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Sue Stang, East Bethel Classic Car Lover

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My Minnesota: Classic car roots go deep

  • March 8, 2014 - 2:56 PM

The Twin Cities Auto Show starts this weekend, and if it strikes you as nothing but rows of cars as shiny and indistinguishable as gummi bears, you might be a classic car person like Sue. She works at Route 65 Classics up in Ham Lake, helping people find cars they’ve always loved or drove long ago. Slide into the front seat and you’re 20 again.

Her car roots go back to growing up in Excelsior, where her parents ran the Smack Drive-in movie theater. One regular “had an old Cadillac convertible with huuuge fins. They amazed me.”

As well they should: those were vehicles with style and heft and presence. She learned to drive in a ’54 DeSoto — “the steering wheel was twice as big as me” — and was the proud owner of “a 64 Buick station wagon. My girlfriends and I painted it red white and blue with spray cans.” That was the first. Many more: “A ’62 Super Sport, a ’69 GTO, I could on and on.”

“I go back to one of the original members of the Southern Cruisers, in Apple Valley. We used to meet on Friday night at the parking lot of a Perkins, find a destination to cruise to and have a burger and a malt.” Did other drivers slow down to admire the parade of automotive beauty? Yes. “They’re different. Not like new cars. Today you don’t know if it’s a Toyota or a Nissan. The old cars had style; they were a breed of their own.”

Sue notes that collectors range from people who just want “something to cruise to Dairy Queen in” to the tinkerers who work on “project cars” in their spare time. If you decide to join the ranks of classic car collectors, you’ll have a large community to help out: Minnesota’s “Back to the Fifties” annual show, she says, has a larger attendance than anything in California. Think of that. It’s like learning L.A. is the lefse capital of the world.

Speaking of clichés, isn’t the standard image of the classic car enthusiast a greaser with a pack of Camels rolled up in the sleeve of a white T-shirt? You know, a guy.

“I’m pretty much a tomboy when it comes to that.”

When people think of classics, they usually skip the shameful period of American cars, right? Not a lot of call for Gremlins? “There’s a big AMC club. I have a ’71 Javelin project car I’m working on, and I’ve had people inquire on that car from Germany and Australia.”

Whatever the car, there’s someone who loves it. “A friend of mine was all excited because he got the car of his dreams — and it’s an ’80s-something Toyota Corolla.”

It might not get the oohs and ahhs of an old Caddy, but everything’s a classic eventually. The Auto Show today is the classic car showroom of 2064.

JAMES LILEKS



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