Scenes from the Shakedown

Offered in the swap meet, this rare 1958 Chevrolet Del Ray sedan delivery could be had for $5,000. It’s powered by a ’60 348-cid V-8.

Story and photos by Ron Kowalke


There is still a large segment of our society that remains lost in the 1950s and ’60s. Those two decades are remembered as the good ol’ days, when hairdos – both men’s and women’s – made an often gravity-defying statement, Elvis and rock ’n’ roll music emerged as symbols of youthful rebellion and hot rods and custom cars were the dream ride of every teen-aged boy.

Many of those who yearn for the simpler, more pin-striped days reflected in the 1950s and ’60s have an annual gathering spot in Symco, Wis., to relive those days of poodle skirts and flathead-powered deuce coupes. The event is called the Symco Shakedown, and the third annual show was held Aug. 12-13.

Period dress was the norm among attendees, and if your skills at creating a time-warp hairdo weren’t quite up to snuff, no problem. A vendor specializing in whipping female tresses into the perfect bouffant or male locks into the greasy, wavy duck’s ass was on hand, to the delight of onlookers.

The two-day show featured a swap meet, vendors of accessories for hot rods and period lifestyle items and crowd-pleasing events such as a dunk tank and mini-bike drag racing.

The star(s) of the show, though, were the many pre-1965 hot rods, customs, race cars and mainstream collector vehicles that lined the showgrounds, which are unique to begin with. Also home to another large thresheree event held in early summer, the Symco grounds are modeled after a prewar small town’s Main Street, including all the buildings such as a general store, fire house, print shop, automotive garage, etc., all filled with relics of the period.

No gathering of hot rods would complete nowadays without an offshoot group of “rat rods” to spice up the show. There were plenty of theseindividualized machines on display, showcasing the Frankenstein-like marriage of salvage yard parts and whatever can be liberated from a “junk” drawer or storage shed to use as shifter knobs, door handles and radiator mascots. The rustier and more outlandish, the better.To spend a few days reliving the past is fun, as this show proves. But when it’s over, just remember … Elvis wants his shades back.

“Rat rods” come in all flavors, such as this Chevy six-cylinder-powered, Ford five-window coupe-bodied merger that’s topped with a beer-tap shift handle.

Built in 1964 and drag raced primarily at Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove, Wis., this 1938 Fiat had a best elapsed time of 9.80 in ’67. In its current race trim, it features a Hilborn-injected 301-cid Chevy V-8 mated to a Hurst-shifted three-speed transmission. The Fiat’s rear bodywork (below) has a Simpson parachute built into it.

Pontiac-based hot rods are an uncommon sight. This classy five-window coupe sports a modern Poncho V-8 for momentum, plus multiple period custom touches to dress its exterior.


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