In Photos: Touring America's Largest Street Rod Show

Back to the 50's Weekend is a throwback to hot rodding's good old days.

Tim BernsauwriterJohn GilbertPhotographer

The Minnesota Street Rod Association calls its huge annual event in St. Paul "Back to the 50's Weekend" and it really is a time warp. For three days every summer, the MSRA transports the Minnesota State Fairgrounds to the early days of hot rodding. This year was the 46th edition of what is billed as America's largest street rod show, and thousands of cars and classic trucks were on hand to join the celebration.

As you'll see from our photos, Back To The 50's extends a few years into the following decade. The event is open to 1964-and-earlier (pre muscle car) passenger production cars and trucks. Variety is a big part of the appeal of the show. Enormity is another part. This year, 11,445 vehicles packed the expansive fairgrounds with approximately 100,000 spectators on hand to join the fun.
Street Rodder has been attending Back To The 50's for so many years that the annual trip to Minnesota seems like a homecoming. The MSRA does no judging and presents no trophies at this show. We also choose one vehicle from the event for our Best Ford In A Ford award presented by Ford Performance.

"Minnesota nice" is a term we've heard used many times to describe the people in the state. It's a real thing and there is no place that exemplifies it better than the Minnesota State Fairgrounds during Back To The 50's Weekend. Thank you to the members of the MSRA for putting on a phenomenal show.

STREET RODDER Best Ford In A Ford
A 1961 Falcon Inspired by the Strip and Built for the Show

Darvin Hodges of Independence, Missouri, says his 1961 Falcon gets lots of attention wherever it goes. He attributes that to the bright green paint, a color he calls "Money Green." Despite that name, Hodgess Falcon is no high-budget, pro-built car. This is a homebuilt car finished on a real-world budget.

The car was a "yard find," completely stock and pretty rough when Hodges bought it.

He and his son Darrin and his brother Doug built it into what you see today. The front fenders were welded to the cowl to create a single piece. A fabricated roll pan replaces the front bumper. The rear bumper was sectioned, welded to the body, and painted body color. Driprails were shaved. Doug gets credit for the outstanding bodywork and for spraying the PPG paint.

Darvin converted the unibody platform to a tube chassis with a full rollcage, and the body was sectioned over the frame. The Mustang II frontend features ladder bars, and rear coilovers suspend the narrowed 9-inch rearend. Wheeltubs were added for the 15-inch Weld Racing wheels, stopped by Wilwood discs.

Independence Classics finished the interior, covering the stock front bucket seats and the custom rear bench in black vinyl. Vintage Air A/C and a Carriage Works steering wheel on a GM tilt column are more interior mods.

When the car was first built, it ran a Chevy engine. "Ford guys don't like Fords with Chevys and Chevy guys don't like Falcons—so no one liked it," Darvin realized. He replaced the Chevy with one of Ford's most popular engines: an EFI 5.0L HO. This is the engine that got every gearhead's attention in the '80s and re-established the Mustang's standing as a performance car—the same kind of attention Ford's 5.0L Coyote engine got in this decade in the Mustang GT. A Ford AOD transmission backs up the Ford in this cool Ford.

This Falcon was originally intended to be drag raced and Darvin thinks it would probably run in the 11s. Right now, he's having a blast driving it on the street and displaying it at shows.

Best of the Back to the 50's Weekend
Here's a look at some of the coolest cars on display

1932 Ford Roadster | Jim Kalkes | Stillwater, MN
Jim Kalkes describes his homebuilt Cocoa Metallic Dearborn Deuce roadster as "a classic with the comforts of home", including A/C, Clarion stereo, and GPS. The exterior is modified with 1937 taillights and punched-in hood louvers. The LS1-powered rod sits on original 1932 'rails and rolls on E-T Wheels with Goodyear radials. Heated reclining Wise Guy seats are covered in Italian leather.


1957 Chevy Coupe | Rob McCarry | Neenah, WI
This 1957 Chevy coupe, just finished by Mike Freund at Classics Plus, had been sitting, bone stock for decades. The body is stock, but a 408ci small-block now packs the engine compartment. Wheel Vintiques steelies, Coker whitewalls, and custom leather upholstery dress up the Chevy. A hidden tow hitch, trailer brakes, and air assist let Rob McCarry haul a 1957 Shasta camper.


1927 Ford Roadster | Cary Weisner | Hugo, MN
The 1927 turtle deck T was built by Fred Boucher before being rebuilt by veteran rodder Cary Weisner. The nostalgic rod runs a four-barrel 383 stroker engine and homebuilt suspension components. Billet Specialties wheels were contributed by the late Barry Lobeck. The cockpit features aluminum floors, handbuilt race seats, a fabricated quick-release steering wheel, and AutoMeter gauges.


1954 Chevy 3100 | Keith Stralow | Morrison, IL
Mercedes-Benz Pearl Gray paint looks great on Keith Stralow's homebuilt 1954 Chevy hauler. The generous use of chrome extends to the carbureted 350 Chevy engine underhood. The chassis was updated with Chevy S-10 chassis components. American Racing five-spokes add some hot rod flavor. The mostly stock interior houses a pair of bucket seats clad in black leather.


1956 Ford Parklane Wagon | Scott Rue | Stillwater, MN
The Parklane sheetmetal has been nosed, decked, shaved, and finished with Sunset Coral and Colonial White paint. A 312 Y-block and Ford-O-Matic trans keep things Ford-powered. Dropped front spindles and cut springs provide the low stance. The 15-inch steelies roll on 205- and 215-series Diamond Back wide whites. The interior is beautifully restored.


1929 Ford Model A Sedan | Tony LaMott | Apple Valley, MN
Tony LaMott from Damn Straight Customs started his chopped-and-channeled Model A Tudor just to drive, but it ended up better than planed. A Flathead with Sharp heads and Stromberg 97s, Firestone skinny tires on Ford steelies with bullet caps, bomber seats wrapped in diamond tuck upholstery, a wood roof, and traditional suspension parts are a few of the old-time details that got our attention.


1950 Buick Special | Russ Peterson | Ramsey, MN
Also known as MSRA's 2018 Custom of the Year, Russ Peterson's Yellow Blaze Sedanette rides on a 'bagged chassis with a Camaro front stub and triangulated four-link rear. An LS1 provides modern power; two-tone pleated upholstery fills the interior. Wide whites roll on Wheelsmith chrome reverse wheels. The car has clocked more than 10,000 miles in the last two summers.


1932 Ford Coupe | Ron Langer | Coon Rapids, MN
Ron Langer's cool yellow Deuce coupe was shaved of hardware and badging, and got a 2-7/8-inch chop. Underneath is a complete TCI chassis. Power from the LS1 ends up spinning meaty tires on Wheel Vintiques Smoothies. The Amaretto leather interior features a banjo steering wheel on a tilt column and the custom console holds controls for air conditioning, audio, and other accessories.


1957 Ford Custom 300 | Brayden Dougherty & Logan Rue | Stillwater, MN
A companion to Scott Rue's Top 100 1956 Ford wagon (Brayden and Logan are Scott's grandsons), the Custom 300's exterior is distinguished by an eye-catching combo of Thunderbird Blue and Colonial White paint. Cut coils and dropped spindles provide a ready-to-pounce attitude, with a Ford 351 Windsor engine providing the muscle. Naugahyde covers the stock-inspired interior.


1958 Chevy 3100 Pickup | Mark Wells | Lino Lakes, MN
The Laurel Green pickup sits on a stock frame with a 1975 Nova front subframe and TCI flip kit in the back. Diamond Back whitewalls roll on chrome smoothies with bullet caps. The engine bay holds a Chevy 454 engine. The cab is finished in clean white upholstery and the white oak bed floor is protected by 20 coats of clear marine varnish—because Mark drives the truck rain or shine.

The Swap Meet
Sunday was the third and final day of the MSRA's Back To The 50's event. It's the only day for the huge swap meet that takes place every year at the west end of the fairgrounds. The annual swap meet is for people who eat, sleep, and dream old cars and all the fun memorabilia and circus atmosphere that goes with it. How many times have you been to a swap meet and scored some long-sought piece of treasure—or passed on something, only to realize you should have grabbed it when you had the chance?

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