EAST WENATCHEE — With faded paint and patches of rust, the 1951 Packard Henny Coach ambulance owned by Gene Grills looked like it needed some emergency care itself.
But when Grills cranked up the 6,600-pound, 21-foot-long, 62-year-old vehicle, it purred like it’d just rolled off the assembly line. Car enthusiasts oohed and ahhed louder than the original straight-8 engine hummed.
“It’s probably the least dolled-up car at this entire event,” smiled Grills. “But listen to that engine — man, that’s sweet.”
Grills parked his Packard here Saturday at the center of ballfields filled with nearly 300 classic cars and trucks — many shined to perfection for the 11th annual Town Toyota Wings & Wheels Festival based at the Eastmont Community Park.
One of East Wenatchee’s largest celebrations, the autumn event also boasted a carnival midway, a treasure-loaded swap meet, food vendors, aviation displays and a full schedule of plane-oriented demonstrations at the Red Apple Flyers Field a few miles up Grant Road.
“The good weather has brought out the cars and the crowds,” said event coordinator Dan White. “And it looks like everyone is having fun.”
The festival continues today (Sunday) from 8 a.m. to about 3 p.m. at Eastmont Community Park and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Red Apple Flyers Field.
A few highlights:
Fat-fendered and foxy: Grills said he likes fat-fendered cars, and his Packard ambulance fits the bill with its foot-wide fenders (measured from the hood seam to the outside wheel well). “To me, that’s beautiful.”
He bought the car three years ago in Airway Heights after looking for years for a hearse. “I’ve always wanted a hearse. Don’t ask me why.” He soon learned that Packard’s Henny Coach division customized about 200 hearses, but only 75 ambulances. “That made it all the more rare,” he said. “Had to have it.”
He’s tuned the engine (only 29,645 original miles) and added brakes and safety features to make it road-worthy, he said. He also added a period-accurate ambulance light to the top of the vehicle and, in the rear compartmnt, a fold-up ambulance gurney complete with mannequin patient wrapped in blankets. “Her name’s Stella,” said Grills. “But don’t ask me why she’s in the ambulance.”
Cutting-edge aeronautics: David Mattoon, who helped coordinator Darrel Slabaugh run the Wings & Wheels Swap Meet, built a plane model out of metal parts just hanging around his workspace at H2 Pre-Cast in East Wenatchee.
“People think it looks like a B-52,” said Mattoon. The tubular body was made from a coat-rack pole, the fins and stabilizers from scrap metal and the raked-back wings from saw blades. Swap meet price: $200, or best offer.
“It’s one of hundreds of unique items here at the meet,” said Slabaugh. “We’re hoping this will grow into a big part of Wings & Wheels to help make it a well-rounded family event.”
Baffling project: Century Aviation of East Wenatchee had on display an actual bullet-riddled A6M3 Type 22 motor from a Japanese Zero fighter plane shot down over Australia in World War II.
Century Aviation, which restores classic planes and builds replicas for museums and movies, has been hired to replicate the baffles that funnel air across the cooling louvers on the cylinders of a rebuilt Zero propeller engine. That 14-cylinder engine weighs about 1,175 pounds and growls out about 1,070 horsepower.
“We were thinking, ‘what should we bring to the festival that will really catch peoples’ attention,” said Century Aviation co-owner Karen Barrow, looking around at the crowd surrounding the motor display. “A shot-up Zero engine! Yeah, that’ll get some interest. And here it is.