Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 14, 2014

World of Wheels starts up in Huntington

Kenneth Hart
The Independent

HUNTINGTON — Earl Davis said it was life-long dream to own a black-and-gold Pontiac Trans Am like the one Burt Reynolds drove in the first “Smokey and the Bandit” movie.

“I was 16 when the movie came out,” he said. “There wasn’t a 16-year-boy around at that time who didn’t want a black Trans Am.”

Many years and many hours of work later, Davis has his dream car. And, he and his wife, Porcschia, are sharing it with the public this weekend at the annual World of Wheels car show in Huntington’s Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

Davis’ car is a 1978 model, so it isn’t an exact replica of the car from the first “Smokey” movie, which was a 1977. But only the most eagle-eyed fan would be able to tell the difference.

Davis, of Winfield, W.Va., said he found the car near Columbus. He paid only $800 for it, which provides some clue as to the condition it was in.

He and his two sons, ages 18 and 21, spent about 2 1/2 years on the restoration. They replaced virtually everything.

“There’s a few original parts left,” he said. “But not many.”

Davis didn’t want to say how much he had invested in his dream ride. Not that it matters _ he’d never sell it.

He said he used to own a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro he and his late father, also named Earl, restored together, and he regretted getting rid of it, so he’s not going to make the same mistake with the Trans Am.

Davis’ car is one of many fine machines on display at this year’s WoW. The show, which kicked off Friday and runs through Sunday, is a Tri-State tradition that’s in its 37th year.

Forrest Thomas’ 1969 Dodge Dart Swinger was another car with a great story to go with it. Thomas, of Ripley, W.Va., restored it as a replica of a car he bought new when he got out of the Marines and in which he drove his bride-to-be to Virginia to get married in 1971.

Thomas said he found the car advertised for sale in Springfield, Mo., on the Internet. It was in sad shape when he bought it, he said.

Davis, who described himself as a “true blue Mopar man,” said it took him about seven years to complete the restoration. He painted the Dart Chrysler B5 Blue, a gorgeous medium metallic shade, just like his first one.

WoW normally takes place the first full weekend of March, but this year’s was moved due to a scheduling conflict with the WSAZ Home and Garden Show. Jo Wheeler, who organizes the event with her husband, Richard, said the switch hadn’t hurt in terms of the number of entries. However, she said some vendors who are regulars couldn’t make it this year because they already had committments for this weekend.

Wheeler also said the show wouldn’t be moved again anytime in the near future. The Wheelers have the first-full-weekend-in-March date locked in with the arena for the next three years, she said.

In addition to being a family-oriented event, the WoW is family affair for the Wheelers. Their son, Jon, and daughter, Kathy, are both involved in running it.

And, this year a third generation got into the act as well. Jon’s 6-year-old son, Jordan, was helping out by punching tickets at the arena entrance.

“That brings back memories,” said Jon Wheeler, 46. “I was 8 when I started. Punching tickets, doing t-shirts ... you name it I did it.”

Jo Wheeler said this year’s WoW was somewhat different than those of years past in that there are no real headline attractions.

“We’re relying on the cars to carry us,” she said.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.