Three years ago Jim Aldrich of Raleigh, N.C., sold a '38 Classic Cadillac at an auction in Hilton Head, S.C., and decided he didn't want to bring home an empty car hauler. Instead of going home empty-handed, Aldrich purchased a 1931 Chrysler Imperial that he used to drive away with the prestigious Food Lion AutoFair Best of Show Award Sunday as the four-day automotive extravaganza concluded at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

"I had an empty trailer coming back," said Aldrich, a member of the Triangle Chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America. "I called my wife and told her I couldn't haul an empty trailer back, so we had to buy another car."

That day Aldrich brought home a 1931 Chrysler Imperial with a LeBaron-style body. Then he went to work on it, doing a lot of the restoration himself.

"I spent a lot of hours on my back underneath cleaning the chassis," Aldrich said.

Aldrich's '31 Chrysler Imperial is brown and orange with dual side mounts, spares with mirrors, a chrome radiator with stone guard, twin driving lights, 145-inch wheel base, 125 horsepower and 380 cubic-inch eight-cylinder engine.

The Chrysler Imperial was introduced in 1926 in an attempt to compete with Cadillac and Lincoln in the lesser luxury car field and was the company's top-of-the-range vehicle for must of its history. Aldrich was drawn to the Imperial for its "Great Gatsby"-era look.

"I've always wanted a Duesenburg, but they cost nearly $1 - 2 million," he said. "The (Chrysler Imperial) has the same ‘Great Gatsby'-era styling."

The Imperial was known as a "gentleman's roadster" of the 1920s-1930s because the "gentleman" would pull up to the country club and a valet would take out the clubs from the side golf club door.

After all of his efforts to restore his "gentleman's roadster," don't expect to see Aldrich back on the auction block with this car anytime soon.

I'm going to hold onto this one for a while," Aldrich said. "We have done so much with it. We take it to the Concours d' Elegance-type shows in Meadow Brook (Mich.) and Amelia Island (Fla.)."

Other specialty award winners were: Aldrich, who also took home the Bob Laidlein Award (Most Original) with the 1931 Chrysler Imperial; Robert Cayton, of Greensboro, N.C., winner of the Cabarrus Cup Award (Most Creative) for his 1934 Chevy Sedan Delivery painted passion purple with flames; Newport, Va., resident Richard Barnette, winner of the Lion Cup Award (Best Paint) for his 1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster; John and Jennifer Finney of Davidson, N.C., winner of Best Restoration by Owner for their silver 1977 Corvette Coupe; and Doug Seybold of Westlake, Ohio, who captured the Mecklenburg Strelitz Award (Ladies' Choice) for his 1940 Buick Roadmaster convertible coupe.

In addition, each of the 56 car clubs participating in the Food Lion AutoFair was judged individually, with a Best of Show picked for each club.

The fall installment of Food Lion AutoFair takes place Sept. 10-13 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Daily admission is $10 for adults and children under the age of 12 are admitted for free. For details, contact the Charlotte Motor Speedway events department at (704) 455-3205.