In less than two short weeks, I’ll be making my annual, summer pilgrimage back to my hometown of Flint, Michigan, for the yearly Back To The Bricks car festival which lasts for four days. It’s the vacation I wait for all year, pretty much the week after it ends. It’s also probably the longest, continuous stretch of time you’ll ever see me so genuinely excited. My face hurts from smiling so much by the time I get back to Chicago.
I spotted this ’69 Chevelle SS convertible in my Chicago neighborhood several years back about a week before ‘Bricks 2012, while riding the bus home after getting groceries. This car is one of just over 8,400 V8 Chevelle convertibles produced for the model year. This is my all-time favorite year of Chevelle – so much so, that when having my high school senior pictures taken in the fall of 1991, I spotted a blue hardtop coupe street-parked while en route to our photo shoot destination and made the photographer stop the car so I could get some pictures next to it. Both my mom and the photographer gladly obliged me, but most of those frames weren’t usable as I was cheesing so hard. I must have been a little “car-struck”, if you will.
What makes the week of Back To The Bricks so amazing is that it features no less than three rolling cruises, live music concerts, and marketplace tents and booths downtown which include both wares and food treats many of which can be had only in Genesee County. Saturday, the last official day of the festival, features an all-day car show that stretches along most of the main strip downtown on S. Saginaw St., featuring a wide variety of mostly American classic cars, but also lots of other noteworthy machines.
There are also other events that week (swap meets, a drive-in movie screening, dance contest) around the Flint area that are geared toward gearheads and their friends and families. For one week out of the year, my hometown looks much more like home during the time in which I grew up, with classic, Detroit iron cruising the streets throughout the city, parking lots of local businesses full of cars, and lots of people downtown.
Downtown Flint today looks much different – actually vibrant and fun – than the virtual ghosttown I remember from my teenage years. During this festival, the entire city uniformly seems to embrace the tourists (and yes, their dollars) with genuine smiles and warm hospitality. Community pride in the Vehicle City is apparent everywhere, even in spite of this area’s economic challenges. Leading up to this week, it’s like Flint has hit the gym, gotten scrubbed up, and put on the Hai Karate in preparation for its standing date with car-loving middle-America. We can’t wait to show everyone just how great an experience here can be, and that this town still matters.
I don’t own a car, so I rent one for this annual event and will drive back, eschewing the Amtrak for the freedom to see all the people, places and things I want to while I’m home. The drive between Chicago and Flint is about four and a half hours, which means that I usually try to find a reasonably economical car so I can spend my money where it counts – in Flint. I also try to specify an American-branded car for this trip, as loyalty to local brands still looms large in the town where the UAW was born.
However, I have found something slightly demoralizing about rolling into city limits in a (Korean-built) Chevrolet Spark. Economical? Yes. Sexy? It is the complete, one-hundred eighty degree opposite of sexy. The grape Pixy Stix-colored machine pictured below is the very car the rental agency provided me for the weekend of my 20-year high school reunion in August 2012. It might as well have been shooting purple glitter out of the exhaust as it went. Visually, it almost makes the yellow, ’75 Olds Starfire I had profiled on this site a few weeks ago look like a 4-4-2.
For the record, my two choices were this Spark and a Dodge Avenger. I don’t really dislike the Avenger, but it doesn’t move me, either. I figured that the Spark, at the very least, had great gas mileage ratings on its side; It could potentially do one thing really well. The Spark drove well enough, delivered outstanding miles-per-gallon, and the XM Radio feature helped me pass the time on the interstate and provided a great soundtrack to that week’s festivities. The Sonic and Cruze are better little Chevies, in respective, increasing increments of power and general acceptability, but shouldn’t there be an altogether different kind of choice for those willing to pay for it?
How game-changing would it be if I was able to rent a classic Chevy, like the featured, blue ’69 Chevelle, for when I return home to celebrate the American automobile? Part of my job entails underwriting insurance policies for collector vehicles, and while I understand the exposure would be increased for such a vehicle when rented out, why not just charge for it on the insurance side for eligible drivers with clean driving records, and then roll it into the rental fee? I think I’d gladly pay a reasonable, additional premium for the chance to drive a good, old-fashioned, V8-powered, American muscle car back into the city which used to build cars like this (including actual ’69 Chevelles) with elbow-grease, lunch-break beers and pride.
There’s got to be this kind of market for guys and gals like me, and there also has to be a viable business model. Who’s with me? In the mean time, I’ve got my fingers crossed for something at the rental agency with a gold bow-tie or blue oval on it that either won’t require me to shut off the A/C as I merge onto the I-90/94 Interstate expressway entrance ramp, or that does at least one thing really well besides simply getting me from Point A to Point B.
All photos are as taken by the author in Flint, Michigan and the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, during the month of August between 2010 and 2014.