognized for their Graffiti Festival & Car Show, the North Modesto Kiwanis Club is also known as being pancake specialists. They have hosted over 800 pancake breakfasts at the Modesto Senior Center over the past several years and have prepared a pancake breakfast for the hundreds of volunteers during Love Modesto for the past two years.

The club also hosts the annual Breakfast with Santa event in downtown Modesto every holiday season.

The North Modesto Kiwanis Club holds in-person meetings at 7 a.m. Thursdays at the ‘Graffiti USA Classic Car Museum’ on 9th and Woodland in Modesto. Breakfast is $15 per person. For more information about the club, visit ●

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Classic car restoration for beginners

They’re eye-catching, often exotic and always call to mind a bygone era. Classic cars are undeniably unique and their unrivaled automotive appeal has inspired legions of fans. That appeal also has compelled many to try their hand at classic car restoration.

Restoring a classic car can be a rewarding hobby, particularly the first time a vehicle emerges from its owner’s garage and hits the open road. Car buffs interested in restoring a classic car of their own can consider various factors before they lift the hood on this challenging yet rewarding hobby.

Time and Money

It’s hard to know if a classic car restoration will cost owners more time or money, but restoration novices should expect to spend a lot of both as they work to restore a ride to its former glory. estimates that a restoration done by a professional shop can cost anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000, and that does not necessarily include the cost of the vehicle. If the financial commitment raises an eyebrow, perhaps would-be car guys and gals should look away from the estimated time it takes to restore a classic car. CarsDirect notes

that it can take around 1,000 hours for DIYers to restore a classic car. The excitement of restoring a classic car can quickly wear off if owners don’t have enough time and/or money to keep the project going at a steady pace.

The Car

Some car buffs may already envision which type of car they want to restore. Some may want to restore a classic Ford Mustang like the one they drove in high school, while others with a flare for automotive history might want to restore a 1930s classic. Whatever your preference, make sure you find a car that won’t bust your budget. Even the initial cost to purchase the car from a local salvage yard can be deceiving. Some cars might only be affordable because they’ve experienced such extensive damage that the cost to restore them will be especially high. It’s good to know what you’re looking for as you begin to scour newspaper classified ads or visit local salvage yards. But allow yourself some room for flexibility in regard to the type of car you’re willing to restore. That can ensure you aren’t breaking your budget right away or overcommitting yourself to a project that may prove beyond your

range of abilities. Online car forums can be great places to get some insight into restoration, especially for beginners.

The Project

In addition to determining which car to get and how much time and money you can realistically devote to the restoration project, car enthusiasts must determine which tools they’ll need, where they’re going to work on the project and the availability of discounted parts. Discounted parts can help offset considerable restoration costs, so access to a local seller or salvage yard can be a significant advantage. The internet has made finding parts easier, as resources like can be invaluable. A place to work also is a must-have, so garages may need to be outfitted to make projects more enjoyable. Tools also can be costly, though CarsDirect notes that different steps in the process require different tools. That can make it easier to spread out the cost of buying new tools.

Classic car restoration can be an engaging hobby. Novices are urged to learn as much about restoration as possible before they decide to fully commit to this potentially rewarding endeavor. ●

22 Graffiti 2023

What is classic car insurance?

Classic car insurance is a type of specialty insurance for vehicles that are at least 10 years old and have some sort of historical significance. Classic car insurance can be used to cover antique, exotic, and super-performance vehicles that are generally used for exhibition purposes, rather than commuting.

Almost all of the largest insurance companies offer classic car insurance, either directly themselves or through a partnership with a specialty insurer such as American Collectors or Hagerty. Exactly what qualifies as a classic car varies by insurance company. For example, State Farm requires that cars must be at least 10 years old and have historic interest, where American Family requires the vehicle be at least 20 years old and a rarity because of unique design.

There are a number of ways classic car insurance differs from normal car insurance:

◆ Classic car insurance is cheaper than normal insur-

ance since classic cars are driven less than normal vehicles.

◆ Some classic car insurers require customers to store their classic vehicles in enclosed and locked structures when not in use.

◆ Classic car insurance premiums are partially based on an agreed-upon value for the vehicle rather than the actual cash value.

◆ Classic car insurance policies usually include restrictions on how and when the vehicle can be driven – mainly for car shows or pleasure driving, rather than commuting or running errands.

◆ Only antique, exotic, and super-performance cars are eligible for classic car insurance policies.

◆ Policyholders may be required to prove they have a regular-use vehicle for daily driving in order to qualify for classic car insurance.

◆ Classic car insurance companies usually offer spareparts-and-tools coverage and assistance with sourcing replacement parts. ●

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spicy tacos spicier

Sergio Gutierrez and his delicious Mexican cuisine have become somewhat of staples in the Turlock community. Better known as the owner of Taqueria La Primera on 144 S. 1st St., Gutierrez is also becoming known as the spearhead for the return of regular car shows to the downtown area.

In recent months, Cars and Coffee and the Military Heroes Car Show have set up shop along 1st Street in front of his restaurant, and it’s not just about bringing in new customers. Gutierrez has been a part of the classic car community since he was in high school when he became the owner of a 1965 Volkswagen Beetle, and he hasn’t looked back since.

Today, Gutierrez owns a 1962 Impala SS convertible and a 1975 Chevrolet K5 Blazer, having done significant work on each vehicle.

“I’m a pretty big Chevy, classic car guy,” Gutierrez said. “The body, the styles, all the chrome. They’re heavy metal. They’re not just plastic cars, they’re true American muscle.”

Since he acquired his ‘62 Impala, Gutierrez has restored the original motor, redid the engine transmission, installed new airbags and a custom audio system, and gave the car a fresh paint job. Aside from the motor, the velvet interior is also all original.

As for his ’75 K5 Blazer, he and his work partner Cody Williams have taken a not-so-classic approach to the project.

Gutierrez explained that he and Williams have made the Blazer a custom, two-wheel drive on the right side of the car.

“Our main thing was just thinking, ‘All of those Chevy C10s and all those Blazers at the end of the day all look the same, just in different colors.’ So, we figured we had to do something different with this Blazer, so we went ahead and converted the right side,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some nice looking Blazers out there, but the right side on this one is simply different.”

The duo has yet to see a similar classic truck that has two-wheel drive on one side of the car, making them believe that their light green pastel Blazer is a true one-of-a-kind build.

The ‘75 K5 Blazer has also undergone similar work as the Impala. In the five years in which he has owned the truck, he has installed a new audio system. The trunk has also been extended so that it can accommodate for larger tires. An LS3 Chevy Camaro engine and transmission was also installed.

But that’s not all. The duo took the modernization efforts further making it a push-to-start vehicle brand new computing and wiring.

Inside Taqueria La Primera, which shares a building space with Café Rome, visitors could see not only photos of some Gutierrez’s current and former vehicles, but those from community members. Gutierrez

explained that he would like to implement the car culture more into his restaurant, as he is welcoming community members to drop off photos of them with their classic cars so that he can add them to the walls.

Every month, Taqueria La Primera and Café Rome aim to host a Cars and Coffee event along 1st St. Their first show was on March 25, and saw hundreds of local car enthusiasts pack the streets. In April, Cars and Coffee was put on hold to make way for the Military Heroes fundraiser put on by Stan State fraternities, but the name will have made a grand return on May 20.

“I love cars, I know other people love cars,” Gutierrez said. “So it’s just about bringing everybody together to share in the passion while supporting small business at the same time.” ●

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Former Ceres man gets star on

Graffiti Walk of Fame

Cruising on McHenry Avenue in Modesto occupied many a night for thousands of teenagers in the 1970s.

Bob Rose, a 1973 Downey High School graduate, was one of those preening teens looking for a little eye candy as he cruised the strip in a celebrated Modesto rite of passage. Igniting his passion for cars was watching his father, Louis Rose, work on cars.

“That was our life. That’s all I did – every weekend and sometimes during the week,” said Rose, who spent 35 years in Ceres and now lives in Turlock. “I lived on McHenry Avenue, that’s where I lived, on four wheels.”

He explained that cruising was all about cars, racing them and getting away with things “we could never do what we did back then.”

Little did he know that a half century later his name would be added as a “Legend of the Cruise” on the Modesto Historic Cruise Route and Walk of Fame. The honor came during a 2022 Graffiti event on the Tenth Street Plaza in Modesto.

“Before I got the star – and even Ron Pippin my good friend – there were no McHenry

cruisers on the Walk of Fame. Zero. None. Everybody was older, they cruised Tenth and Eleventh (streets) back in the graffiti days. It was quite an honor.”

“I just kind of fell in love with cars,” said Rose, 68, who lived in Ceres from 1979 to 2014. “I built my first car at 22 years old. I’ve had several of them, I’m building one right now. I’m in between stages right now.”

“That was our enjoyment. I had cars when I was young. My dad was a car guy. I grew up in a car culture from my dad and then everybody I hung with was a car person. My first car was a ’47 Ford pickup and I had other friends at school that had pickups and we’d always ride together.

The retired landscape contractor remembers that one of his first vehicles was a ’38 Chevy four-door master. He later got into building cars “from the ground up.”

“I like to build them because that way I get them the way I want them. Because if you buy a car there’s always something I don’t like about them. I’m so picky and all my friends will tell you that.”

Rose is a member of the Faros car club which gathers once a

28 Graffiti 2023

month and also plans club outings and activities and helps out with community car events.

He now gets a great deal of enjoyment out of customizing street rods.

“I build one, I keep it for two or three years, show it wherever I need to show it and then down the road I go and get another one. That’s kind of what I’ve done my whole life.”

Currently Rose is customizing a 1950 Ford “shoebox” with the consistent support of wife of 48 years, Jackie who enjoys driving his customized beauties. He confesses, though, that this may be his last build, quipping, “I’m getting older and it’s harder to build them.”

Rose is one of the advisers to the non-profit Graffiti USA Museum at 610 N. Ninth Street, Modesto, the 45,000-square-foot former home of Lyng’s and later Warden Office Furniture.

The museum building is less than a mile from the now-razed Burge’s Drive-In, the legendary turnaround point in the Modesto cruising route in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Plans are for

the museum to showcase a vintage diner façade, a replica ’50’s diner, replica street scenes modeled after 10th and 11 streets, a radio history exhibit, American Graffiti memorabilia and an exhibit highlighting the career of George Lucas, the Modesto native who produced the movie and went onto create Star Wars.

“We have a pretty good chunk of money but we need more – millions more – but we are moving forward.”

The public can view the progress of the museum project on Fridays and Saturdays (generally 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and hopefully chip in with some financing.

Rose and others are hopeful that the project can snag grant funding.

“You can’t even ask for grants until you’re in a certain position. We’re trying to get in a certain position on the building where we can start to ask for grants and that will help us a ton.”

According to Chris Murphy, founder of the Modesto Historic Cruise Route and Walk of Fame, Ron Pippin’s networking with the construction industry has “saved the Graffiti

29 Graffiti 2023
My dad was a car guy. I grew up in a car culture from my dad and then everybody I hung with was a car person.

Museum countless dollars, countless hours, countless time and we owe a big debt to Ron and his team for bringing the builders’ community together, the Valley Builders Exchange.”

Rose wasn’t the only one honored last summer with a star. Turlock’s Pippin, a 1975 Downey High School graduate who has assisted in the museum, got one as well. Pippin is currently president of the Faros Car Club, of which he has been a member since 1972. Through the decades he has remained embedded in the local car culture and today collects cars, vintage gas, oil and automotive related artifacts and signs.

“A lot of people don’t realize that back in the early 50s, in the late 40’s, people would come back from the war and they would cruise,” said Murphy. “People would come back from Vietnam and they would cruise. It wasn’t just the high school kids that were cruising. It was a lot of people from all ages that cruised 10th and 11th (streets). When Burge’s (Drive-In) closed in ’67 the McHenry (cruise) started to happen up there and there were all ages of people out there cruising and it was truly amazing.”

Being named a “Legend of the Cruise” last summer was a lifetime highlight for Vern Silva, who cruised in a 1957 Chevy before graduating from Turlock High School in 1965. He later went to fight in the Vietnam War as a mechanic and gunner aboard a UH-1 Huey helicopter. When he came home in 1968, Silva went back to the fun he knew as a teen. He

transferred his love of cars and cruising to his children whom he raised with wife Josie.

“Street rodding was a great family sport with things for the whole family to do at shows,” said Silva. “At that time we had the roadster that soon became too small for our family.”

The former president of the Modesto A Street Rod Association and an original member of the Untouchables car club in Turlock, today Silva enjoys helping friends with car repairs and building cars from the ground up.

“We’ve had a lot of great times cruising and I’m overwhelmed,” said Silva, who used to cruise 10th Street and who recently drove his 1932 Ford Roadster to Canada.

“We hope to make it to Louisville, Kentucky in the next couple of years,” said Silva. “We’re not sure which one of our cars we will take – the 1957 Chevy, 1932 Ford Roadster, 1965 Buick Riviera or our son Randy’s 1969 Camaro but we know for sure it will be another adventure.”

At the same 2022 occasion, Dan Vierra of Merced, a Lady of Mercy High graduate of 1961 who grew up on a dairy east of Turlock, was also honored with a star on the Walk of Fame.

Also given a star on the Modesto Walk of Fame was the Deacons Care Club, founded in 1962 at Downey High School in Modesto and still meeting. Twelve members of the club get together twice a year to reminisce and talk about their love of vintage automobiles. ●

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