By Charlie Feldman
Kicks on 66, held Saturday, September 11 at the American Legion Golf Course in Edwardsville, had something for everybody. There was the 9/11 20th anniversary memorial service with area police officers and firefighters taking part. After that was the cruise of classic cars down Illinois Route 157 to Hotshots
Sports Bar and Grill.
But first there was the car show. Among the estimated 500 entries were the Smokey and the Bandit-type cars of the I-55 Firebirds.
“We have 14 cars here today and probably about 30 people,” said club president Rod Haffer of Troy.”We have about a hundred members that come and go.
“It’s based in Troy but they’re from all around the St. Louis area. There are seven or eight up in Troy,” he said.
“The red one is mine right here,” he said. “The 1980. The one with the KSHE pig.”
It had several decorations honoring the classic rock FM radio station teens cruised to back in the day.
The Firebird was introduced by Pontiac in 1967 to compete with the Ford Mustang. The Trans Am, an upgraded, wilder version introduced two years later, was especially popular in the late 1970s. They went out of production in 2002.
“We started out, actually, as the Troy Trans Ams,” Haffer said. “That was going to be our original club name. And then we had three or four cars that weren’t Trans Ams and one of the guys was complaining that he had a Firebird but not a Trans Am Firebird. So just to make him happy I changed it to the I-55 Firebirds.”
He said that in high school he drove a Volkswagen Baja Bug. “It really didn’t have a color,” he said. “I think it was rusty gray primer-ish reddish. That was my first car.”
Haffer said he always wanted a Smokey and the Bandit car ever since he was a kid. He saw a similar car for sale that he could afford. “I got tired of sitting around the house not doing nothing, and so I bought this car and fixed it up a little bit and started cruising,” he said.
He ran into another Firebird owner, Bill Shadwick of Maryville and started the club. “We’ve been running into Firebirds ever since,” he said.
They went on the Bandit Run “about four years ago.”
Shadwick had the black Trans Am with Burt Reynolds’ autograph in gold on the glove compartment.
Most group members are retired but there are also some young people around 17 or 18 years old who have Firebirds, Haffer said.
He said the I-55 Firebird Club does cruises, car shows and fund-raisers.
“We also put on the Firebird Fest in May,” Haffer said. “This was our first year. We had 140 cars showing up from 22 different states.
“Our event is unique because it’s not just a car show,” he said. “We actually do activities and we go to different places around St. Louis. And we did a ferry ride across the river up in Grafton. We had over a hundred cars jump the river up there. We cruised into St. Charles. We went to the transportation museum. We went to the Lewis and Clark Museum in St. Charles.
“We went to the Sky View Drive-In in Belleville and saw ‘Smokey and the Bandit,” he said. “We had about 130 cars there.”
That three-day weekend event raised $4,000 for the BackStoppers and Central County First Responders.
Members of the club also went to six or seven little cruises or car shows this year- the Trans Am nationals in Ohio, St. Jacob Homecoming, Belleville and the Edwardsville DARE Show. They get together and cruise “all the time,” Haffer said.
“Sometimes we’ve got two cars, sometimes we’ve got fifteen,” he said. “We usually post it on our Facebook page and send out messages to everybody and see if they want to go and no pressure, no entry fee. Just show up and come.”
Some of the cars are projects, Haffer said. “Some of them are never totally restored. There’s always something that’s broke.”
“We drive them and we enjoy them,” said Mark Noe of Glen Carbon. “I’m not halfway done with mine.”
“We like to cruise more than we like to sit and show,” Haffer said. “That’s what we like doing.”
“There’s one thing about these,” Noe said. “It makes people smile. And I don’t care if they’re two years old or if they’re a hundred years old, people walk up to you and say, ‘Man, I love your car’ and they’re just thrilled with that.
“They’re fun,” he said.
“They see that bird on the hood,” Haffer said. “And they just light up.”
For more information visit them on Facebook at I-55 Firebirds or FirebirdFest ‘22 St Louis or visit the website FirebirdFest.com.