CHARLESTON, W.Va. — When Kins and Maureen Wiltse got ready to celebrate their 50th anniversary earlier this year, they wouldn’t let their kids buy them an ocean cruise.
Instead, the Florida couple said they wanted to take part in Hot Rod magazine’s annual Power Tour, a 1,600-mile drive from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Wisconsin in the couple’s bright orange 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air.
“We like cars, we like people, and we like people who like cars,” Kins, 67, said.
“This is what we wanted to do to for our anniversary,” Maureen chimed in.
More than 3,500 hot rods — including the Wiltses’ tricked-out Chevy — were expected to roll into Charleston on Monday for the Power Tour, which stretched out along Kanawha Boulevard all the way from Greenbrier Street on the East End to Ohio Avenue on the West Side.
Some local car enthusiasts had already set up on Kanawha Boulevard Monday morning, with most of the vehicles arriving by 2 p.m. or so. Vendors, parts displays and other attractions were spread out the length of the Boulevard, under cloudy skies.
Hot Rod Publisher Jeff Dahlin said the tour began 20 years ago when magazine editors got together with car owners who had been featured in the magazine for a road trip from California to Detroit. Several cars that had been featured in the magazine were parked on the Boulevard Monday.
The tour began June 7 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The tour continues to Ohio on Tuesday and Indiana on Wednesday, and will end in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, on Friday.
Kins and Maureen already had a car to take part in the grueling, week-long cross-country trek, but it took about three years and an uncalculated amount of money to get it ready.
Kins said the couple decided to fix up the 1956 Chevy his mother bought him used in 1962 as a 15th birthday present. “This is the car I got my driver’s license in,” said Kins, a former Army Ranger and Special Forces soldier who served two tours of duty in Vietnam.
A lifelong gearhead, he said the car originally came with a six-cylinder engine and a three-speed shifter on the steering column, but, over the years, it has had five V-8 engines and was converted to an automatic transmission and back to a four-speed manual. “It’s going to be a five-speed, probably by the end of the year,” Kins said.
Kins raced the old Chevy from 1966 through 1969, then took a break for military service. When he came back from the war, he began racing a Pontiac and retired the Bel Air, in part because it was so big and heavy.
But it seemed the perfect ride to restore for the 1,600-mile Hot Rod Power Tour. Kins and Maureen were in Knoxville, Tennessee, Sunday, and left about 5:30 a.m. Monday to make Charleston before noon.
Kins said the car is currently valued at about $80,000. But he and Maureen aren’t sure how much money they’ve put in the vehicle over the years.
“Several houses, or your own small island,” Maureen said.
The trip hasn’t been without its mishaps.
“It has overheated,” Maureen said. Kins and Maureen first had the thermostat replaced, then had to rewire the fans when the car overheated again.
Kins and Maureen plan on meeting their son and two grandchildren at the end of the tour in Wisconsin, where they will spend a week before the 1,100-mile drive home.
“It’s not the destination,” Kins said. “It’s the journey in getting there.”
Reach Rusty Marks at email@example.com or 304-348-1215.