On The Road with the Nifty Fiftys

CALGARY – Robins are a harbinger of spring weather, and the ever-cheerful red-breasted birds have returned to Calgary.

It’s no fluke, then, that the robin has become a mascot of the Nifty Fifty’s Ford Club. In this city, the Nifty Fifty’s group of auto enthusiasts hosts the perennially popular Spring Thaw, the unofficial show that kicks off cruising season.

For several years, a robin’s image has been incorporated into every piece of promotional material – from show awards to dash plaques to posters. Spring Thaw takes place on April 27, 2014, and this is the 29th edition of the show that welcomes all makes and models — classics, hot rods, customs and antiques, from Camaros to Challengers to Model Ts. The only stipulation is vehicles must be 25 years old or older.

The show is at Deerfoot Mall from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Vehicle registration is $10, and spectators are free, although a food or cash donation to the Food Bank is appreciated.

The lines on the 1956 Ford Thunderbird are unmistakable.

The lines on the 1956 Ford Thunderbird are unmistakable.
Jenn Pierce/Calgary Herald,

John Moore, president of the Nifty Fifty’s club, discussed some of the show’s history.

Q: Who chose the date for the first show?

A: That would have been our resident weather expert and club member Steve Rothfels. He’s well known as a Calgary-area meteorologist, and back in 1986 – the first year we had Spring Thaw — he was working for CBC. He researched his records, and declared that the third weekend in April usually presented the best weather, and for the most part he’s been right. When I looked at the date this year, the third weekend is Easter, so we’ve had to move it to the last weekend in April. There’s a snow date of May 4.

Q: The show has moved locations a few times, where did it start?

A: Our first show in 1986 was at Chinook Centre. Close to 100 cars showed up there, and we were back in 1987 with about 175 cars. In 1988 we moved to North Hill Mall, and the event stayed there until 1991 when we moved to South Centre Mall. By then we were getting 400 cars, and we’d started setting up earlier in the morning to help relieve congestion. Then, in 1996, we moved the show to Deerfoot Mall – that year we had 524 cars. We stayed there until 2002 when we relocated to McMahon Stadium, and then in 2008 we moved back to Deerfoot Mall. Our record attendance was in 2010 with 589 vehicles registered.

Interior of the classic T-bird.

Interior of the classic T-bird.

Q: Will the show continue to be held at Deerfoot Mall?

A: Well, we’re sort of suffering from our own success. We routinely get more than 500 cars out for Spring Thaw, and Deerfoot Mall is getting started on an expansion and renovation. I think it will limit our space there, and this will likely be our last year in what has been a great location and working with a great partner. We’ll be on the hunt for a location in 2015 that will accommodate 500 vehicles and has been kept cleared of snow, but Deerfoot was ideal because it offered the food court and shopping.

Q: How has Spring Thaw helped the Food Bank?

A: We started asking for Food Bank donations in 1992, and whatever funds are left over from event expenses goes to the Food Bank together with donations from the public. To date, we’ve contributed $58,646.25 to the charity.

John Moore stands with his 1956 Ford Thunderbird.

John Moore stands with his 1956 Ford Thunderbird.
Jenn Pierce/Calgary Herald,

Q: What will you personally have in the show this year?

A: I’m getting my 1956 Ford Thunderbird ready to go. I’ve been working on it since 2007, but it’s always been a driver. It was a good, original car from California, and I’ve done a mechanical restoration, focusing on the engine and transmission. The motor was bored oversize, and I’ve updated it with 1957 heads, they have bigger valves, and a newer intake with a Holley-style carburetor. It’s also got a Mallory electronic distributor and a new cam. The interior was freshened up, too, and it’s a very nice car to drive. We’ve driven it to Spokane and other cities in the States, and I’m now thinking about putting a disc brake conversion on the front of it. That’s for later, though. Right now, we’re just looking forward to another Spring Thaw.

Under the hood of Moore's 1956 Ford Thunderbird.

Under the hood of Moore’s 1956 Ford Thunderbird.
Jenn Pierce/Calgary Herald,

Greg Williams is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Have an auto related item to share for the column or What’s Next? Contact him at 403-287-1067 or [email protected] Visit his website at gregwilliams.ca

About Greg Williams