The MSR recently spent a weekend late night with a group of middle-aged Black men who owns cars that made Detroit famous for its styling. The group regularly meets in St. Paul near the State Capitol. Read more of the story below.
Reggie Washington says his 1968 Cadillac Calais’s makes it unique. “When I had it painted, they said it was robin’s egg. Some people call it blue. Some people call it teal. I call it light green. It’s my baby,” he said.
His car once was featured in a Cadillac magazine. A photographer asked if he would take a picture of his car when it was parked at the now-closed Porky’s in St. Paul. “I was able to download it on my phone and show everybody. It made the newsletter,” bragged Washington, who admitted he can “talk all night” about his car.
Washington regularly reminds Marcel Thompson that he once had a “Deuce and a Quarter” as a teenager. Thompson has owned his Buick Electra 225 for about 30 years, he told the MSR.
“This car is older than some of my children,” stated Thompson. “I’m learning how to fix it myself. I love the car to death and I am not going to get rid of it. Nobody can touch my car.” Jada, who didn’t want his last name published, owns a 1968 Oldsmobile Wildcat “drop-top.” He proudly noted that if there’s another one like his cherry red car, “It’s hidden somewhere,” he says.
“Mine’s is custom. I did everything to make it look different than everyone. You won’t see a ’68 Wildcat looking like this. If they did, they’d copied [it].
“It makes me feel good because I did a lot of the work myself. I had a guy teach me how to do body work. I got a lot of confidence in doing it myself, [and it’s] a confidence builder when people say how beautiful,” said Jada of its candy wine exterior.
Jada continued, “The interior is plush — crush velvet with white crocodile interior. I did everything to match the red and white together. I got a 455 motor in it, kept the old school rims and inch and a half whitewalls. I get a lot of compliments on it.”
He and Terry Jones, who own a 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass, often work together on their cars. “Everything on the car that you see is a combination of his knowledge and my knowledge of doing it all ourselves,” said Jones. “When I first got the car…me and my buddy Jada came up with the notion to learn how to do it ourselves,” on fixing up their respective cars because of the expense of having someone else do it.”
For example, he installed LED lights “to give it a different appeal at night” and the lime green paint he got from Florida. “It’s really something from down South,” Jones points out. “It’s my Minnesota-Florida hybrid.
“I put my own blood, sweat and tears [into it]. I can tell you about the paint job, the engine, the interior. I have a sewing machine so I sew” the upholstery cloth, adds Jones.
Andre Lewis recently repainted his 1973 Cadillac Fleetwood “where it caught on fire,” he admitted. “She’s blew up on me” which he blames on a recently installed carburetor and the wires got too close to the engine.
“I had to redo the whole engine harness — it took nine and a half hours to rebuilt it. Now she’s back. She’s running perfect,” said Lewis.
The men range in ages 45 and up, reports Thompson. “We don’t get drunk or fight each other. We all sit around and tell jokes, and we consider each other family. We do a lot of stuff together. They come over to my house — I go over their house. We help fix each other’s cars.”
“It’s very enjoyable because we all come from different walks of life,” added Jada. “Some of us are from Chicago. I’m from Kansas City, Missouri. We all get together and network, find parts for each other, joke around and have fun together as brothers.” “We show that the brothers can do it too, and do it just as good.
“We come down here on Fridays and Saturdays. Sometimes we all just go for a ride together maybe up to Hastings, to Minneapolis, wherever car shows are. We get involved in anything that got to do with cars.”
“They are like my extended family when we get together,” added Washington. The men all reflects that owning these cars bring back memories of an earlier time.
“My father comes back and forth to visit and tinker around with it. It brings back nostalgia memories for him as well as myself. It is something I pass on to my son” who is now a teenager, admits Jones.
“My father comes back and forth [from Georgia] to visit and tinker around with it. My father had a lot of cars when he was younger.
“It bonds me, my father and my son — three generations of Black men. We spend time together working on the car,” says Jones, who adds that his son wants to drive his Cutlass to the prom next year.
“I don’t know — we’ll see about that,” he declared, smiling. The men aren’t alone with owning such cars, said Thompson. “I recently got my wife a car, a ’71 Ford LTD drop-top. I came across and got her one so that she can also join me, if she chooses to. Alot of the guys got cars for their girls, too.”
Finally, “We’re like a family. We all get together and we have a good time. We get around and tell jokes, and make each other laugh,” says Thompson. “Sometimes we do a barbecue. It is something for us to do, for us to unite with us older guys, to bring our kids and nephews [to].
“It’s a quality time that we enjoy,” said Thompson.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.