If the spirit of Graffiti Weekend could be distilled to its purest essence, it would emerge as an episode of the long-running television series “Happy Days.”
Graffiti Weekend is The Fonz in blue jeans and black leather. It is Potsie’s letterman’s jacket and his toothy golly-gosh grin. It is Joanie Cunningham’s poodle skirt and bobby socks, and a jukebox full of golden oldies playing at Arnold’s Diner.
And it is a fleet of boat-sized cruisers riding on white-wall tires and a wave of nostalgia like the car collection that gleamed in the sun Wednesday on the grounds of the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
The Sherm’s Kick Off to Graffiti Show featured the customary array of glistening paint jobs, flared fenders, polished chrome fixtures and souped-up engines, splayed out on the VA lawn like automobile extras on a set of the movie “American Graffiti.”
It also featured some seriously devoted car hobbyists, such as Lee Peachey of Roseburg, who perched himself in the shade beside his two customized Datsun 280 Z coupes.
Peachey described his green 1971 G-nose model as a rarity, one of only 200 or so manufactured by Datsun at the time. Though aftermarket kits can be purchased for converting the front end of Z cars to the G-nose style, Peachey seldom sees cars that were factory-built that way.
“I’ve only seen three or four actual G-nose cars on the West Coast,” said Peachey, who said the nose on these models is approximately 7 inches longer than the noses of conventional Z cars.
A member of a Medford car club called Z Club of Southern Oregon, Peachey also likes to race on closed courses in the mountains. Videos of some of his races — and at least one of his wipeouts — can be watched on his YouTube channel, LeesZs. He is currently modifying a 1974 G-nose that he will test on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
“It should go 200 miles per hour,” Peachey said. “I’m putting a small-block Chevy in it.”
The car must come equipped with a full roll cage and other modifications before it can be raced on the flats, so it may be a couple of years before Peachey is ready to test it.
Other car enthusiasts are not so focused on speed.
Ken Nirenberg, a member of the Umpqua Flatheads Car Club, which is sponsoring Saturday night’s cruise, enjoys taking leisurely trips to the coast with his wife, Lynette, in their 1927 Ford, though his car can get up and go when it needs to. It is equipped with a 300-horsepower 350 Chevy engine — hence the flames painted on the side of the car.
The car has come a long way from the collection of parts Nirenberg acquired when he bought it.
“It was in pieces,” the Melrose resident said. “I built the whole thing.”
Nirenberg pointed out interior details such as cherry wood dash and trim, inlaid tapestry carpeting custom-made for him by a friend and an antique rear brake light that is the envy of some of his fellow car aficionados.
He did the upholstery himself and fashioned windows and fenders from old aluminum signs. The car also boasts a removable hood and fenders, and a stainless steel front end.
“It’s built the way we used to build them back in the ’60s,” Nirenberg said.
As for cars built in the era made famous by George Lucas’ film “American Graffiti,” Russ Wilson’s 1958 Chevy Bel Air fits the bill nicely.
The associate pastor at New Life Christian Center in Roseburg bought the car six years ago from a friend who received it as a gift from her father. Once her father died, she sought to find an owner for the car who would take good care of it.
Wilson has done some detailing on the car since he bought it, though it remains in excellent condition for its age. He generally takes it out of the garage each spring for a cleaning and saves it for special occasions.
“We do the (Graffiti) Cruise, we’ll go to the coast — we’ve always flirted with the idea of joining a car club, but we’ve just never gotten around to it,” Wilson said.
Though the 10 to 12 miles per gallon the car gets is nothing to brag about, Wilson said its luxurious interior and excellent handling make it more than worth the cost.
“Once it’s actually on the highway it glides,” Wilson said. “It’s so roomy, too.”
Graffiti Weekend continues today with events at Roseburg High School, Ten Down & Splitz, and Roseburg Tire Pros, followed by the Graffiti Cruise-In from 8 to 10 p.m. Events take place through Sunday.
• You can reach reporter Christian Bringhurst at 541-957-4202 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.