Roadside Classics: A September Trek To Northern Michigan

1962 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe & ’68 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu convertible. Elmira, Michigan, 9/2/12.


(first posted 6/11/2018)       I’ve always loved taking road trips, especially to places I’ve never been before.  When I had originally sat down to write this piece, I was preparing for a weekend wedding in central Wisconsin.  Wausau is the furthest north I’ve ever been in that state, so it’s uncharted territory for me.  It will be a bit of an adventure getting there, being about four and a half hours from my neighborhood on Chicago’s north side.

“The Great Leetsville Shoe Tree”. Leetsville, Michigan, 9/1/12.


Ever since I was old enough to peek out of the rear quarter windows of my parents’ 1977 Plymouth Volaré coupe, the road has always held a powerful allure for me.  It wasn’t only the cars that fascinated me, but also the occasional roadside oddity, which often resulted in a little bit of competition with my brothers to see who could be the first to point such things out to the others in the car.  A lot of the commercial buildings along the roads and freeways featured expressive (and sometimes extreme) designs to attract the attention of passing motorists – and their kids.

Best Western Inn Of Petoskey. Petoskey, Michigan, 9/1/12.


There were the multi-planed, orange roofs and A-frame architecture of the main lodges of Howard Johnson’s motels, the turquoise, zig-zagging roof of Stuckey’s fuel and snack shops, and the circular, space-age motif of Mobil gas stations, just to name a few examples.  My eyes feasted on all of these things and more, and I took many mental pictures of what I saw.

Second-generation Chevrolet Corvair convertible with Lake Michigan in the background. Petoskey, Michigan, 9/2/12.


This past weekend’s trip called to mind one I had taken back in September of 2012 for the wedding of two other friends, up in northern Michigan.  Six years ago and unlike on this recent jaunt, I was flying solo, so it had then felt like I had all the time in the world to stop along the way and make (and photograph) many fun, little discoveries.  These images chronicle just a few of my finds, and I hope you enjoy them.

Ma’s Coffee Pot. South Haven, Michigan, 9/1/12.


I love diners and roadside eateries like the former Ma’s Coffee Pot in South Haven, in Michigan’s southwest corner.  I will usually choose an establishment like this one over a chain, if it looks clean, friendly, and (unlike this place) open.  From a little internet research I did, Ma’s appears to have closed in 2009 after having been open for 43 years.

From its festive, yellow-and-copper paint scheme, gumball machines and retractable, canvas sunshades, it looks like it had been a cute, little spot to grab a bite.  Let’s hope “Ma” is still alive, in good health and enjoying her retirement.  I’ve been watching reruns of the old TV sitcom “Alice” lately, and could imagine friendly service here from a local waitress who has seen a lot of changes over the years in these parts, while the Doobie Brothers play softly over the speakers in the background.  “Top ya’ off, Hon?”  “Yes, ma’am, if you please.”

Shattuck’s Service Car Care Center. Alba, Michigan, 9/1/12.


In Alba, near the tip-top of the “Mitten” otherwise known as Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, I came across this auto service shop, Shattuck’s Service, and this 1981 – ’86 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, both of which appeared to have been long abandoned.  I wondered what was the exact date when this Cutlass’s engine was last fired up, and why it had been left at this shop after the lights went out for the last time.  Was the owner unable to afford either the quoted repair price, or even just the cost to have it towed back home?  Perhaps both.

When I was ten or eleven years old, I had watched this generation of GM G-Body coupe (including both the Olds Cutlass and Buick Regal) go down the assembly line at the history Fisher Body One plant, back home in Flint.  At some point in the tour, we were welcomed to climb from a platform into the front clip-less cabins of these cars while they were still moving, to experience the look and smell of their brand-new interiors while they rounded a corner – at which point we had to climb back out.  For years, my younger brother and I had argued about whether it had been an ’86 Cutlass or Regal we had sat in.  I’ve always thought it was a Regal, but I wouldn’t put money on it nowadays, even if we had access to a time machine after placing our bets.  He can have that one.

1969 or ’70 Mercury Cougar in front of a former Amoco service station. Kalkaska, Michigan, 9/2/12.


I remember when Amoco and Standard gas stations used to be everywhere, featuring the architecture shown here.  In remembering my ’80s childhood, it seemed like at every exit in Michigan on US-23 between Flint and Toledo, there was one of these familiar oases, where Dad would usually gas up.  This one appeared to have been converted into an(other) auto repair facility.  This 1969 or ’70 Mercury Cougar seemed to be awaiting veterinary attention, which I hope it got.

1956 Pontiac Chieftain in front of the Bob-In Again. Petoskey, Michigan, 9/2/12.


Even while up in that part of northern Michigan, not far from the Mackinac Bridge, many classic cars seemed to abound, both moving and stationary.  This beautiful 1956 Pontiac Chieftain was parked in front of the Bob-In Again, a restaurant and frozen custard stand that I’m sad to discover has been closed permanently as of last month after having been in business for fourteen years.

It was on my drive south on U.S. Route 131 while heading back to Chicago from gorgeous, scenic Boyne Falls, Michigan when I felt I had hit the jackpot with these finds in Elmira: two classic Chevys, a ’62 Impala and a ’68 Malibu convertible, both for sale.  I wondered why such beautiful-looking examples of two desirable cars were being sold.

Was the owner in need of cash, or merely downsizing his or her collection?  Regardless, I mused that it would have been fun to come back to Chicago in one of these instead of whatever, forgettable (and yes, infinitely more safe and fuel efficient) rental car I had been assigned.

1967 Chevrolet Impala on the Dan Ryan Expressway, near a South Side CTA Red Line L station. Chicago, Illinois, 9/2/12.


I was back in Chicago on the last leg of my journey and cruising toward downtown on the Dan Ryan Expressway when I spotted this ’67 Impala sedan in the passing lane.  This sighting seemed to keep the good feelings of the weekend going, as part of the antidote to my post-wedding / vacation blues.  My other half seems to also like road trips, and has historically been somewhat generous in letting me indulge my photographic whims.  Once I’m able to go back through my images from this past weekend, I’ll be sure to share any notable finds from my little jaunt to America’s Dairyland.

Friday, 8/31/12 through Sunday, 9/2/12