Back for another lap: Couple reacquires beloved car from childhood
Cherished memories have made a comeback for Rochester's Sheila Kitzmann.
She has reconnected with a special car, and to a certain degree, with thoughts of a special father.
And it's not just any vehicle, or any dad.
In the muscle-car era of low gasoline prices and high horsepower engines, the family's 1969 Chevelle SS 396, with a midnight black exterior and leather red interior, stood out. But then, she says, so did he.
The car was purchased in 1972, and she recalls days of riding, even driving it, with her race car champion father Doug Anderson. That began at age 8, and for years, she spent nearly every weekend watching him win at dirt tracks throughout the state but particularly in the area around small towns Sherburn and Dunnell.
So when she now sees the car, she sees him, despite his passing in 2011 at age 58.
"I was a poster child for daddy's little girl," Sheila said with a smile. "My whole world was at the race track, and I loved it. It was like I grew up there.
"We might have moved from house to house, but the car was always a part of the family. I even played in it, and he would kiddingly say I was putting it through its paces even when it wasn't running."
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, though, it was relegated to taking up space in the yard or garage, making none of the noise and moves of years past. With that, and having the family grow to four kids and seeing expenses increase, it was sold in 2000.
"Even with it gone, I dreamed of one day getting it back," Sheila said.
Instead, the car sat, then found eight other owners in a 10-year span.
Still, she didn't give up hope.
Thankfully, husband Matt Kitzmann was a more-than-willing helper, enlisting Google and other online searches in hopes of finding it. In time, he did, and surprisingly, it was again in prime condition.
That's thanks in large part to the efforts and skill of farmer Dale Phillips, of Hartland.
"The car was just sitting in a barn in Waseca at that time, and I'm always looking for something to do in the off season, so I bought it," he said. "It was in pretty bad shape, needing so many things, so many repairs. It took me a good three years to restore it, but even with that, when I heard their story, it was easy to let it go."
With him, the car changed from a 396 to one with an engine rumbling at 619 horsepower, getting 7 miles per gallon.
"It was fun the see the result, to see what it turned into, but I can always get another car," Phillips said. "For them, it went much deeper. It was a toy for me, not for them."
Matt agreed to the price of $25,000, before driving it home as a gift to Sheila for their 11th wedding anniversary on Sept. 27.
"When I first saw the car again, I lost it," Sheila said. "I couldn't believe we had it back. I immediately called my mother. And my other family members wanted to come over and drive it. All of them were bawling when they saw it. We were very emotional. It was as if, with that car, we got a piece of our dad back."
Matt, owner and operator of Service Solutions Center in Stewartville, says the benefits of the car's return far exceed the cost.
"When my friends first heard about this, and it was an anniversary gift no less, all said I might have set the bar pretty high for them," he said with a laugh. "To me, though, it was worth it just to see the look on my wife's face."