Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross, Magistrate Judge Wade Padgett and Associate Magistrate Judge Bobby Christine have more than just their public service in common.
The three also are classic aficionados of cars - a love, they say, that's spurred on by a desire to reconnect with their past.
"I'm not a real collector," Cross said. "But I love cars, and these are all cars I have an association with that mean something to me.''
All three men say their love of automobiles started in their teen years and was influenced by either friends or family members who owned cars they coveted. Cross is the proud owner of about a dozen cars that are at least 25 years old. Most are from the 1950s and 1960s, including his favorite car, a maroon 1967 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray. He also owns four early 1960s Chevrolet Impalas, two of which are Super Sports, and a 1950 Ford Custom four-door, which is the same year and model as his first car.
"I'm a kid of the '50s and a lot of changes were going on in the '50s," Cross said.
The post-World War II building boom, the rise of rock 'n' roll and the surging American automotive industry are all part of his fondness for his cars, Cross said.
"The (1955 Chevy Bel Air) revolutionized the car industry with the new V-8," he said. "Then the '57 (Chevy) was the real icon of cars and the Chevy-Ford rivalry was heating up. It was good natured and not as vicious as things seem to be (now)."
Growing up in Greenville, S.C., Cross said, he was influenced in his appreciation of cars by his older brother and friends. Not unlike teens today, the chairman said, he'd hang out at a drive-in with his pals talking cars and girls.
"You'd come up (to the drive-in), goof around, date, and after you took your date home you'd come back to the drive-in and sit around until 2 in the morning talking about absolutely nothing but cars and girls," he said.
Now, some of those cars he and his friends would talk about are his.
Also among Cross' collection are a red 1960 Chevrolet Impala and a maroon 1963 Impala SS.
Padgett said he understands the fascination with such cars.
"There's nothing more frustrating or more rewarding than owning an old car," he said. Padgett owns a restored blue 1968 Chevrolet Camaro SS convertible, and previously owned a 1965 Ford Mustang and a 1956 Ford Thunderbird.
He said he got the car bug from his father, who has owned at least three classic mid-50s Chevrolet Bel Airs. The Camaro, which Padgett bought eight years ago, took a year to restore, he said.
"When I bought it, the front fender was caved in, it had the wrong wheels and tires on it. It was really a mess," Padgett said.
He took part in much of the restoration work, which included replacing the engine with a Super Sport 350-horsepower, 350-cubic-inch engine, major body and interior work and a complete paint job.
"I'm very concerned with keeping everything original," Padgett said. Though some people like to alter their vehicles with performance gadgetry or cosmetic add-ons, Padgett said, "It's not my style. I like the original."
Padgett's fondness for the Camaro stemmed from a trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., with a friend who owned a 1967 Camaro convertible.
"I said if I ever get a chance to get one of these I will, and I did," he said.
Padgett even tried to re-create that Myrtle Beach summer by taking his family there in the Camaro when the restoration was complete.
"We ... tried to re-create it, but when you have your 7-year-old and your 10-year-old children with you, it isn't the same," Padgett said. "But it's a lot of fun."
His Camaro was enough to make an impression when it was used in the wedding of Columbia County Republican Party Chairman Lee Muns' daughter to a member of NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon's pit crew.
Christine said he also enjoys such blasts from the past. After returning from military service in Iraq in 2005, he said, his wife gave him permission to seek out a vintage Cadillac convertible like the ones his father had.
In September, Christine found his long black 1965 Cadillac DeVille convertible, which is in the process of being restored now.
"My father had an antique (1958) Coupe DeVille, and I've always wanted one," Christine said. "I found this one in Atlanta online. My wife gave me permission and I bought it."
The car is mechanically sound but in need of some minor upholstery and body work, and Christine said he hopes to have it completely restored by this summer.
"I've always had it (the passion). I got it from my father, but Wade and Ron do it right," said Christine, adding that he previously owned a 1974 Triumph Spitfire, a British sport coupe.
Christine said cars were always special in his family. His grandfather, an Italian immigrant, was the first in his Pittsburgh neighborhood to own a car back in the 1930s.
Christine's collectible car has a back seat just big enough to comfortably hold the car seats for his three children, he said.
"I can put all three car seats for my kids across the back and we have a blast," he said, adding that his 3-year-old son calls the car the Batmobile. Christine said his car's best feature is the electric convertible top.
"You can turn on some Rat Pack music and it feels right," he said.
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