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Car show falls victim to budget cuts
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A 1942 Packard is displayed at the 2006 Pin-Mar Antique Car Show.
LARGO – For nearly a quarter of a century, Suncoast car buffs have circled the day before Easter on their calendars.

That was the day of the Pin-Mar Antique Car Club’s annual car show at Heritage Village, the county’s 21-acre open-air museum in Largo.

But this year’s show, the club’s 24th, has been canceled, a victim of Pinellas County’s budget ax.

“Pin-Mar’s antique car show has always been one of Heritage Village’s most popular events and, of course, we are sorry that the event will not be held this year,” said Ellen Babb, the village’s museum operations manager. “There are expenses that come with holding an event of this size. In the past, our staff had been able to defray some of those costs by providing many of the logistics and set-up activities. But with recent county manpower and budget constraints, we are unfortunately not able to provide the same level of assistance as in previous years.

“Faced with additional costs and the risk of financial loss should a rainout occur, Pin-Mar made the decision to cancel the event this year. They hope to be back next year. And we look forward to being their host should that happen.”

Pin-Mar was founded in 1964 by a group of friends who got together on weekends to work on their Model A Fords. The name was originally an acronym for Pinellas Model A Restorers, but the club now welcomes all lovers of vintage vehicles, whether they own one or not.

The members decided that it would be fun to dress in the era of their cars and have an annual picnic at Heritage Village. But the free event, which attracts more than 100 original pre-1960 vehicles, grew like Topsy. The participants were soon vastly outnumbered by the spectators – 6,600 last year – requiring such expensive amenities as remote parking, shuttle buses and police officers.

“It attracts thousands of people, but it also costs thousands of dollars to put on,” said Pin-Mar’s president, Bob Croslin. “Because of the tax cutbacks, we’re funding the entire event, and the requirements that we have today cost more than we’re able to earn from gate donations.”

Croslin estimated that, on a sunny day, donations might come close to covering the costs, but a rainy day could nearly bankrupt the club, and rain insurance would be prohibitively expensive. His solution is to downsize the event.

“Our honest intention is to hold it on a smaller scale in 2011,” he said. “It had grown so big that it was unmanageable with the resources we had. I hope to bring it back to where we started.”

Its original goals, he said, were to provide a pleasant outing for the participants and hopefully make a few dollars to donate to Heritage Village for items not covered by its budget.

Calling Heritage Village “unique and special,” Croslin said that it is “the perfect venue for this show.” Therefore, he has never seriously considered moving the event.

“People have told us that it’s their favorite event of the year,” Croslin said.

He said a participant drove his 1909 Stanley Steamer across the Sunshine Skyway in a downpour, without windshield wipers or side curtains, to reach the 2008 show. The man was so impressed that he had planned to bring a busload of his Nokomis neighbors to this year’s event.

While some car shows charge their participants a registration fee, usually between $15 and $50, Croslin has ruled out that option.

“This event has always been free,” he said. “Why should someone who has spent an enormous amount of time and money restoring his car have to pay to show it to people?”
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