In a Cave Creek, Ariz., garage, a 1948 Chrysler Town and Country — souped-up with a Dodge Viper engine — sits quietly, without a driver.
The “woody” convertible was a favorite of hot-rod enthusiast Gary Meadors, founder of Goodguys Rod & Custom Association, who died of natural causes Sunday at age 76 in his Phoenix-area home, the association said.
Known for his laid-back, approachable personality and passion for classic cars, Meadors is a household name among hot-rod hobbyists nationwide. His California-based association has organized more than 700 car shows and has grown to include more than 70,000 members.
While Meadors’ death sent ripples through the national hot-rod community, his absence also will be felt locally — at two Goodguys car shows held in Scottsdale each year, at his neighborhood Starbucks in north Phoenix and at Scottsdale Stadium, where he often watched his beloved San Francisco Giants play during spring training.
His legacy of sharing hot rods with millions of fans through the U.S., however, endures.
Meadors started Goodguys more than 30 years ago in Northern California before taking the group national in 1987. Today, the organization holds 21 hot-rod shows each year, including its signature West Coast Nationals in Pleasanton, Calif.
In Arizona, Goodguys typically draws more than 75,000 fans to its Southwest Nationals held each November at WestWorld of Scottsdale. The group’s Spring Nationals event, also in Scottsdale each March, is “growing like a weed” and draws 30,000 to 40,000 spectators, Goodguys spokesman John Drummond said.
Meadors stepped down as president of the association in 2009, appointing his son Marc Meadors (pictured with Gary) in his place.
Meadors grew up in Dinuba, Calif., as the son of a farmer but took an interest in cars from an early age, customizing a 1947 Plymouth when he was just 16, according to a statement provided by Goodguys. He trimmed a few inches off the suspension coils to make the car ride low.
“The main thing in his eyes was the car had to be low, and it had to be fun to cruise,” said Drummond, who worked with Meadors for more than two decades. “He used to talk about the sensation of being in an old car. He said you could feel it rumble, feel the wind blowing through your hair.”
Meadors put on his first car show in Lodi, Calif., in 1973, and his last was November’s show in Scottsdale. The Phoenix area’s car-centered culture, full of hot-rod clubs and enthusiasts, was one of the reasons Meadors moved to Arizona in the late 2000s, Drummond said. Meadors and his wife, Marilyn, spent about eight months of the year here, Drummond said.
“He was a great ambassador for the old car hobby,” Drummond said. “Because he was so genuine. People can sniff out a real car guy or a phony guy who is just in it for the promotion. He loved bringing people together to celebrate cars.”
Meadors’ 1948 Chrysler Town and Country earned the attention of fellow enthusiast and former Tonight Show host Jay Leno, who featured Meadors for about 15 minutes on his CNBC show, Jay Leno’s Garage.
Meadors is enshrined in multiple hot-rod halls of fame and in 2014 received a “Legends of Hot Rodding” award from the International Car Show Association. He entered the Bonneville 200 MPH Club, which has about 800 members, in 1994 when he drove a Chrysler Streamliner to a top speed of 223-mph, according to Goodguys.
In its simplest form, hot-rodding consists of stripping down a car to its bare essentials to maximize performance, Drummond said. But it’s also an outlet for creativity, art and low-tech manual labor, he said.
“Hot rods are loud, intimidating and a lot of fun to drive,” Drummond said. “Through his network of auto shows, Meadors shared that hobby with literally millions of people.”
Goodguys annual events take place in 12 states, including Texas, New York, Iowa, Colorado and North Carolina. The organization’s headquarters remains in Pleasanton.
Meadors is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Marilyn; brother, Craig, of Clovis, Calif.; and two sons — Marc, of Alamo, Calif., and Marty, of El Dorado Hills, Calif.