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Cruisin' through life

Bob and Marlene Miller shift into gear as Portland Roadster Show revs up at Expo Center


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Bob and Marlene Miller of Brightwood have entered cars in the Portland Roadster Show 37 times in the past, and they'll enter their 1957 Chevy Nomad again this year. The Portland Roadster Show will be special for two local hot rod fans, Bob and Marlene Miller.

The show, scheduled for March 15 through 17 at the Portland Expo Center, will be the 50th one in which they’ve been involved as volunteers. It also will be the 37th show where they’ve displayed one of their cars.

And it will take place shortly before the 51st anniversary of their marriage — a relationship that began with their shared love of cars.

The two first met 52 years ago on June 30, 1961 — the day Marlene got her driver’s license — while cruising Southwest Broadway in downtown Portland.

Marlene and a friend had driven to a Portland Beavers baseball game, but became bored and decided to head downtown, where she met Bob. She was in her 1955 Ford and he was in a friend’s Chevy.

“When we first met, I was 19 and Bob was 21,” Marlene recalls. “I lived in Gresham, and Bob lived in Portland. When we got married I moved to Portland and later traded in my car for a ‘57 Chevy two-door. We’ve had a lot of Chevys since.”

The Millers are just two of the hundreds of members and supporters of the Multnomah Hot Rod Council who make the roadster show possible. The upcoming one will be the 57th show organized by the council, which was formed to bring car clubs in the region together and encourage alternatives to illegal street racing. This year’s show will feature more than 400 traditional and customized cars, trucks and motorcycles from around the country. Most will range in age from the 1920s to the 1970s.

More than 100 of the entries have never been seen by the public. Many are built by local enthusiasts like the Millers.

Road Knights

Bob and Marlene were married on June 30, 1962, and their enthusiasm for automobiles grew as they raised three children in Boring, where they lived for 32 years before moving to Brightwood about nine years ago.

The couple has displayed a car in the show dozens of times during the past five decades. The cars have included a 1938 Chevy, a 1948 Chevy, a 1955 Chevy Nomad, a 1956 Chevy Corvette and a 1965 Buick. This year they are entering a new version of a station wagon they have displayed 24 times before, a 1957 Chevy Nomad. Previous incarnations have been green, blue and maroon with flames. For the show, it’ll be decked out in raspberry paint. It is close to original mechanically, with a new 283 V8 engine and rebuilt transmission.

Bob says they bought the Nomad as a daily driver in 1963 and drove it across the country several times with their children.

“It never let us down. We had a flat tire once, but that was it. We replaced the original speedometer, so I don’t know how many miles it has. I should add them up some time,” Bob says.

The couple first joined a car club in 1963. It was the Road Knights, a Portland club that is still around. Marlene remembers there were no rules about what kinds of cars the members could own. Most were from the 1940s and 1950s. The club met monthly and organized cruises in the summer.

One of the club members was a guy named Bill Peterson, who also was active in the Multnomah Hot Rod Council. He promoted the Roadster Show and talked Bob and Marlene into helping out. Today, Marlene helps staff the office while Bob inspects the entries, making sure they only have a quarter-tank of gas and the battery cables are disconnected.

“We always have a lot of fun there,” Bob says.

The two are still active in car clubs. Bob is president of the Road Knights and the Northwest Nomads, and vice president of the Multnomah Hot Rod Council. Marlene is secretary of the Road Knights, secretary of the Northwest Nomads and treasurer of the Multnomah Hot Rod Council.

Crusin’ season

This year’s show also will feature special attractions, including famed car customizer George Barris, who designed such legendary TV cars as the General Lee, the Munster Koach, the Green Hornet, the Beverly Hillbillies truck and the original Batmobile, which recently sold for $4.2 million at auction.

Also on display will be the latest creations from well-known Oregon designers Steve Frisbie, Bill Hall, Darryl Schroeder, Mike Scheele and Holton Secret Lab. The show will include a scale auto expo, aftermarket and performance showcase, and Retro-Rock-O-Rama with hot rod music from the past.

New this year will be the Kustom Kulture exhibition, a display of up to 125 1950s and 1960s cars and motorcycles embracing the original spirit of those days. These are not high-end show cars but daily drivers pieced together by owners who enjoy the lifestyle of the early Southern California hot rod culture, including the hairstyles, fashions and music.

Historically, the roadster show has been a charity fundraiser. In the past, it has benefited juvenile diabetes research, suicide prevention and wounded veterans. This year it will help fund automotive scholarships for high school students, suicide prevention programs operated by the Veterans Administration and more.

The roadster show marks the start of the car show and cruise-in season in the Portland area. Two major events are scheduled for May 11. They are the Spring Classic Car Show that occupies several blocks around the Portland Transmission Warehouse, 1016 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., and the open house at Papa’s Toys warehouse, 495 N. Holladay St., in Cornelius.

Bob and Marlene Miller’s original club, the Road Knights, will hold its annual cruise-in and show on June 1 at the Jim Dandy Drive-In, 9626 N.E. Sandy Blvd.