Car buffs on the road to happiness

"Peeling out up a hill on Koura Road, we fishtail slightly into the other lane, then straighten out and blast ahead with a vicious roar as the Model A hot rod hits second.So I bet this thing goes a bit faster than it did in 1929? had been the question, and that answer was delivered in a shock of frigid wind as Aaron Strom demonstrated that his blue convertible showcar wasn't just a looker.Strom will enter his hot rod, powered by a chromed-out Corvette V-8, in the inaugural Seattle Roadster Show this weekend, where it will compete with 500 other finely detailed model rods.The car features off-white leather interior, an original 1929 Washington plate that folds out from underneath the body when the engine ignites, and a custom blue pearl paint job, all done by Strom, a painter for Modern Collision and Rebuild.The shop is owned by his father Dick Strom, and Aaron started working on cars there when he was 11. He and his brother used to play in their dad's antique Ford Model A, which sat around the garage waiting for restoration.I've grown up to appreciate old cars, Strom said. As long as I can remember, I've been out in the garage tinkering with my dad.Strom built his first hot rod, a 1929 Ford Truck, by the time he was 18, and he finished the blue Model A last June. He paid for both cars himself with money he earned working at the shop.Now at 21, he admits that he's not the typical hot rod owner.In street rodding, there's a lot of upper end people who don't have an appreciation for their vehicles, he said, but this ain't my daddy's car.Middle-aged men are the average hot rod hobbyists, which doesn't make the crowd a swell cruising ground for girls, Strom said. But one sunny July day in 1998, at the Cruisin' the Cove car show, by a stroke of luck - or fate, as some might see it - he met Tara Neuswanger and her jewel blue 1961 fuelie Corvette.The car was rare - there were only about 30 'Vettes that color made in '61 with fuel injection - but even rarer was Neuswanger, who lived in Bainbridge and had been working on cars since she was 14.By the time I was 18, I had painted my first car, she said. By the time I was 20, I had won the Seattle Autorama.She began her first major restoration project on her first car, a Mazda RX-7, after she blew the engine a month after she bought it.Two weeks before high school graduation, I decided I was going to put a new engine in, she said, So I bought a Haynes (mechanics') manual at Bainbridge Auto and did it all myself.After that she was on a roll, and she transformed the RX-7 into a bright pink showcar that toured the circuit and won about 100 awards. At parades, all the little kids would scream, 'It's Barbie's car!,' she said.But her dream car had always been a jewel blue 1961 Corvette with fuel injection, because that's what her parents drove away in after their wedding.Neuswanger never rode in that 'Vette because, as her parents cruised home from their honeymoon, the fuel injection caught fire and the car was engulfed in flames at the roadside.I had never even seen a '61 jewel blue fuelie, she said, and the longer I hunted for one, the more I wanted one. After searching for four years, she bought one in the fall of 1998.When my dad saw it, she said, it just brought tears to his eyes.Six months later, Neuswanger had met Strom, and the two spent the summer cruising to auto shows together, she in her fuelie and he in his Ford hot rod.By the end of the summer, she said, one thing led to another and we were a couple. It was a match made in heaven.This past December, Tara Neuswanger became Tara Strom in a wedding attended by many members of the Kitsap County Car Club. After the service, the newly-weds promenaded through an auto show on the lawn of Bainbridge First Baptist Church and climbed into Strom's 1971 Chevy shortbox pickup, which, throughout their honeymoon, never once burst into flames.It would have been pushing their luck to take the Corevette, they agree.Now the jewel blue Corvette, with its license plate that says RARE JWL, will appear with the Stroms' hot rod in the Inaugural Seattle Roadster Show this weekend. The couple's next project will be to restore a 1962 Chevy Impala, Tara Strom's wedding gift to her husband.Between them, the two now own 11 cars, but their mutual obsession with automobiles doesn't leave a lack of affection between the newlyweds.We love each other more than we love our cars, Tara Strom said. The priorities changed once we met. Now we're looking for a house.A house with a big garage, Aaron added."

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