“Modern cars. They all look like electric shavers.”
-Frank Miller, Sin City
I’ve got nothing against modern cars personally, especially the ones offered for sale by this magazine’s generous advertisers. New cars’ cutting edge technology that warms your seat for you, tells you where to go without getting testy whenever you miss a turn, and shows you what’s coming up behind as you reverse so you can watch as you back over your neighbor’s mailbox in 1080p definition can be a lot of fun. Still, there’s just something about the classics that’ll never be topped. I want to see cars like the ‘59 DeSoto Firedome, which has tail fins that stick up like the ears of a startled Doberman, or the ‘58 Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite which wears an expression like it’s surprised to see how goofy it looks. That’s why I’m glad Back to the 50’s Weekend exists.
Back to the 50’s Weekend is held by the Minnesota Street Rod Association at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, and this June 21st through 23rd will mark the annual celebration’s 46th year. While enthusiasts spiritedly debate just what makes a car a classic, sometimes spurring rows that must be settled over drag races in Ford Model Ts, the MSRA permits only cars that are from 1964 and earlier at their event. They do this not to define “classic,” but rather out of consideration for the space they have got: Back to the 50’s Weekend packs around 12,000 beautiful old cars into the finite fairgrounds every year.
These cars comprise everything that classic cars could be. There are ones that have been labored over for years to keep them as authentic as possible, called “full metal jackets” because they’re bereft of modern fiberglass. There are hot rods which go much faster than Mercury had ever intended them to, and rat rods which look like they’ve just leapt out a chase scene from a Mad Max movie. (If you see one owned by a bodybuilder wearing a hockey mask, just walk away.) The unbelievable abundance of classic cars at Back to the 50’s Weekend means you’ll never see the same one twice in a given day.
Walking around and ogling cars all day is taxing work, and your bones would feel hollow by the end of it without the proper restorative fare. Fortunately many of the fairgrounds’ food vendors will reprise their work at Back to the 50’s Weekend, so you needn’t wait until August for a tub of cookies, bucket of french fries, and industrial steel drum of corn dogs. What you won’t find there is booze — somehow the organizers didn’t see how a family event with thousands of extremely valuable cars could be improved with the addition of alcohol.
It is entirely possible to buy a car at Back to the 50’s Weekend, if you can find an attendee who’d let you ply them with sweet talk and one other very important thing. You’ll lose a lot less skin if you visit one of their 450 vendors instead. Go to the Cruise-N-Art Craft Fair for everything from art to jewelry to decor made from car parts. The Ladies Showcase offers fashion, purses, and the products you need to keep your face fresh after spending all day in an Amphicar Model 770 with its top down. On Sunday the event will hold its customary swap meet, where you can get the tail light you need to finally complete your ‘48 Pontiac Silver Streak.
“It’s a wonderful atmosphere,” said Linda Lucas, who is on the MSRA’s board of directors. “The only stress that anyone has those days is waiting in line to get in. After that, the fun, family, and food take over. When people remember a Back to the 50’s Weekend, the cars are a big part of it — but they’re the relationships which are the most beautiful.”
To learn more about this one of a kind car show, please visit msra.com.
By David Scheller