Cars We Remember / Collector Car Corner; ‘It’s a wonderful ride’ needed now more than ever

Cars We Remember / Collector Car Corner; ‘It’s a wonderful ride’ needed now more than everThis former Vineland Times Journal photo, taken by the late photographer Jim Ballurio, shows Vineland’s Landis Avenue at Christmas Time during the mid-1950s. (Ballurio collection)

When December rolls around each year I prepare for my month of holiday feature columns, the first this week about the fun and significance of cruising under all the brilliant Christmas holiday lighting displays in every city and town, USA. Add in each person’s personal lighting displays, and you are ready to be transported into a world of magical love, peace, and goodwill towards men.  

Being that I’m no longer that “young upcoming magazine and newspaper writer”, and although my passion is still atop my efforts, the reality of turning 75 years young when July 1 rolls along in 2024 is atop my physical and emotional competency. If the good Lord allows, I plan to keep writing at least until then.

Most of my editors tell me they love it when I talk about my firsthand experiences. It seems Artificial Intelligence (AI) sites like Bing and Google are readily accessible to replace me and answer most questions about collector cars. One thing I noticed is a good amount of mistakes nestled in with the AI answers, so for now I still feel I can turn out a superior column thanks to the good amount of research and a memory that doesn’t let me down normally. However, I feel one day, AI robots will replace college professors and possibly even library buildings. (This subject is for another time, so I’ll stop here.)

Cars We Remember / Collector Car Corner; ‘It’s a wonderful ride’ needed now more than ever

Aluminum Christmas Trees were a big hit back in the 1960s, but soon faded in popularity. (Compliments Reynolds Aluminum)

Here is where this year’s column on our community Christmas displays takes a turn for the better, I hope.

At present, the major wars raging in Ukraine / Russia and the further unheard-of slaughter of thousands of Israel partygoers are on the top of most people’s minds. Whether we live one mile from these wars or 5,000 miles away, never in my life have I prayed for peace like I do now, knowing that an escalation could result in the unthinkable WWIII.

Clearly WWIII will make WWII look like child’s play, even with full knowledge that the USA used the first atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and, a few days later, Nagasaki. (I’m no pacifist by any means, but was that second bomb necessary?)        

So, this year things are different. The meaning of the Christmas lights hanging everywhere in your community are needed more than ever. With two major wars, and many we don’t read about going on across the world, the realization of what these lights really stands for, i.e. “Peace on Earth and goodwill towards man”, should help everyone better understand the severity of our current situation.

Cars We Remember / Collector Car Corner; ‘It’s a wonderful ride’ needed now more than ever

The color wheel was a must if you had a Christmas tree made from aluminum. Today, these trees and wheels are still available for those who are into nostalgic Christmas trees. (Greg Zyla collection)

At the conclusion of the famous story, A Christmas Carol, author Charles Dickens makes it clear that Tiny Tim does not die, and Scrooge becomes a “second father” to him. Tiny Tim is best remembered for saying, “God bless us, everyone,” which is his blessing at the Scrooge enhanced Cratchit Christmas dinner.  

So, before I get into the column, I say God Bless us, everyone, especially right now.

Growing up in Ranshaw, Pa. (Brady to most) my first seven years and then south Jersey, notably Vineland, N.J., from 1958 to 1973, there was no better time of the year than Christmas.

Cruising under the holiday lights that adorned the main downtown business district on Landis Avenue was breathtaking. There were no malls yet, so these Everywhere, USA, Main Streets were adorned with so many holiday decorations and cheer it was nearly impossible not to get the “best time of the year” feeling.

Throw in the holiday music while cruising, like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Silver Bells” or “The Chipmunks Song” (Christmas Don’t Be Late), and the festive mood was good from late November through December and then some.  

In this merriest time of the year, Vineland’s Landis Avenue was and still is a highly lit two to four-lane wide thoroughfare that served as the nightly cruise destination thanks to its over four-mile round trip cruise length.

Cars We Remember / Collector Car Corner; ‘It’s a wonderful ride’ needed now more than ever

The Alvin and the Chipmunks hit song, “Christmas Don’t Be Late”, came out in 1958, and as we move to 2023 it’s still a popular holiday song. (David Saville collection)

The ritual of cruising the 4.0-mile roundtrip center city Landis Avenue during Christmas always added an extra touch, thanks to the city’s spectacular lighting display. City workers attached (and still do) strands of lights, perhaps 20-feet apart, spanning lengthwise across the 100-foot wide avenue. The hundreds and hundreds of light adornments made for some grand memories of how the Christmastime season made everything all the better for those who loved cars, cruising, and Christmas.

Car buffs know that lighting makes any car look better. Yet nothing compared to the brilliance of nighttime cruising during Christmas in Vineland. Adding to the motif were the countless stores along the main avenue, all adorned in their own Christmas lighting displays from “The Spot” pizzeria and “The Elite” hangout on the East side of town to “Jack’s Toyland”, midway along Landis that led to the “boulevard” railroad crossing. Further down on the west side sat the large Sears & Roebuck, always dressed for the season in decorative style, and a place to go every week.

Once you passed Sears, it led to the perfectly positioned “circle” that made turning around at Delsea Drive and the return jaunt to East Avenue all the easier. You would also pass the numerous diners like Jim and Larry’s and the Circle Diner, and car dealers like Yank Chevrolet and Glauser Dodge, both adorned in holiday harmony. 

Cars We Remember / Collector Car Corner; ‘It’s a wonderful ride’ needed now more than ever

The Vineland, N.J. Municipal Building is always beautifully decorated for the Christmas season. (Compliments City of Vineland)

Back then we never thought that one day the actual Christmas celebrations would be challenged. We were perhaps overly concerned with the cleanliness of our Chevelle, GTO, Mustang, Super Bee, or even the late Ken Walker’s altered wheelbase ’55 Chevy, finished in metallic red with the customary white fender well headers. Words like “political correctness “weren’t invented yet.  

As we now look from the window of Christmas season 2023, many are wishing that we could relive those wonderful holiday nights, regardless of whatever hometown we lived in. For sure there are countless Landis Avenue (Vineland) and Independence Street (Shamokin) Christmas light stories in Every City USA.

Perhaps “taking for granted” is the real message of this week’s holiday theme column. We all know things have drastically changed in our country as we move quickly into 2024. Yet from my rear-view mirror things were better in that 1960 decade, sans the horrible Vietnam mistakes and three assassinations (Kennedy, King, Kennedy) that led to protests that were noteworthy. However, even though the 1960 era was a decade of resistance and change, a new band of youth promoted peace and music more so than destructive conflict with historical prominence. 

Today my baby-boomer readers are nostalgia hungry, be it a former flower child in a VW Bus on the way to Woodstock or a drag racer ready to make a quarter-mile pass in his 1968 Camaro SS/RS 396/375 at Atco Dragway in Berlin, N.J. (The drag racer is me, but I did not attend Woodstock as Uncle Sam had other ideas.) 

The one thing that most everyone agreed on back then, and never questioned, was about Christmas remaining a national holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus. Cities across the country still proudly display Nativity scenes, many with live animals. The high school Christmas plays are filled with cheer; and be it parochial or public, the birth of our Lord is proudly celebrated be it by Christmas cards, caroling, or by simply enjoying everyone’s company. 

As for the homes of my teenage friends, they were always decorated inside and out. It was growing up in Vineland where I learned of Hanukkah, the Menorah, and other ways of celebrating special religious times of the season. The families that celebrated Hanukkah complimented the many Christmas tree decorations at homes I visited, even if the latter had those fake aluminum silver trees with electric powered color wheels. Thankfully, these aluminum trees were popular for a brief period.

As for food, everyone was in for a treat visiting family and friends when the holidays came around, regardless of religious affiliation.  

Today I’m happy that most of the major retail stores again allow their employees to say Merry Christmas, but not all of them thanks to “political correctness”. Luckily I now live in a nice small town that celebrates Christmas the good old-fashioned way, which I appreciate very much. 

I will always love the lights, driving the neighborhood and looking at decorations, the Christmas movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Elf”, and “Miracle on 34th Street”.

I love all the good will from people of all ages, and to those who don’t feel the Christmas spirit you might want to catch a showing of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” soon. 

Regardless of the era, and to those who will always believe in this most special time of the year, have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Happy New Year.

Remember, we need the “real reason for Christmas” now more than ever. 

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader questions and comments on collector cars, auto nostalgia and motorsports at or at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840.)

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