Tommy Fitzgerald says Johnston County has never seen anything like it and probably never will again.
This week, a motorcade of 75 antique automobiles, all built before 1928, will ride the roads of Johnston County during the 64th annual tour of the North Carolina chapter of the Horseless Carriage Club of America. The tour will depart each morning from the Holiday Inn Express in Smithfield, where members have rented 80 rooms and will take over the parking lot.
“The significance of this tour being held in Johnston County, to me, is just momentous,” Fitzgerald said. “The average person in Johnston County will see automobiles he’s never seen before.”
In the 1970s, Fitzgerald’s uncle, Floyd Price Jr. of Selma, began touring his 1923 Studebaker with the group. If he were alive today, Fitzgerald said, he would not believe the Horseless Carriage Club is coming to Johnston. That’s because past tours always took the club to the mountains or out-of-state destinations such as Charleston, Fitzgerald said.
Now, the tour is coming to Johnston because Fitzgerald and his wife, Donna, stepped up to host this year’s event. The couple live north of Selma and own Percy Flowers Store.
They have been making arrangements since October and have put together an itinerary for the entire week. Stops for the motorists include Bentonville Battlefield, Atkinson Milling Co., the Caterpillar plant in Clayton and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro. At some stops, the public will have a chance to view the old autos.
The tour will cover about 350 miles over five days, which the vintage cars will traverse at a speed of 30 to 35 miles per hour, Fitzgerald said.
The most common car in the group will be the Ford Model T, by far the most affordable and widely-produced automobile of the era, Fitzgerald said. The Tin Lizzie makes a good entry-level antique car, he said, because you can buy one for $6,000 to $8,000, and parts are easy to find.
On the expensive end of the spectrum, the tour has a 1923 Locomobile worth $250,000 driving in from Apex and a 1911 Locomobile valued at $300,000 coming from Naples, Fla.
After collecting Corvettes for years, Fitzgerald said, he got into antique cars because they presented more of a challenge. While he loves tinkering with the old machines, the best part of the hobby has more to do with people, he said.
“That automobile is the common thread that sews these relationships together,” Fitzgerald said. “Someone might be a multimillionaire, and this guy that’s riding right beside him or talking to him about his car, he might be a factory worker or a farmer.”
From a philosophical standpoint, Fitzgerald said, a man can never truly take ownership of an antique automobile.
“The title might be in your name, the car might be in your garage. You might drive the car from time to time and say it’s yours,” he said. “But an old antique car, you never own it; it belongs to history.
“It is your primary responsibility to maintain that car and keep it in good operational shape so that, when you’re dead and gone, that car will endure as a piece of automotive history.”
Want to go?
A motorcade of 75 antique automobiles, all built before 1928, will take a tour primarily of Johnston County this week. The public will have several chances to view the vintage rides as the group makes stops along the way.
Monday: 6 p.m. at Deacon Jones Auto Park, 1115 N. Bright Leaf Blvd., Smithfield.
Wednesday: 11:30 a.m. at Holt Lake Bar-B-Que & Seafood, 3506 U.S. 301 South, Smithfield
Wednesday: 2:30 p.m at Cabela’s outdoor store, 201 Cabela Drive, Garner.
Thursday: 6-8 p.m. at Shelton’s Harley-Davidson, 1043 Outlet Center Drive, Smithfield.