Seeking a wide berth, Dan Stacy swung his cavernous 1974 Ford Gran Torino Squire into the parking slot at the Sonic drive-in on College Park Road.

He had wrestled the uncommonly long station wagon, shaded - officially - "medium lime-yellow," to the Lowcountry Muscle Car club cruise-in Dec. 21.

'It's a beautiful model," he said, even while conceding the wagon won't fit in his garage.

Stacy, of Ladson, said that's the only trouble he's had since acquiring the four door. He hasn't even needed to make cosmetic repairs.

"I bought it from the original owner in St. Louis. She was 79 and he was 89. They pulled an RV." The 39-year-old 'boatmobile' was like new except for the owner installing a rebuilt 460-cubic-inch engine and commissioning a paint job - using a standard color for Ford's 1970s era compact Pinto.

Stacy asked the couple if they were selling the behemoth wagon because they were too old to camp, and the answer was no. "'Now we have a Suburban,'" the husband said.

Similar stories - amusing, unusual, noteworthy - reverberated throughout the monthly cruise-in last Saturday. Organizers could be forgiven for a sparse turnout in the heart of the holiday season. But the 4-7 p.m. event lured dozens of car buffs.

Shane Graves, new president of the Lowcountry Muscle Car club, said it's "the economic thing, don't you think?" An improving national financial outlook has brought out more car collectors, he said. Car clubs, too, raise money for charities through fees that owners pay to display their vehicles. "It's an affordable way to help out with something," Graves said.

At least 30 models participated in the cruise-in, from sinewy '60s era Camaros, Mustangs and Cougars to a sleek decade-old Dodge Viper.

"I have champagne taste on a beer budget," quipped Viper owner Brian Jordan, who waited until the sports car's price was low enough to be affordable.

Not all the cruise-in vehicles were muscle cars. A European-style Ford Cobra convertible, touting its blue and silver hue, was parked not far from an early-model Chevrolet wagon with clam shell rear doors and from a classic '61 Impala two-door. At least three 1940 Ford coupes arrived. A handful of street rods took part: Lowcountry Muscle Car and the local Street Rods Unlimited hold monthly cruise-ins a week apart at the Goose Creek fast-food eatery.

"We've got over 100 vehicles (in the muscle car club)," said Gregg Stephenson, who with his wife Linda showed off the club's sole Jaguar.

Stephenson said the rare supercharged 2002 Jag XJR - just 957 were built - proves its muscular credentials. He drives the sedan "fast" but arrow straight on the highway, no switching lanes or zig-zagging.

Held every third Saturday, the cruise-in meets less than a mile from Stratford High School. Yet the auto buffs tend to be an older crowd, tuning and polishing the types of cars they may have first driven as a teen-ager or young adult.

"This is what I grew up with," said Bill Wilson, a Pinopolis car aficionado whose collection has included two Mustang GTs, a Rambler AMX and an early 1960s Ford Falcon.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or