Mach 5, Bandit among cars greeting Bethel Park festivalgoers
Back when you could count the number of TV channels on one hand, the selection of shows was, to say the least, limited.
So kids would plop down in front of the screen and sit through whatever youth-oriented program was airing. And often, that was some kind of low-budget animation from Japan.
Fifty years ago, a cartoon called “Speed Racer” debuted there and came here within a few years, offering such oddities as, well, a main character whose actual given name appeared to be Speed Racer. Whose brother hung out with a chimpanzee.
Speed, of course, drove one cool car: the sleek, white, “powerful Mach 5,” as heard in the theme song, which countless folks of a certain age continue to know by heart.
The tune must have been playing in the heads of many a visitor at the Rev ’Em up for Kids Car Cruise when they took a gander at Eddie Pistella’s real-life version of Speed’s fabled machine. The modified 1979 Chevrolet Corvette features hand-fabricated fiberglass that replicates the three-prong front of the Mach 5, with the familiar red “M” symbol across the hood.
“I did it in 28 days,” Pistella told those who stopped to take a closer look during the annual fundraising event, held at Bethel Park High School in conjunction with the municipality’s Community Day.
“I’ve never missed a deadline,” he explained. “It was a charity I was going to help out, and they said, ‘Eddie, could you push it to get it done?’”
The beneficiary of Pistella’s handiwork was Stocks For Tots, held annually at the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame to help abused children in North Carolina.
Through his Authentic Kustoms, the now-retired Beechview resident produced singular car creations for movies, TV shows and their attendant celebrities for 40-plus years, including a 1966 Batmobile – even cooler than the Mach 5! – that is street-legal. It had better be: A few years ago, he had District Judge Ron Arnoni ride in it for a parade.
All in all, Rev ’Em up for Kids Car Cruise was a success, drawing some 300 vehicles to a new venue, according to organizer Jim Gastgeb. The event previously was held at the Allegheny County Fairgrounds, and each year it benefits Bethel Park’s recreational opportunities for youngsters.
Gastgeb, a Pontiac guy, brought his own version of a legend: the 1977 Firebird Trans Am from “Smokey in the Bandit,” complete with a windshield sun shade featuring Burt Reynolds and Sally Field.
Other cars at the cruise were more conventional but had interesting stories, at least to auto enthusiasts.
Don Littlehale of Collier Township displayed his two-seater 1969 AMX, one of the few collectibles from the era’s American Motors stable. His has a 343-cubic-inch engine, prominent side exhausts – “Watch getting out of the car, or you’ll burn your legs” – and the original Big Bad Orange paint that really attracted him when he bought the car about a year ago.
Bethel Park resident Bob Gild pulled up to the cruise in his 1931 Ford Model A with the rest of the family – mom Debbie and kids Molly, Nicky and Nathan – back in the rumble seat. Bob said he’s in the process of turning it into a ’50s-style hot rod.
From across the pond came Cliff Raleigh’s 1961 Morris Minor, a compact British-made convertible that many cruisegoers mistook for a Volkswagen from behind on first glance. The South Park resident said he drove a similar Morris in the ’60s.
“It got wrecked, and I couldn’t find parts for it,” he lamented.
Next to his car was the pristine 1962 Chevrolet Impala belonging to Gerald Gilchrist of Bethel Park, who also has owned a vintage Dodge and DeSoto, along with a ’55 Ford pickup.
Bringing a 1966 Studebaker Commander from Washington were Marc and Sonja Hobbs, which happens to be one of three of the same model they own, all produced in Canada in the last year for the make. And one of them has been in the family since 1967:
“I took my driver’s test in it,” Marc reported. “I grew up with them. My dad was friends with the local Studebaker dealer.”
Sonja likes them, too.
“They’re different cars,” she said. “You don’t see them all the time.”