Every summer Kevin and Karen Dombrowski, of Shelby Township, attend car shows in metro Detroit and across the state with their  1960 Chrysler Imperial, left; 1965 Buick Riviera, center; and 1947 Ford Coupe.

Every summer Kevin and Karen Dombrowski, of Shelby Township, attend car shows in metro Detroit and across the state with their 1960 Chrysler Imperial, left; 1965 Buick Riviera, center; and 1947 Ford Coupe.

Photo by Erin Sanche

Behind the Wheel: ‘I love each of them for different reasons’

By: Maria Allard | Metro | Published June 19, 2024


SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Kevin Dombrowski always knows which classic car shows to attend with his wife, Karen.

He keeps track of them on an Excel spreadsheet, and many of the couple’s summer weekends are spent at car events at their favorite Michigan sites.

From metro Detroit to the western side of the state — and everywhere in between — the Dombrowskis can be spotted mingling with the other car buffs during cruising season.

The only challenge is deciding which car to take: the 1960 Chrysler Imperial, the 1965 Buick Riviera or the 1947 Ford Coupe. When Kevin purchased each vehicle, he didn’t want the cars to sit in the garage. The idea was to get out and drive them as much as possible.

“It’s about the cars, but it’s really about the people,” Kevin said. “You meet all sorts of interesting people.”

“It’s a really good group of people,” Karen agreed.

Cruisin’ Hines in Westland, the Mount Clemens Cruise and Greenfield Village’s Motor Muster in Dearborn are among the many car shows for the Shelby Township residents. Vicksburg and St. Ignace also are regular haunts. Many times, Kevin and Karen take leisurely drives along scenic back roads instead of main highways to get to or from their destinations.

“We take the country roads. With the sun going down, it’s so nice and relaxing,” Karen said. “It takes the hectic out of the city. You’re floating down the country roads.”

Each car is special in its own way. For starters, the Ford Coupe is just like the one Kevin’s dad had when he was a child.

“He passed away in 1981 when I was 7,” Kevin said.

Kevin holds on to plenty of under-the-hood memories, including the times he played junior mechanic helping his dad, Tony Dombrowski, doing upkeep on the Coupe.

“I would work on the car with him. Then we would go to car shows,” Kevin said. “As a kid, I remember bouncing around in the back seat. The suspensions back then didn’t have shocks.”

Kevin had his dad’s car for many years and was in the process of having it restored. However, too many obstacles got in the way, so Kevin bought a Coupe that looked just like his dad’s. He even kept some of the original parts as a momento.

“The intent of the car is still there,” Kevin said. “When I see it, my dad is still there.”

Because his father spent so much time tinkering with the Ford, it was jokingly named “The Mistress.” Keeping with tradition, Kevin’s orangish-red Ford Coupe also has taken on the same moniker.

“I love each of them for different reasons. The Ford reminds me of my dad,” Kevin said. “In the sun, you see the orange. In the evening, it looks more red.”

“It’s a hot rod,” Karen said. “You feel every little bump.”

“The Riviera is such a pleasure to drive. You just get in the car and go. The other thing that I like about the Riviera, it’s everyone’s second-favorite car,” said Kevin, describing how car enthusiasts who grew up with either Chrysler, Ford or GM often stick with those models when they become adults. “The Riviera welcomes everyone. It’s like the girl next door. You don’t see them as often. That, to me, was one of the things that was sort of special.”

For Kevin, the Imperial — with its Alaskan white exterior — is a throwback to his “favorite era of cars of the late ’50s and early ’60s.”

“The big fins and the chrome, I’ve always been in love with that style of car,” he said.

Kevin first spotted the Imperial a couple of years ago at the Packard Proving Grounds Historic Site in Shelby Township. He knew the gentleman, Bill, who owned it and said, “If you ever think about selling that car, just remember me.” About a year later, Bill sold it to Kevin.

“He’s always buying and selling,” Kevin said.

Kevin brought the Imperial home Dec. 22, 2022, right before a snowstorm. There was just enough time for him and Karen to rearrange the garage to fit in their new 18 1/2-foot automobile that is 6 inches wider than most cars.

Kevin said the original owner of the Chrysler Imperial is a woman who lives in New Jersey. He’s tried to get in touch with her, but hasn’t been successful yet.

“She owned the car until 1979 and then she sold it to a dealership,” he said.

For Karen, the Riviera is her favorite of the three.

“It rides like a dream,” she said. After being at a car show all day, she likes to fall asleep in the passenger seat on the way home. “It floats down the road at 55 (mph).”

Each car attracts a different crowd.

“The ’47, it’s the older, gray guys. The Riviera draws a very different niche of people. Many people don’t know the Riviera. It’s a rather uncommon car. It’s the perfect balance between muscle and luxury,” Kevin said. “The Imperial draws women. It oozes luxury and extravagance. It is a challenge to drive because it is so large.”

Kevin is a member of the Detroit Area Only Twisted Axle Car Club, which meets at 7 p.m. every Friday at Gratiot Coney Island, 28560 Gratiot Ave. in Roseville. All are welcome.

“It’s a growing club,” Kevin said. “We’re always talking about getting out and driving.”

The Detroit Area Only Twisted Axle Car Club is accepting registration for the second annual Track Day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Ubly Dragway. For registration details, text or call Kevin at (586) 822-7968.

Do you own a vehicle with an interesting history? Contact Staff Writer Maria Allard at allard@candgnews.com or at (586) 498-1045, and you could be featured in an upcoming Behind the Wheel.