They've traveled the world pursuing their interests in vintage cars, but a pair of local enthusiasts will have only short drives with their 1928 Auburn and LaSalle to attend the Antique Automobile Club of America's National Spring Meet during the April 3-6 Food Lion AutoFair at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Clay Thomas, a retired mechanical engineer living in Charlotte, and Russell Rogers, a retired dentist from Matthews, met in 1969 when a mutual friend suggested they all ride together to a car show in Pennsylvania. The three men and their wives enjoyed that first journey so much that traveling together to shows became a tradition, and the group eventually toured vintage car collections throughout Europe.

In 1973 Thomas bought a 1928 Auburn Phaeton that was, in his words, "a basket case." The once-luxurious car, built at the Auburn plant in Auburn, Ind., had served as the company's New York Automobile Salon display model in 1928. From its inception in 1900, the company earned a reputation for magnificent styling, a proud heritage and advanced engineering for a clientele that could afford such things. The Great Depression and hard economic times that followed put an end to the marque in 1936.

The 1928 Auburn's first owners-a married couple from Indianapolis-were so taken with the car's looks that they purchased it as it sat on the New York show floor and drove it home to Indianapolis. They kept the car in immaculate condition and drove it until the start of World War II in 1941. Sometime during the next quarter-century, the garage housing the Auburn collapsed, severely damaging the stylish, handcrafted bodywork and it was sold to a neighbor who had admired it in its better days.

The Auburn's second owner did little more than disassemble the damaged body, which is the condition it was in when Thomas towed it back to North Carolina.

Over the next three years, the body's wood skeleton was replaced, sheet metal was repaired or created from scratch, the straight-eight engine was rebuilt and all mechanical parts were refurbished.

Thomas drove and showed the big four-door for the first time in 1976 and received a second-place trophy for his efforts. Then he won another second-place.and another. With input from show judges, Thomas realized his paint and bodywork were preventing the Auburn from taking home the big trophies, so he disassembled the body and repainted everything. The Auburn's new look must have worked, because it received a first-place award at its debut show during, coincidentally, one of the early AutoFairs at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Meanwhile, his friend Rogers was driving a 1934 Cadillac limousine, but had his heart set on something grander from the late 1920s. He located a 1928 LaSalle Convertible Coupe in the mid-1980s that had been pulled from a California junkyard and restored with a red-and-black paint scheme.

Although General Motors only produced the LaSalle from 1927 to 1940, the luxury car's impact on automotive styling would be felt throughout the industry. LaSalle was created to fit between Buick and Cadillac on GM's carefully constructed brand ladder, but the combination of designer Harley Earl's European-inspired bodies, innovative two-tone paint schemes and a 303-cubic-inch flathead V-8 engine robbed the more-expensive brand of sales.

When it arrived from the West Coast, Rogers' 1928 LaSalle was attractive but did not meet the high standards set by Thomas' Auburn. After several years of driving it to shows, Rogers restored the convertible coupe to its original condition, painting the body a deep tomato red and the fenders maroon.

Thomas and Rogers will display their 1928 Auburn and LaSalle with more than 600 of the country's most beautiful classic cars during the Antique Automobile Club of America's National Spring Meet which takes place on Saturday, April 5, during the four-day Food Lion AutoFair. The historic "show within a show" will be hosted by the Hornets Nest Region of the AACA.

The spring Food Lion AutoFair annually attracts more than 160,000 visitors. It features more than 50 car club displays; more than 10,000 vendor spaces that offer a plethora of automotive parts and memorabilia; and a collector car auction conducted by Tom Mack. More than 1,500 collectible vehicles of all makes and models will be available for sale in the car corral that rings the 1.5-mile superspeedway.

Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults while children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5.

For information, contact the Lowe's Motor Speedway events department at (704) 455-3205.