Greenwood Native Garry Gilbert Competes on National Auto Show Stage
Writer / Seth Johnson
For Garry Gilbert, restoring classic cars is simply a part of life. As a matter of fact, the Greenwood native won his first World of Wheels competition as a sophomore in high school.
“My brother-in-law found a pretty clean ‘64 Mustang,” Gilbert says. “I ended up buying it at the young age of 15 and it was my first car. I did a little bit of work to it here and there, and the next thing I knew we entered it in World of Wheels. It got judged and it won. From there I was hooked.”
After this early success, Gilbert and his father (who had a ’67 Shelby of his own) traveled the country together, showing their cars at International Show Car Association (ISCA) events. This was where Gilbert first got the idea that he wanted to one day tour the circuit with a high-end car and be competitive.
“It gets in your blood and you just enjoy it,” Gilbert says. “Seeing those other high-end cars and going for the championship – that was something that was always in the back of my mind. Like, ‘Man, I’d love to be able to do the tour someday – travel, do all these shows and have a chance of winning the class.’”
After spending some time drag racing competitively, Gilbert eventually got back into the car restoration game, but in a slightly different fashion. This time he was putting on his own event instead, which started out in Southport before moving to Greenwood. Known as the Rock & Roll Car Show, Gilbert’s event quickly became one of the largest one-day car shows in the state of Indiana.
“One thing led to another and it just all fell into place,” Gilbert says. “I started picking up some sponsors. Next thing I knew, I’d put together this show and everybody seemed to enjoy it. I followed it up the following year and the following year, and it just kept getting bigger and bigger.”
While the Rock & Roll Car Show became hugely successful, Gilbert began to realize it was taking him away from his family, which led him to end the event after its seventh year.
“It was a lot of work 365 days a year,” Gilbert says. “It hit me that it was taking me away from my family, so I just decided to step back because family is more important to me.”
More recently, Gilbert has restored a pair of 1968 Shelbys, with support from Pete Wojtowicz. With the first of these Shelbys, Gilbert made a rather quick restoration, which made quite an impression on Wojtowicz.
“He contacted me and said, ‘Hey Garry, I’ve got a couple things I’d like for you to look at, to see if you can make this car a little bit better,’” Gilbert says. “We got it done for him, and he was amazed that I turned it around in six months. We showed it and it did very well.”
After showing the car at a few shows, Gilbert and Wojtowicz were contacted by the brother of the car’s original owner, who had come across photos of the restored Shelby online and was interested in purchasing it.
“He said, ‘I’d like to have this car back – would you consider selling it?’” Gilbert says. “That was on a Saturday. Next thing I know, he’s here on Wednesday to buy the car. I opened the garage door, he walked in, and it just brought tears to his eyes because he was with his brother in ’68 when he bought it brand new off the showroom floor. He said it looked just like it did in ’68 and he couldn’t believe it.”
Wojtowicz sold the car to the man, but in the meantime he’d found another 1968 Shelby for Gilbert to work on.
“It was already in a body shop getting restored,” Gilbert says of the second 1968 Shelby. “That owner got ill and passed away with cancer, so Pete ended up making a deal with the body shop on that. The more and more time I got to spend on it, cleaning it and polishing it, it just really made the paint start to pop. It turned out to be a really good car.”
Currently, Gilbert is in the process of competing in the 2022 ISCA AutoRama/World of Wheels tour with the aforementioned 1968 Shelby. Gilbert and his car are currently in first place, with the finals slated for January of 2023 in Cincinnati.
“That’s the big daddy,” Gilbert says of the finals. “If I win that, I’ll be in heaven.”
In reflecting on what he enjoys most about competing in these car shows, Gilbert says it all comes down to the people.
“I love traveling around and being able to take that car and unload it,” Gilbert says. “Every car has a story, and I just meet a lot of good people that way.”