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Motor oil in the veins

"I've had a passion for old cars since I was just a kid," said Orlo Gilbert.

The 72-year-old car enthusiast remembers the day he set eyes on his beauty -- a 1914 Willys Overland.

"I was four years old, sitting in the right hand side while my brother drove it ... or tried."

Gilbert says cars back then were one-of-a kind, and if you didn't know how to drive each one, it was a mistake to get in it.

"He had it all smashed up just driving it home," said Gilbert.

The car, once bought new by Gilbert's great-grandfather, was already considered a classic back in 1943, when Gilbert was four.

"He must have been the man of the town in Spearfish, S.D. because where model T's were selling for $300, this one sold for $1,100," said Gilbert with a shine in his eyes.

"It had all the fancy trimmings, an electric starter, electric lights -- it even had a dashboard light."

The fancy ride of 1914 morphed into a pile of neglected junk during the 1940s and 50s, as it sat rotting on a farm, parts scattered.

"Then I finally got a bee in my bonnet in 1961 to rescue the car," said Gilbert.

Finding original parts proved very difficult, but a lot of searches around the U.S. and Europe, some custom-made parts, and four years of tender loving care, led to a total restoration of the 1914 Willys Overland.

"It now looks just like it did when it came out of the factory," said Gilbert.

This means Gilbert and his love (not to be confused with whom he calls his very patient and understanding wife) will be able to participate in this year's Antique Automobile Club of America's central division spring meet.

The regional event (there are five throughout the U.S.) is being held in Detroit Lakes this year, which will be only the second time the city has hosted the event -- the first time was in 2007.

"We have 101 antique cars coming from all over," said Gilbert, who is chairman of the Lakes Chapter of the Minnesota Region of AACA.

Starting Thursday, Detroit Lakes will be sprinkled with old cars, as owners gear up for the event, which takes place Saturday, June 11 from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Seventy judges will descend upon the Detroit Lakes High School Field at 11 a.m. to meticulously inspect each car for authenticity.

There are three categories -- the first is simply a driver participation group.

These are drivers who just want to show their car without it being judged.

The second category is called the historical preservation of original features.

This is where there is no restoration whatsoever allowed.

Whatever condition they're in, they're eligible to be shown, as long as they weren't modified.

"Even if they're beaters and never been fixed up, the point is to show them how they looked from the factory."

Owners can put new tires on, new water hoses, new batteries, upkeep the brakes, and other essential things to make the vehicles run, but no reupholstering or painting.

The third category is "point judged."

Those are restored vehicles, meaning owners can do whatever they need to do to completely restore it, as long as they are building it back to how it once was coming out of the factory, like Gilbert did.

Judges look for originality, so if they see something on the car that isn't original, points are taken off, and the vehicle may not qualify to be in the AACA.

"If it can pass AACA scrutiny, it dramatically increases the value of the car; it's really worth everything you've put into it," said Gilbert.

He and the other antique car owners (there are 21 locally, the rest are from around the Midwest) are hoping people come out to see, touch, and maybe even sit in some of the cars.

Gilbert says he thinks the most interesting time to come out will be Friday night, when the cars are being driven onto the field.

"It's one thing to see these cars in museums, said Gilbert, "but it's a whole different experience to see it drive down the road -- no matter how much money I've put into the engine of my car, it still rattles and bangs like it's 1912."

The event is free and open to the public.

To find out more, call Orlo Gilbert at 218-847-1415.