DANVILLE — A small, 1951 Ford pickup truck-turned-rat rod became an object of affection for Porsha Wilhelm at age seven. Its “real,” original look — mixing its reddish patina texture and rust with a small but powerful 312 cubic centimeter engine — struck her fancy. She was a child, the rat rod was also small, and a bond formed.
Porsha, 11, has grown up around vintage cars and hot rods, as her dad, Danny Wilhelm, owns Masterpiece Classic Cars Legacy in Danville. It’s his business to buy and sell classic cars. But when her dad sold her favorite rat rod four years ago to a buyer in Portsmouth, Ohio, he immediately learned how much it had meant to his daughter, if he hadn’t known it already.
“I locked the car doors and wouldn’t let him in,” said Porsha.
Porsha, the youngest of Danny and wife Karleen’s three children, became smitten with vintage classic cars and car shows ever since she was a handful of years old. Her room, full of hot rod posters, reflects it. She and Danny have driven together in cars and hot rods of all types.
“She’s an absolute car nut,” Danny said. “If it has wheels on it, she wants to get in and drive it (with me).”
Acknowledging that he nearly broke his daughter’s heart with the sale of the truck, he set about to right his wrong. He traced the car from Portsmouth to Lexington, Kentucky, to Louisville, Kentucky, and then to South Carolina. Porsha’s beloved rat rod went through several owners, but none seemed interested in selling it back.
Danny offers a Classic Car Cruise-In show each year in Danville on the same date, June 15, and as many as 200 cars are known to drive by. Last year, something happened that made his — and Porsha’s — day. Or, in her case, it made her year.
“We were out there on Main Street, directing traffic, when what rolled around the corner but that little Ford pickup truck,” he said.
Porsha was elated at the reunion, so there was no way her dad would let the rat rod go this time. He traded a “chop-top” Ford to get her beloved auto back. They started putting a lot of work in on her rat rod together — its features now include pinstriping, with the word “Peanuts,” her nickname, in blue, on the doors. It’s her favorite color. She painted part of the engine, the exhaust manifolds, and the carburetor intake. She helped her dad repair leaking valve cover gaskets.
“She picked everything out that’s on this pickup,” he said. “It looks old but it’s got all-built new motor, suspension, and drive train. And it makes it fun to drive.”
Porsha can also describe every special aspect of the car, from the removable Plexiglas windows to a switch that pops open either door (it does not have door handles) to a special horn called a “woody whistle.”
Always one who loves the feel of the open road beside her dad, Porsha and Danny attend many car shows — as she spends considerable time finding ones they can take time out to attend. This past spring she asked about the Run to the Sun Car Show in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
“She said, ‘It happens to be spring break. Is there any way I can go?’ her dad said. “We stretched a four-day show out to 11 days.” And that’s fine, he added, because there is nothing about a car show Porsha doesn’t like or want to learn more about.
“I like the big sound of cars roaring,” Porsha said. She also likes to sit on top of her rat rod and watch the “burn-out” contests, where cars line up and spin on their tires.
She doesn’t sleep in her hot rod, but “she probably would if we let her,” Karleen said.
The Myrtle Beach Car Show trip turned the corner for Porsha in another important way. She received a trophy for a Young Builders Award, what her father said is the equivalent of a young hot rodders’ honor.
As for her future career, 11 years old is awfully young to decide when one hasn’t yet entered the sixth grade. But Porsha said she wants to be part of car shows, and help to carry on the family business. Danny’s father actually started the business many years ago, in Indianapolis, before passing on five years ago. Danny added the word “Legacy” to the name when he opened his doors six years ago, making it “Masterpiece Classic Cars Legacy.”
“And it’s been going great ever since,” he said, looking at his prized 1967 yellow Stingray, one of several cars he keeps as his own private collection.