For 65-year-old Ralph Sposato, working on classic cars has been a lifetime passion. He’s been fixing up old hot rods since he and his family moved to Roxborough from Italy in 1961.
As he put it, “cars are usually every young man’s passion.”
As a student at Roxborough High, he learned the basics of mechanics. Four years after graduating, he returned to the school to impart his knowledge about car-repair to students, a job he held for 28 years. Nowadays, he runs a local body shop—Dr. Ralph’s Automotive Services—with his son.
“They take over,” the white-haired Sposato said wistfully of the cars on which he has worked. “It’s another life at a time when you could be enjoying time with your family, here you are, working on cars.”
His passion was shared by the hundred classic car owners who drove to Gorgas Park on Saturday for the Roxborough Ridge Runners Car Club’s 11th Annual Car Show.
‘Best in Show’ award winner
With its snarling engine and deep blue paint job, Sposato’s 1966 Pontiac GTO caught the attention of many of the car fanatics who meandered down Ridge Avenue for the show. However, it didn’t capture the coveted “Best in Show” prize from the Ridge Runners.
That distinction was given to a 1931 Model A. At 81 years of age, owner Bill Young’s lifespan nearly matches that of his trophy-winning automobile.
“My passion for cars started because my dad was a mechanic,” Young said while smoking a victory cigar and leaning over the black hood of his antique car. “I can remember going to school sometimes with grease on my fingers.”
Young has been attending the car show for several years, and the Southwest Philadelphia native added that he bought the car about 13 years ago after quitting another vehicle-related pastime.
“I stopped drag racing because it cost too much,” Young said. He noted that the cost of maintaining his Model A isn’t too bad but that it was a daily commitment.
The “Best in Show” category was judged based on the paint, wheels, interior, originality, customization, the engine and the undercarriage of the cars.
Young said this trophy will be added to his collection in his “room full of trophies.”
Mixing passion with community proceeds
Car show participants paid a small fee to show off their cars, and a few local banks and businesses helped to sponsor the event. Ridge Runners president, John Davis, presented a Friends of Gorgas Park representative with a check for $1,500, and Davis noted that past proceeds from the car club’s shows have helped to improve the park.
“If you remember 15 or 16 years ago, the park wasn’t in that good of shape,” Davis said.
Davis said 80 classic cars were showcased at this year’s event, which was a significant drop from the 200 cars featured last year. Cloudy skies kept turnout down but several hundred area residents still came out to take in the bright paint jobs, screaming engine revs and exhaust fumes.
“You’re restoring the history of an automobile,” Davis said.
He added that all 41 members of the Roxborough Ridge Runners commit countless hours and days to their shared pastime. “You know that when you sell it, you’ll never get the time out,” Davis said.
Roxborough resident, Sam Helmbold, has been coming to the car show for the past eight years.
“I grew up around a lot of guys and they were always messing around with cars,” Sam Helmbold said, however, she hasn’t yet taken the leap into classic car ownership.
“I wish I could have this one,” she said, pointing to a charcoal black 1968 Chevelle. “This is the most gorgeous car I’ve ever seen.”
Classic car enthusiasts unite
District Attorney Seth Williams also attended the show, both as a judge and admirer.
“They don’t make stuff like this anymore,” Williams said. His love of classic cars began with his father’s 1963 Impala SS, which was stolen outside of a movie theater when Williams was a kid. Ever since, he has been a fan of “Cadillacs and sports cars.”
Barry Cahill, who lives around the corner from Gorgas Park, brought his Ford Bronco to the show. The 52-year-old was taught by “Dr. Ralph” Sposato in high school, and bought his classic car on a whim.
“I was looking for one of these and me and my wife were riding with a pack of Harleys going down ridge here and it was sitting here in a parking lot with a for sale sign,” he said. “‘Honey hold on,’ and we peeled away from the pack and they didn’t even know we turned off. I was like drooling over this thing.”
Cahill was one of several classic car owners in attendance who were former students of Sposato’s, who said he was glad the car show has continued as a tradition in Roxborough.
“It brings back memories,” Sposato said. “It’s healthy for the neighborhood. It’s sad that we don’t do more of this in our schools.”
NewsWorks freelance reporter Joel Frady contributed to this report.