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Gather 'Round, Gearheads

Annual car show expected to draw 500 cruisers.

An unmistakable sign of autumn is quickly approaching, as members of the Clifton Lions Club and Northern Virginia Custom Cruisers are busy working on the Labor Day Car Show, set to take over Clifton on Monday, Sept. 3.

"This year, we've got four of the cars from 'American Graffiti,'" said Jim Chesley, who has been orchestrating the event for the past eight years.

The stars of this year's show include a 1932 coupe, a 1955 Chevy, a 1956 Thunderbird and a 1958 Chevy featured in the movie, driven by Ron Howard and Suzanne Somers, among others.

There's even a slight, but admittedly unlikely, chance, that some of the actors from the movie might stop by the car show, Chesley said.

"There's some event in New Jersey some of them are going to, and if they have time they might stop by," he said.

Even without the star power, this year's event is shaping up to be a celebrity in its own right. Chesley said he "did a taping" with CNN last week for a segment that will begin airing twice an hour later this week.

When asked how he arranged to have such well-known cars in little Clifton, Chesley laughed and said simply "contacts."

WHAT BEGAN as a showcase for about 50 cars has grown to a crowd of about 500, as expected for this year, he said. Additionally, with each passing year, Chesley said the event has been able to raise increasing amounts of money for the charities it supports, which change from year to year.

Last year, the event's biggest, raised more than $3,000 for the families of two slain Fairfax County Police Officers. This year, the charities set to benefit from the car show are Life with Cancer, based in Inova Fairfax Hospital; the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and the Old Dominion Eye Bank.

"These are groups that, at some point, touches every family in some way," Chesley said.

The Lions Club will be cooking up grilled goodies, said former club president Darrell O'Busek, who will be enjoying the show from the sidelines this year.

O'Busek, who owns a pair of Corvettes, said he is not as much of a gearhead as he used to be but enjoys seeing his small town filled with car lovers each fall.

Plus, the charities selected to benefit from the show each year are usually aligned with the causes the Lions Club has traditionally favored, including sight, hearing and diabetes.

"It's a great day to kick back and enjoy the cars," he said. "The Lions Club and the Custom Cruisers are really involved in the local community and do a lot locally for people who need help."

Les Driscoll, president of the Custom Cruisers club, said he and his wife Peggy will be bringing their 1967 Olds 442 convertible to the show this year.

"I thoroughly enjoy it," he said. "People really seem to appreciate that we do it for charity."

Seeing the gleam of shiny cars lining the streets of Clifton, ranging from true classics to more modern feats of engineering, is a fun way to end the summer, Driscoll said.

And the owners love the chance to talk about their "babies," he said.

"People really get a lot of enjoyment talking about their cars and walking around to see all the different kinds we have," he added.

A silent auction and raffle will give patrons the chance to win a variety of prizes, including a leather jacket autographed by NASCAR driver Matt Keneseth, who races in the #17 DeWalt car, Driscoll said.

A total of 50 trophies will be given away in a wide range of categories this year, from best engine to best backseat, Chesley said.

"We're just hoping for good weather," he said.