Brothers converge in St. Paul to show off classic wheels
A late-night “car lot” at the corner of Rice and University, in the southern shadow of the State Capitol building in St. Paul, is where vintage cars and other vehicles are regularly displayed by their owners. The lot was full of car owners on a recent sweltering Friday night, including a small group of middle-aged Black men who regularly meet there on summer weekend nights.
“I’ve been meeting with the guys for six or seven years,” explained Marcel Thompson. “There are between eight and 15 of us. We usually just hang out and enjoy. We are not a car club.”
As he and others gave the MSR a brief tour of their respective cars, Thompson proudly pointed out “the individuality of our cars… I look at my car…my boy Reggie’s car — when they made these cars, they knew they were making something to last. We got some engines and there’s some weight on them. You can go through a brick wall with these cars.”
He has owned for almost 30 years a 1976 “Deuce and a Quarter” — the Buick Electra 225, a full-size premium car built from 1955 to 1990 in six styles. The 225 model in its heyday was Buick’s most popular. The 1975 Electra 225 was 19-plus feet long, the longest Buick ever built before its production was shut down.
“The reason why I got this car [is because] my grandmother had one — a ’76 Unlimited,” said Thompson. “This was the ‘poor man’s Cadillac’ back in the day. The Deuce and a Quarter was a highway car. I like this particular car because of the [rear side] opera windows in it. That was the last year they made them that thick… This is the last of the big ones.
“When I saw this car, I brought it for $300. I put four or five engines in it,” said Thompson, who said he probably spent around $10,000-15,000 “from the paint job, custom seats, rims and the tires. I’m always adding something and keeping the maintenance up.
“The custom interior and the lights on the bottom — I got it looking like in the 1970s. I got curb feelers on it,” along with 30-inch rims and 1¼ inch-whitewalls. “I got the dice in the mirror. I put a tilt [steering wheel] in because it didn’t come with a tilt.
“When that 455 (V8 engine) opens up, she’s sounds really good. I’m learning how to fix it myself. I have a bond with the car now. Nobody can touch my car.”
“I probably get five miles to a gallon. I don’t care,” stated Thompson with a smile.
“Everybody has that one uncle who always bought Cadillacs,” said Reggie Washington, standing by his 1968 Cadillac Calais, a full-size luxury car that GM renamed in 1965. The Calais was “extensively restyled” in 1967 and the 1968 model had a new hood and a three-speed windshield wiper system.
“My [Cadillac] could have been a Coupe De Ville. It got the tilt wheel and air conditioning. The only thing it doesn’t have is leather seats,” continued Washington. “When I bought that car and took it home, [his uncle’s] eyes and face lit up like a little kid when he saw me come home with that. He had one like that — a ’67, all white.”
When he first saw it in 2001, “I had to have it,” he explained. “I was at work in Bloomington and standing in the parking lot. I was standing by that car, and a co-worker said, ‘You’d look good in it.’ Just by chance [the owner] passed by and I talked with him. He was selling that and a motorcycle. He said he needed the money because he had six-month-old twins. I asked him what was he looking for, and he told me. He met me [the next week] and I bought it.
“I can’t say I put $3,000 in it. I had it repainted, had duel exhausts put on it because it came with single exhausts,” and put new fancy tires on it. “That’s the only car I’ve ever had that has not really given me some trouble, other than I replaced the transmission one year and that was $1,500. I put a starter and an alternator on it today. I still have the original hubcaps and rims. I put some miles on it.”
Jada’s 1968 cherry red Oldsmobile Wildcat convertible (the owner didn’t want his last name published) is a full-sized car that came both in a two-door and four-door hardtop and convertible — the Wildcat (1963-70) was considered more sporty than other Buicks. “I got it in 2010 for about $1,500 from this guy who didn’t want it anymore. It took me about a year and a half to get it the way I want it, to recondition it and to redo it, put the paint on, the engine, the interior and the wheels. I’m enjoying it.”
Terry Jones and his father, visiting from Valdosta, Georgia, are working on the son’s 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass. It was a mid-size car produced from 1966 to 1997 and redesigned in 1973. The car was Oldsmobile’s biggest seller in 1974 and 1976, but was downsized by 1977.
“I got this car about 10 years ago,” explained Jones. “A friend of mine had this car and I’d seen it. Five years later, he came and asked me if I wanted to buy it for $1,000. I picked it up and have done everything to it myself by hand.”
Andre Lewis said he paid $700 for his 1973 Cadillac Fleetwood about three years ago. He said, “I got in it and it started right up. I did everything but took it off the frame.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on this story read: For the love of classic cars
See more photos by Charles Hallman below:
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.