Craig Reifsnider and grandson Caedan with Craig’s 1955 Chevy Belaire • Photo by Dave Gorgon

Classic car buff inspired by movie wins trophy at Taylor show  

Dave Gorgon

Craig Reifsnider’s 1955 Chevy Belaire isn’t his first classic car, but it’s the one he dreamt about owning since seeing actor Harrison Ford’s character driving one in the 1973 movie “American Graffiti,” which was based on a life in the early 1960s.

The Belaire earned the lifelong Wyandotte resident the top prize for “best classic custom” at a July 15 car show during Music & Art in the Gardens at the Taylor Conservatory & Botanical Gardens.

“I just love that car,” said the 58-year-old Reifsnider, who has owned classic cars since he was 16. “I saw it in the movie. Wow, it just hit me. I said, ‘man that’s me.’”

Reifsnider waited until two years ago to buy the Belaire. He spent a year redoing the engine as part of so-called “therapy” after undergoing knee surgery, spending $7,000 along the way. The Taylor car show was the first he entered with the ’55 Chevy. He was planning to attend the next show at the site, set for July 29.

“My dad (the late Gilbert) was always interested in cars and taught me to appreciate cars,” Reifsnider said. “I’m a Chevy man. I’ve always driven a Chevy. My dad was a guy who always said that if you treat cars right, they will treat you right.”

At age 13, Reifsnider went to work washing boats at the former Showdown Marine in Wyandotte in the 1970s and then “got the itch” to learn about engines. The business included a marina, jet boats, offshore racing and much more.

Showdown was owned by Sonny Gandee Jr., son of the late former Detroit Lions player Sonny Gandee who lived Downriver for five decades. Sonny Jr. would marry Reifsnider’s sister Cathy.

“I’ve been around engines my whole life,” Reifsnider said. “Between my father and my brother-in-law, they pointed me to what I’m doing now.”

He said the Belaire is the fifth classic car he’s owned, following a 1986 Monte Carlo SS, a 1970 Cadillac Eldorado, a 1972 Chevy pickup short-bed truck and a 1972 Monte Carlo, admitting he’s into “big blocks.”

“They were my classic cars,” Reifsnider said. “I drove them mostly on weekends and really took care of them.”

He said most of his whole family was into classic cars and many have been members of car clubs, adding “at one time, we could have had a car club by ourselves.” He also drives in the Downriver Cruise on Fort Street.

The bug has hit the next two generations of his family already. Son Christopher owns a white ’86 Monte Carlo – “the same car I owned many years ago.”

“I always told him I really loved those cars,” Reifsnider said. “He grew up knowing that. It’s why he owns one now.”

Six-year-old grandson Caedan, son of Christopher and Ashley, “will be a car freak, too.”

“My grandson goes crazy for cars,” Reifsnider said. “He comes down to clean Papa’s car or if there’s any work to do on Papa’s car, he’s there.”

Of course, it’s kind of inevitable, with initials like these: Craig’s initials are CAR (Craig Allan Reifsnider) as are his son and grandson, the latter two on purpose. Besides Craig Alan Reifsnider, there is Christopher Alan Reifsnider and Caedan Alan Reifsnider.

Born car freaks.

Caedan was on hand for his grandfather’s trophy presentation in Taylor during Music & Art in the Gardens, which is a concert series that runs Wednesdays during the summer. The unique trophy was created by metal artist and car show promoter Shaggy LeBlanc.

“That trophy I got I think is the best trophy I own,” said Reifsnider, a field service mechanic for United Rentals and husband of 36 years to wife Jeanne. “It’s really cool. It’s handmade. I love that trophy.”

Like his cars, it’s a classic.

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