Chrysler 300 Club International
Spring Meet in Chicago, Il
May 15 - 18, 1996

Photos by Bill Elder

26th Annual Spring Meet, Chicagoland, Illinois
by Andy Mikonis

When Wednesday the 15th came, I knew all of the planning was about to be put to the test. I told Brian Wolfe that I would pick him up at the airport at 10:45 AM and drag him around for some last-minute shopping (read beer run) on the way out to the meet hotel. No problem. First, I had to change the oil in the G, then I got on the road.

Midway Airport, under perfect conditions, is only about 20 minutes from my house. It’s a rather small airport, as big city airports go, so its pretty easy to get in and out of. Of course, “perfect conditions” on Chicago expressways exist consistently only between 3 and 5 AM, basically an hour after the bars close until an hour before the early birds make a mad dash to the office. Even this is not guaranteed. Still, we hardened urban dwellers fancy that we can get around easily from 10 AM to 2 PM (between rush hours, as it were.) Now that I am going into such detail, you can probably predict what is next. I’ll tell you in a word. Make that two words “Road Construction”.

I live on the near Northwest side of the city, Midway is out on the Southwest side. I take one expressway into town, then head out on another. Its not a route that I take regularly, so I didn’t know this second road was down to one lane standing still. First, I had to backtrack about two miles in order to get off the highway. Then, the surface street that I chose was also under construction, too. Once I got through that, I was caught by a rather lengthy funeral procession. I was in spitting distance of the airport when I became trapped by a freight train, a South side phenomena, as all the tracks on the North side are raised. I could almost reach up and touch the landing gear on the planes descending overhead. I was so close. Anyway, I finally spotted Brian’s 300 hundred jacket a few minutes later and we were on our way.

After picking up the fresh baked bread for Thursday’s cookout, we sped towards the hotel! Whenever I am on my way to a meet, I always have a nagging fear of “pulling a McT” and showing up on the wrong weekend. I already had Brian with me, so two of us probably weren’t wrong, but I felt mildly relieved to see Christy Lazenby gesticulating wildly from a rented Chrysler a few miles from the hotel! This was the only time I would be “relieved” to see Christy this weekend. More on this later.

We arrived at the hotel to find a section of the parking lot already roped off for us. As the Letter Cars started trickling in, I waited for the hotel staff to give us our hospitality room. Later they told me that the room that they had set aside for us had not been vacated by the previous party, so they showed me the backup room which turned out to be a palatial suite with two bedrooms, a conference table and a hot tub no less. They said that they could get us back into the smaller room the next day if this wasn’t acceptable. Needless to say, I kept the room for the duration.

Afternoon arrivals include K owners David Ellis and Tim Tomlinson. Tim a first-timer, kept calmly correcting me when I told people he was from ”Southern Illinois!” Sorry Tim, we Chicagoans consider anything below I-80 “Southern Illinois!” Western Club envoy Kent Hurt rolled in with Don Smallwood’s B. Then the twin “BLK FIN” Cs of Krausmann and Elder showed with Bill making an unexpected statement of individuality with some flashy Motor Wheel wire wheels.

Club members kept rolling in; it was a really strong turnout for Wednesday. Ed Lanfer and the Astroths caravanned their C and F up from St. Louis and the Quicks drove their L in from North Dakota. Near future meet hosts, the Lueths, came up to see what kind of job we were doing. Terry McTaggart showed up in a Brand X contingent, this time because his mechanic had the wrong weekend and the D was dangling on a lift somewhere in Ohio. Our fearless leader George decided to take the scenic route and so did not arrive with all of the registration information and of course, Eleanor, until early evening. My charming co-host, Roman, and I were able to keep the group from panic.

We had the obligatory, though some what small, late night session. I don’t know, but it seems like this group can’t stay up as late as they could, just a few years ago. Brian Wolfe and I were among the last of the Mohicans to stay up that night and listen, transfixed, to Don Verity explain all the space-age telemetry that he had duct taped to the console of his G. During this dissertation, we greeted the wee-hour arrivals of Michael and Linda Burke and then Frank Van Pelt.

Thursday came with a casual wake up and everybody eventually collected for the caravan to Volo Auto Museum. A few people were terrified by the prospect of not having a predetermined departure time, but Roman and I decided to let the group consensus determine such matters. Most eventually eased up about it and some rather enjoyed the less rigorous scheduling. After all it is a vacation, right? Unless you are a meet host. We got underway once I was able to assuage Gabe Knapp’s fears that I would drive too fast and lose the caravan. I told him that we had over thirty cars and would not be able to get through the first stoplight together, but I would do my best. With the help of Dave and Nancy Werner as my navigators, we held the herd together pretty well over the 40 some miles to the Volo. Once we could see the signs for the place, Michael Burke and I had to hang it out over the last couple of miles of highway, with the speck of a black J in our rear-view mirrors. I guess Mike and I have taken the F versus G controversy from paper to the pavement a few times now. I admit he whipped me out on the drag strip at the Jersey Meet, but my car was running rich. In the real world, I think it’s a draw. In fact, I was just starting to pull him when he backed off, later saying that he thought he saw a police car. (Speaking of Jersey, where was that Pete Fitch, anyway?) (You know Pete, I am sure you have a good excuse all ready for me why you weren’t there, but just remember it wasn’t easy for an impoverished graduate student, such as myself, to scrounge the funds together to drive one of these gas hogs across the country to your meet…)

We arrived at the museum where Roman was entertaining some new arrivals already there, including much to Frank Van Pelt’s glee, the McCarthys with their silver special ’64 300. Frank spent a long time documenting the wheel lip screws and other details to aid in the restoration of his father’s silver ’64. That’s the spirit, Frank!

I was glad to see the members enjoy the museum. I was a little down on the management for having reneged on their promise of free admission, so at least it was a worthwhile tour for most.

I slipped away early to help John and Chris Dokos with the last-minute cookout preparations. As I was hammering down the pretty backroads John had mapped us through to get to his house, I saw the dreaded sight of red and blue lights in the rear-view mirror. I wasn’t going particularly fast so at first I didn’t think it was me he was after. But, when I pulled off the winding two-laner to let him pass, sure enough, he dropped in behind me. He let me go immediately. In Illinois, our antique vehicle license plates are issued for a five-year term. When the plates expired, they sent a sticker to renew until 1999. Apparently, the color of the sticker is similar to a previous year and he mistook it for an expired plate. Whew!

Roman arrived later than expected and it was then that I hit the only major glitch of the weekend. Bob Dupin was waiting for me at the airport, only thanks to the U.S. Post Office, I didn’t know he was coming. I had offered to pick him up if he came, but unfortunately his letter made an extra stop the day before and was postmarked a second time. The poor guy ended up at the airport for hours because of a further miscommunication. Well he eventually got to the hotel and lots of people were glad to see him. It seemed like he had a good time for the rest of his stay.

The cookout was a success, anyway. The Moons showed up with some stragglers from the hotel, including Long Distance Winner Al Mace sporting a new shade of primer on his K convert. (Our usual Long-Distance shoe-in, Frank Driscoll actually called me from South Dakota to tell me it was nothing personal that he wasn’t coming, just that he didn’t think the L would be warmed up by the time he got to Chicago, so he’d see us in North Carolina.) Another notable primer job was Les Schwandt arriving in the evening with the Schwandt C, having brake problems, Dave and Carolyn, his parents, already there in the legendary Polar Blue F, told him since he was driving it, he would have to fix it!

Friday morning was cool and foggy, but it burned off early and became a fine day. We toured the Amoco research facility and found out everything we ever wanted to know about gasoline but were afraid to ask. The rest of the afternoon was slack time, so people went off to lunch in groups and started polishing the cars.

It was then Chris Davis drove in for the afternoon with a stunning 300L convertible inside a trailer. The car was a real knockout and this coming from a guy who is not much of a fan of Ls. It was towed by a’77 Dodge pickup that probably should have been in a trailer, too! Well, the car was the subject of some debate, but hey, that is par for a non-concours meet. Other entertainment was provided by soon to be “Hard Luck” winner, les Schwandt rebuilding a wheel cylinder in the parking lot surrounded by the sounds of lots of advice and clicking shutters.

That evening, I hadn’t realized that the ropes had disappeared from our little section of the parking lot until I came out to find the parking lot being flooded by kids on their way to Senior Prom being held at the hotel. They started parking between the letter cars. I stayed out there and shooed them away until Roman could get word back to the hospitality room that our cars needed to be moved. The hotel had ample parking so we retired to a row of empty spaces along a grassy knoll in a back lot that we probably should have parked in all along.

We were able to get the business meeting underway when the Californians (that’s Lazenby and Graefen) came back on Friday evening from their reconnaissance mission of a double-secret Chicagoland letter car (gee, I would have told them where it was, had they asked.) I guess the car turned out to be a little rough for their tastes. The meeting was further delayed by the appearance of a Dual Ghia convertible in the parking lot and a typical fashionably late appearance by “the press”.

The crowd was remarkably docile through the meeting. Even Rene Kroeger would have been mesmerized by the mirrored room the meeting was held in. (Hey, where was that Kroeger, anyway?)

Saturday morning, I ended up using the entire back parking lot snaking the cars around trying to arrange them in order of year for the procession out to the park. Morning arrivals included John Dokos and his freshly buffed and chromed E coupe that needed sunglasses to be looked at on such a sunny day and the dueling Fs of locals Ken Patt and Allan Campbell. This was the first time out for Ken’s freshly finished F convert. I think the paint was barely dry to the touch and it looked great. While lining up the Cs, I spotted Bob Cornett’s C convert making a last-ditch effort for the Hard Luck trophy, spewing lubricant from a mysterious hose, perhaps angry for having to wear fender skirts. A couple of turns with a screwdriver and he was back on the road.

When we finally arrived at the park, there was Guy Morrice with the finest of his elusive Es. Andy Jugle with his (count ‘em) two C converts and a quarter of a dozen Letter Cars owned by the Howells. I really appreciated the extra efforts of these multi 300 families. I’m still not sure how Andy got two cars to the show, as he parked them both, but I did see his wife, Cathy, later at the banquet, so maybe she had something to do with it. Steve Howell told me they were going to bring a J among their representatives, but had problems with it so they just picked another 300 from the stable that morning!

This took a rather long time to set up, but the display was really impressive, two rows of twenty letter cars facing each other. To quote Brian Wolfe, staggering around in the epicenter of the display, eyes as big as saucers, not knowing which way to look, “They could just shoot us now!” Eventually the Moons showed up for a total of forty-one letter cars and Hurst 300s at the park. I actually think we had more cars than photo albums. A ’55 300 was the only year not represented. The strongest showing was Cs at a whopping ten. There were so many Cs, I can’t remember whose they were. I would double the length of this article even if I could list them all. There were C coupes and C converts, there was every color except Copper Brown. Les Schwandt and Spencer Siracusano had their own Parade Green before and after display going on. I’m not sure which one was meant to be the before and which one the after. Also impressive were three each of E coupes and H converts, certainly the most that I had seen in one place. The only single examples were B, D, and J.

The day was gorgeous. In fact, this weekend turned out to be the only two and a half summer-like days during the entire month of May. While most members enjoyed the indoor attractions at the park, John Dokos and I slow-roasted ourselves in the parking lot for the duration. At least a nice breeze kept the temperature very comfortable. My sunburn was to become useful later that evening.

As people started trickling back to the hotel during the afternoon, I almost further alienated myself from Bob Dupin by suggesting a route to the airport that, Jim Bartuska, who was giving him a ride, said turned out to be bumper-to-bumper. They arrived at the airport, with minutes to spare.

Mike Bowles, noticeably absent from the park, arrived later at the hotel with his G after spending the day bailing out his basement after the heavy rains to the North. My mother also showed up, I thought she wanted to check out what kind of characters I’ve been hanging around with for the last few years, but now she tells me she wants a 300 with fins!

We were back in the mirrored “View Room” for the banquet. Don Warnaar debuted his new special awards committee by honoring the three cars that had been at the most meets. All three cars were present. Jerry Kocur’s K convert, Gil Cunningham’s H convert and George Riehl’s J. I thought this was really neat (hmm, lets see, my G has been to nine meets. If I can just get these three guys to drive one of their other cars…) What happened after dinner, I’m going to leave alone.

Sunday morning the troops started departing. A few went to an all Mopar show at near-by Koller Dodge, only to come back to report it was all muscle car stuff. However, Ed and Angie Phillips were among those who did stay and won a first place in 300 class with their H convert.

Gil and Carol Cunningham came over to my garage to pick up what they could of a 413 that I had bought and stored for them. The Moons and Lazenbys tagged along and of course Brian Wolfe, who needed to be returned to the airport eventually. If you weren’t getting an idea that traffic is sometimes a problem around here yet, well the highway into town came down to a crawl on this fine Sunday afternoon. I had forgotten there was a Chicago Bulls play-off game today. As I live about a mile from the stadium, all the suburbanite basketball fans were heading in the same direction that we were.

We eventually got there and after packing the trunk of the H with all of the pistons and things it could hold and still close the trunk lid, I gave them a brief architectural tour of my neighborhood on the way over to the Rainbow Club for a couple of rounds and a private showing of my exhibition.

We said our goodbyes, with me and Brian heading over to Midway Airport and the rest for dinner with the Bartuskas in Michigan. The meet officially ended for me when I saw Brian off and put the G back in the garage, but Gil tells me the meet really didn’t end until Tuesday when they finally parted with the Lazenbys, somewhere in Indiana.

Some post meet reports, George Riehl blew a tire a hundred miles from home, Gil Cunningham noticed a tire showing cord a hundred miles from home and ran it and Wiltses ran a tire home they didn’t realize was showing cord and later tried to sell it.

If you were there and I didn’t mention you, I enjoyed having you and I am sure we had a chance to talk. If you weren’t there, come to North Carolina. And if I picked on you in this story, well, I wouldn’t pick on you if |I didn’t like you. I hope everyone got home safely and I will see you next time.

People’s Choice Award Winners

Group 1 – C300, 300B, 300C, 300D

First Place: Ed Lanfer, 300C coupe

Second Place: Bob Nitz, 300 C coupe

Group 2 – 300E, 300F, 300G, 300H

First Place: John Dokos, 300E coupe

Second Place: Ken Patt, 300F convert

Group 3 – 300J, 300K, 300L, 300 Hurst

First Place: Donnie Carr, 300K coupe

Second place: Galen Wollbrink, 300L coupe

Long Distance: Al Mace, Florida – 1,801 miles in a 300K convert

Hard Luck: Les Schwandt, Iowa – 300C coupe, rear brake cylinder, brakes locked up

300s at the Chicago Meet

300B: Don Smallwood

300C: Bob Cornett (cvt), Andy Jugle (cvt – 2), Jim Krausmann, Ed Lanfer, Arnold Lueth, Bob Nitz, Les Schwandt, Spencer Siracusano, Bill Elder

300D: Jack Wiltse

300E: John Dokos, Guy Morice, John Nearon

300F: Len Astroth, Michael Burke, Allen Campbell, Ken Patt (cvt), Dave Schwandt

300G: Mike Bowles, Steve Howell, Gabe Knapp, Andy Mikonis, Don Verity

300H: Gil Cunningham (cvt), Henry Banach (cvt), Ed Phillips (cvt)

300J: George Riehl

300K: Donnie Carr, David Ellis, John Howell, Jerry Kocur (cvt), Al mace (cvt), John McCarthy, Tim Tomlinson

300L: Chris Davis (cvt), John Howell (cvt), Ken Quick, Galen Wollbrink

Hurst: Allan Moon, Roman Robaszewski, Howard Stoll

64 300: John McCarthy

67 300: Dave McMurren (cvt), Ken Smelcer

Addendum: at this meet, Jerry Kocur, was presented a special award, along with George Riehl and Gil Cunningham for 300s driven to the most meets. Jerry sadly passed away in 2017. He continued to drive his trusty 300K convert to another 17 meets after the 1996 Chicago meet, for a total of 48. His final meet with the K was Mystic, Connecticut in the Spring of 2014 and at the time of his passing, his 300K had registered over 500,000 miles. In response to his Special Award, he made this note:

Over the past few years many Chrysler 300 Club members have asked me if I know how many miles I have travelled in my 300K to Chrysler 300 Meets. I attended my first meet in Pocono, PA in 1977. Since then, I have attended 31 meets with my 1964 Chrysler 300K convertible. I used a different vehicle once – the rear seals were leaking and the hour was late, therefore I drove my 1973 white Dodge Challenger to the Spring 1993 Philadelphia meet.

Including the recent Chicago meet, I calculate the total mileage traveled to and from meets to be 42,000 miles plus 5,000 additional miles attending various functions in the meet towns as well as finding my way after becoming lost!

Sincerely, Jerry Kocur
E. Douglas, Massachusetts

Thanks to Bill Elder for typing this article for the web