AUBURN – Kevin Jia’s online search for model cars led him to stories about the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival.
“It’s really hard to miss if you’re into this kind of stuff,” the self-described car enthusiast said.
The accountant stood with his wife, Fiona Hu, on the Parade of Classics parade route early Saturday afternoon. They flew in from Dallas specifically to visit the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum, attend the annual festival and “feel the atmosphere,” he said.
The couple, both 31, were among 150,000 to 200,000 visitors who will flock to this small northeast Indiana city this Labor Day weekend to drool over cars that were built as big as boats back in the day.
The festivities are accompanied by a four-day car auction hosted by Auctions America at the Auburn Auction Park. The festival and auction are once a year. But the museum is open to visitors year round.
“I learned about the museum a long time ago,” said Jia, a native of China. “It’s been on my bucket list.”
For other folks, securing a front-row seat to Saturday’s parade was as easy as walking out onto their front porch.
Douglas and Susan Kelley were among them. They’ve lived in their Auburn home for about 40 years.
“Where else can you go in the world and see Auburns, Cords and Duesenbergs for free?” Douglas Kelley asked.
The couple had heard the festival described as Indiana’s second-largest annual event, trailing only the Indianapolis 500.
“I don’t know how it can get bigger every year, but it does,” he said.
“My favorite is the Duesenberg,” Douglas Kelley added. “I’d love to have one of those. But I don’t have a million dollars to buy one.”
Steve Poor, 55, drives up from New Haven every few years to watch the parade.
“I just love the old cars, really gorgeous old cars,” he said. “I really like the mid-’30s Cords, which they’ve got a lot of this year. The Duesenbergs are pretty spectacular looking, too.”
Kim Renz also loves the Duesenbergs. He was sitting in his folding chair waiting for the sweet rides to drive by.
“The bands are good, too,” said his wife, Mary Renz. “They get your spirits lifted, you know?”
The couple, who live between LaOtto and Avilla, lamented that newer cars don’t have the same style as the classic models.
Terry and Eileen Ludos, a Garrett couple, finally made it to the parade this year.
“We usually stick to home because it’s such a madhouse here in Auburn,” said Eileen Ludos, 57.
But they agreed it was “absolutely” worth dealing with the traffic and will probably come again.
Eleanor Guthrie attends the parade every year. This year, grown son was by her side.
“One thing I like is the sound of the motors,” the Fort Wayne woman said. “Some are absolutely silent as they go past. And some have this neat rumble.”
Guthrie, 80, was impressed by the number of participants in Friday night’s Cruise In, which attracts collector cars from various eras, including 1960s muscle cars.
“I’ve never seen so many cars in Auburn before,” she said.
Mercedes Aguilar is another regular at Auburn’s annual automobile parade. Just don’t expect the 12-year-old to get excited about the cars.
It’s the marching band and show choir that hold her interest – and some of the cars. “I like blue cars,” she said.
The Garrett girl also enjoys shopping in downtown Auburn during the festival and getting a blueberry and green apple shaved ice – yes, mixed together – from Hang 10 Tropical Ice.
“It’s really popular,” she confided.
Mercedes is just as definitive about what she doesn’t like. She doesn’t like it when kids at school call her Mercedes Benz, inspired by a lyric in a song their gym teacher plays while everyone warms up at the beginning of class.
But she plans to show them. Someday, Mercedes wants to be rich enough to own her own Mercedes-Benz.
In blue, of course.