Story, photos by Fritz Busch
Paul Guggisberg, Steve Schmid and Leon Portner can't let go of their muscle car days in the seventies. Literally. The men still drive to area cruise-ins in their original muscle machines.
"We're just brother-in-laws that share a common interest in cars," Guggisberg said. "We belonged to the Good Times Gassers car club back then and we still drive the same cars now."
Three former members of the Good Times Gassers car club, from left, Steve Schmid, Leon Portner and Paul Guggisberg, with the stock muscle cars they’ve maintained for decades.
Ken and Deb Lindberg of Lafayette display their 1933 Chevrolet rat rod to Orchard Hill residents in New Ulm last summer. The vehicle was featured in the December 2011 issue of Rat Rod magazine and has won a number of vehicle shows.
Interest has been growing lately in “rat rods,” typically a late 1920s through late 1950s coupes, roadsters, trucks and sedans, often with chopped tops, shaved trim, grills, tail lights, other body parts, and miscellaneous items including miniature human skulls, fuzzy dice, Maltese crosses, service station signs, and other motor vehicle-related items that may be swapped between makes and models.
Originally a counter-reaction to high-priced custom hot rods, rat rods were a throwback to an earlier hot rod culture that included bikers, greasers, rock-a-billy, psycho-billy and sub-cultures including low riders and lead sleds.
But only if the weather is dry. The men don't stay out late at night. They don't want bugs splattered on their cars that are worth many times their original cost.
"These cars have left our lives filled with friends and great memories that are an important part of our lives," Guggisberg said.
He still has photos of his Road Runner the day he and his wife Deb were married in July, 1984. The car has spent much of its life in his shed.
"Lots of New Ulm people love their old cars," Guggisberg added. "My uncle Al Mohr of Mankato , who has had a great interest in cars all his life, told me things will last. All you have to do is take care of them."
Guggisberg bought his Road Runner with a 383 Magnum V8 and four-barrel carburetor and automatic transmission, from high school classmate Jim Lindmeyer of New Ulm in October 1973. The car's original owner, Jim Newman of New Ulm, now lives in Arizona.
"I have to give credit to Steve (Schmid) for finding the car for me," Guggisberg said. "I really wasn't interested until he told me that it was orange in color."
The car is much as it was when he bought it in 1973. Even the am radio push buttons are punched to the same stations, although most of them have changed formats since then. He later found he and his wife's wedding card behind the spare tire.
In more recent years, Guggisberg and Schmid have loaned their cars to their offspring to use on Prom night.
Guggisberg said he's wished he had a four-speed transmission like his brother-in-law's Super Bee has.
"When we are in our eighties, he'll wish for my automatic," Guggisberg joked.
In the seventies, the men would occasionally drive their cars to the Twin Cities and drag race on quarter-mile tracks.
Road Runners were originally built to be low-cost drag racers capable of running 14-second times and sell for less than $3,000. Road Runners far surpassed the upscale and lower volume GTX's, for which they were often confused.
The 1970 models had a forward-facing hood scoop that showed shark-like teeth when a vacuum servo switch was activated under the dashboard, plus high-back bucket seats and a unique horn note that sounded like the Road Runner TV cartoon character.
Schmid, who's Super Bee has a Hurst four-speed, once recorded a 13.5 second time using racing slick rear tires.
Super Bees had a bumblebee tail stripe plus actual die cast, chrome-plated "Bee" medallions in a raised position in the grille/hood area and the trunk lid/taillight area.
Schmid bought the car at Anderson dodge in the Twin Cities in April, 1970. He traded in a 1965 Ford Mustang and paid $2,700 to boot. Schmid and his wife Gloria used the Super Bee on their wedding day in June, 1973. It was later used for their son Ryan's and their daughter Michelle's weddings.
Other Good Times Gassers members who can still wear their club jackets include Greg Forst, Howard Klingler, Pete Brandel, Steve Biebl and Denny Bianchi.
Other very popular muscle cars of the 1960s besides Plymouth Road Runner and Barracuda; American Motors AMX and Javelin, Ford Mustang and Grand Torino, Mercury Cougar, Montego and Cyclone, Chevrolet Camaro, Chevelle, and Corvette; Oldsmobile 442, Buick Skylark GS big block, Dodge Charger and Challenger, Pontiac GTO and Firebird, among others.
Corvettes are considered the Holy Grail of American muscle cars with gobs of power in a fiberglass body.
New emissions controls in the 1970s created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and oil embargos created less powerful cars that were often racy looking, but their engines often made the cars more basic transportation.