A smudge must have caught the sun in the chrome. Zane Warner, 80, dabbed his thumb on the tip of his tongue and wiped the grill of his Rolls-Royce the way a mother would clean her child's face.
He used a red chamois to dust the rest of the hood, the trademark gleaming angel at the front, then brought the cloth slowly down the side of the car toward the trunk. Behind Warner, a plethora of cleaning products occupied the seat of his walker.
A passer-by declared the 1969 Silver Shadow a beauty.
"Most Rolls are," Warner said without taking his eyes from the car.
He has another, a 1980 Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible, and a menagerie of nine more vintage and antique cars in his garage back in Lakeland.
He brought the Silver Shadow and his bright yellow 1974 Corvette Stingray here, to the Zephyrhills Fall AutoFest that runs through Sunday, to be auctioned off.
About 100 acres of Festival Park was covered Thursday in 20th-century steel. Cars worth $15,000 and more lounged in the auction lot. Across the way was the car corral, where people sold their own cars. Between them was the swap meet, an auto parts flea market: Tables of headlamps, hubcaps, camshafts and rusty Gulf gas station signs.
Customers wound through the aisles of antique parts. They took photos in front of muscle cars. Hardly any inquired about the price.
Some stood in front of the hoods and fantasized about lottery winnings. They'd like to buy, if they had the money, but no. These lots are a playground for older, richer men. The kind who can drop $15,000, $100,000, upwards of $1 million in a day. "The stock brokers," says Warner, who used to own a company printing circuit boards in Silicon Valley until he sold it and retired.
In the car corral, Dick Pasquale, 79, sat astride his mobility scooter next to his shimmering blue 1953 Pontiac Chieftain he bought two years ago.
He said he and his friends never had cars like this earlier in life because "we didn't have the money when we were younger."
Just then, Alex Tarsus, 61, from the Leeds borough of West Yorkshire, England, asked Pasquale for the asking price of the car.
"Twenty-five nine," Pasquale said.
Tarsus bent down to look at the car's Indian-head hubcaps. He stuck his digital camera through the window to snap photos of the blue and white interior. He said he has come to stay in his New Port Richey home around this time for the past four years for the AutoFest.
This year, he was looking for a 1950s American car to drive when he comes to the States. Classic American cars are rare and trendy in Europe, he said. And they're cheaper here. A $7,000 car here could cost 15,000 pounds — about $24,000 U.S. — in the United Kingdom, said Tarsus, who owned a textile mill back home before retiring.
Some don't understand. They've asked Warner how he can keep all these cars cooped up in his garage.
His son-in-law, Jay Lewis, answered for him Thursday: "You're either a car guy or you're not."
For men like Warner, this is isn't for profit. It's a hobby, some say an addiction.
Asked how many cars he's owned, he laughed. "Over my lifetime? Oh, I've never stopped to think about it."
Before another car show in October, he promised his daughter he was done buying cars. He came back with three.
"If I like the looks of them or know a bit about the reputation," Warner said, "I buy them."
That's what brought him to the AutoFest. To try again to cull his collection. He has a brittle back now and can't stay steady on his feet too long. He uses a walker for longer distances. He can't work on his own cars anymore.
So, he takes out his cloth, and takes the smudges off the chrome.
Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.