Story and Photos By Angelo Van Bogart
Despite its name, the Minnesota Street Rod Association’s annual Back to the 50’s event isn’t directly about the 1950s as it is about the 1973 cult classic “American Graffiti,” which takes place in 1962. That film reminded Minnesota gear heads about their own automotive heritage of cruising the loop around St. Paul in cool cars, so the MSRA started Back to the 50’s 39 years ago to bring the 1950s from the screen to the street.
The MSRA has the perfect setting for turning back the clock — the tree-lined streets of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in the heart of the Twin Cities. There are hundreds of buildings, many old, that make the fairgrounds feel like a town that is perfect for cruising, parking, bench racing and even picking up speed goodies.
- Back to the 50’s is the great melting pot of automotive history. Although the majority of the 12,000 cars are rods and customs, there are plenty of stockers, including “big C” Classics. This Duesenberg Murphy Convertible Coupe is owned by Minnesotan Joel Nystrom and in its own way, calls back to Minnesota during the 1950s when there was more than a handful of Model J’s in the state.
- This Model A Ford truck is more typical of what lines the tree-shaded roads around Back to the 50’s in June. This red hauler is particularly sharp.
The event has become so popular, the most common question among the 65,000 spectators is the count of pre-1965 cars are registered for the event, and by how much that figure exceeds the previous year. This year, that number for the June 21-24 event totaled 11,759 cars and trucks built through 1964 (the last model year accepted for Back to the 50’s).
“It was a few hundred up from last year,” said Jim Harvey, MSRA president. He noted the number of spectators was also up, which he partially credited to this year’s lack of rain.
In addition to the cars, Harvey credits the number of vendors and special displays for keeping the show exciting each year.
“We had Chip Foose back in the 3M booth this year, and that’s always a big draw,” he said. “We had the fellow that drove that Model A around the country — 49 in 9 — and we had the LA Roadsters, who drove up from LA for the show, and they were just blown away. They had never seen anything like it.”
Mild or wild, take your pick of 1957 Chevrolets. The gasser One-Fifty “Black Widow” clone packed a loud bark and a mouse motor while the Bel Air Sport Coupe was more street-worthy.
Although this was the first time California’s long-running LA Roadsters club had come to Back to the 50’s, the event is no stranger to out-of-staters.
“Canada is a big draw, and we have people coming in from every other state,” Harvey said. “It’s pretty significant. We always get someone from Hawaii, but I don’t know if we had anyone from Alaska. We get people from England, New Zealand, and they come and visit, but I don’t know if they bring an actual vehicle.”
Harvey said the MSRA has big plans for next year’s show. Some of those plans have already been wrapped up, but more draws are in the works.
“It is our 40th anniversary next year, so it will be a pretty spectacular show,” he said. “We have the Great Race, it’s an event that goes on once a year, they pick a point to start from and they go across the country. Their starting point is going to be at the fairgrounds for next year.”
More images from Back to the 50’s…
Perhaps the most pleasant color to decorate Ford’s prettiest 1955 model is Regency Purple on a Crown Victoria. This Crown’s purple hue was complemented by white.
Before and After: Both are sweet rides, but there’s something especially eye-catching about the “before” 1934 Ford three-window coupe’s patina.
This primo 1949 Cadillac sedanette boasted the first-year overhead-valve V-8. It had plenty of ‘49 brethren on the fairgrounds during Back to the 50s.
Would you believe there were two 1954 Buick Skylarks at Back to the 50’s? And both were this color? The likewise beautiful 1956 Imperial hardtop is only slightly less rare than the Skylark with 2,094 Imperial coupes built versus 836 Skylark convertibles.
If this 1936 Ford three-window coupe won’t throw you back into the ‘50s, there’s no hope for you. The lowered Ford sported a Harry Westergard-style grille treatment right out of sunny So-Cal in the early postwar custom years.
This Dodge Route Van carried people, not bread, through the streets of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds via couches placed in its cargo area.
This 1961 Pontiac Catalina coupe Super Duty was raced by Arlen Vanke and is powered by a 421-cid V-8 with dual four-barrels atop a cross-ram intake manifold.
Nicknamed “Spanish Fly,” this Anglia race car packed 427 cubic inches of Chevrolet rat under the flip-open nose.
Sleek and modern-looking, Tony and Jan Eckel’s 1934 Dodge Cabriolet was a rare find in the 1930s and even rarer now.
Keith Huisken had the top down and the hood up on his one-of-551-built 1951 Hudson Hornet convertible to show off its Twin-H power.
A trio of 1957 Ford Fairlane 500s were grouped together near the grandstand. Included are a Skyliner (right), Town Victoria (rear) and Club Sedan (left).
There just does not seem to be many 1961 and 1962 Mercurys around, so spotting them bow to stern is even less common. The 1962 Monterey hardtop has been parked behind a 1961 Monterey convertible.
Doug DeRosica’s 1936 Chrysler Six convertible coupe is one of just 650 built that model year. The car sports radial tires, one of the few clues that indicate there may now be more cylinders under the hood.
There’s definitely a concentration of Forty Fords on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds during the MSRA’s Back to the 50’s event, and the center of that concentration may have been this trio of Deluxes comprised of a Tudor, coupe and convertible coupe.
There were a number of sweet 1949-’52 Chevrolets, including several convertibles, and Jerry Minor’s cherry red drop top was one of the sweetest.
Want to see more memorable machines from America’s favorite decade? Check out our JUST ’50s book today!