In less than four short weeks, my hometown of Flint, Michigan will put its best face forward for the twelfth, annual Back To The Bricks car festival. Hundreds of thousands of people (you read that correctly) will pour into Genesee County for five days of automotive-themed events, including a Drive-In movie screening, a live music concert, swap meets, a city-wide rolling cruise, and the mother of all car shows on the brick streets of downtown’s main road, South Saginaw Street. It’s the smell of tire rubber, oil, coney dogs, and cotton candy – and the sounds of classic rock-n-roll, Motown, revving motors, car banter, and camaraderie. It’s almost like an official holiday here in Flint, and residents and expatriates who come back for this event can’t wait to polish our town as best we can and show it off for you. This year, it all happens between August 16th through the 20th.
Sadly, I’ll miss this year’s show, as I just don’t have all the time and money to do everything I want all the time. (Yes, I realize I just stated the most obvious fact of adulthood, ever.) All the same, and since I’ll be missing the 2016 show, I’d like to share some of my favorite pictures from years past, from between 2010 to 2015. I hope you enjoy this virtual tour of one of the absolute best car shows in the Midwest.
First up, we have this lovely 1970 Buick Electra 225 hardtop coupe. I apologize in advance if this collection is a little Buick-heavy. Flint did headquarter Buick from 1904 through 1998, after all. I’m glad to see that the red, white and blue colors have returned to Buick’s tri-shield of late.
Next, we have this 1956 Oldsmobile 88 Holiday hardtop coupe. I said, Smile for the camera, Baby! This is a customized cruiser done right. The beautiful, Art Deco building in the background on the left is the Mott Foundation Building – a beautiful piece of architecture.
How about a chopped and customized 1965 Buick Riviera? I called this one the “Landshark”. Its flawless condition was in direct contrast to that of the ’65 I wrote about recently. As I’ve stated before in other posts, I mostly like my classic cars in stock form, but I love the creativity, artistry and execution that goes into a showpiece like this Riv.
Flint may be a GM town, but all makes and models are represented at this show with no small number of classic Mopars, like this lushly triple-green 1974 Dodge Charger SE. The stand-up hood ornament, tri-slotted opera windows, and fancy two-tone paint seem in direct contrast to its muscular lines. It’s like seeing your favorite football player in a press conference wearing a Napoleon Dynamite suit. Still, I really like it – and this one was in pristine condition.
Staying in the Mopar camp, let’s give it up one time for one of my favorite sporty compact import hatchbacks of the 1970’s, the Plymouth Arrow (née Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste). This one was a GT from model year ’76, if I recall correctly. Never mind the goofy fog-lamp shaped turn-signals on its face – the full profile view shows just what an amazing job stylists did on this sporty hatchback, with some of my favorite features being its 2nd-generation Barracuda fastback-like rear quarter windows, Kamm-style tail, and overall proportions for such a little car.
Some of my favorite memories of this car festival have been off the main drag Saginaw Street during the big, Saturday show. Twenty-thirteen brought an opportunity, my first, to see the inside of the historic Capitol Theatre (also downtown), which is currently undergoing renovation. On the stage is that 1964 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder about which I wrote a piece of fiction last year.
The rolling cruises are lots of fun. I love the idea of a family taking a cruise in this ’71 Olds 4-4-2.
It’s also a thrill just seeing cars out and around the city, like this mean-looking ’68 Plymouth Barracuda Formula S. It sounded just a pretty as it looked.
In 2013, the Motortown All-Stars gave a Motown-themed performance that had everybody dancing in the streets! Young and old, black and white, residents and visitors – it was a spine-tingling moment for me and a reminder of some of the things that made growing up in this community in the 1980s so great.
Getting back to the cars, there were other hopped-up subcompacts, including this ’79 Olds Starfire GT – one of just over 20,000 total Starfires produced for the model year. I had always liked the sloping front end on the restyled ’79s… it always seemed to fit the character of the Olds H-Body better than the body-colored, “rubber-ducky” front of the 1976 – ’78 models.
My shot of this ’65 Chevrolet Impala SS features several things I absolutely love: the car itself, Vernor’s Ginger Ale (and this mural), and the flagship Halo Burger restaurant. Summer in Flint is the best time to experience what we call a “Boston Cooler” – a float made with Vernor’s and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. You also haven’t lived until you’ve tasted a Halo Burger QP with green olives on it. (Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it…it’s addictive.)
There are second-generation F-bodies all over the place, like this ’76 Pontiac Firebird Formula, in motion in front of the old Salvation Army building.
This was a Chevrolet small-block V8-powered 1982 Ford Mustang notchback, which I dubbed the “Frankenstang”. (Note the front end nose-cap is from an ’83.)
There was even a little ’79 Ford Fiesta! My own grandparents’s ’79 Fiesta didn’t look like this one, but to this day, the sight of one reminds me of them and of watching my grandma row through the four-speed wearing her tam and matching driving gloves.
There was this nifty, orange ’77 AMC Gremlin – in condition so pristine, you can’t help but think the original buyer was completely smitten with its quirky charm and orange-and-black plaid seats that they just left it garaged for decades.
Also from ’77 was this gorgeous Pontiac LeMans Can Am. The vinyl interior was as beautiful and intoxicating to smell as the exterior was pretty to look at. This limited-production submodel made a cameo in a piece from our own William Stopford at the beginning of this year.
Going back to Flint’s ties with Buick, several cars were on loan from the Sloan Museum’s Buick Gallery, including this 1954 Wildcat II show car. Those fangs on the front bumper certainly make this ‘Cat look like it wants to tear into whatever is in front of it.
The first-generation Mercury Cougar is on my short-list of the most attractive American cars of the 1960’s. This one needed a little cosmetic work (and perhaps more), but not every car at this show is a trailer queen – and the festival is much better and more authentic for this reason.
It’s always bittersweet when this festival, the one car-themed event I look forward to all year, is over. It’s bitter because it will be another three-hundred fifty-nine days before I can be back in the Vehicle City for this homecoming celebration of the automobile and the industry that put us on the map. The sweetness comes from the immediate memories of another, successful celebration back home and from my face being tired from smiling so much. This 1970 Chevelle SS was the last car I photographed at 2011’s festival, and it was a fitting farewell, with many Chevrolets having rolled off assembly lines within city limits through the years. Make me proud next month, Vehicle City.
Downtown Flint, Michigan.