ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Pearls in the rough: 'Clam Fest' draws rare cars to Goodhue

A cache of rare cars in Southeast Minnesota will make a weekend car show the first of its kind.

GM Wagons
1971-76 GM Wagons are seen on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Hilbert Stusz's home in Goodhue. Collectors Strusz and Mike Bathke will be displaying their fleet of 1970's GM Clamshells at a car show this Saturday and Sunday in Goodhue.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
We are part of The Trust Project.

GOODHUE, Minn. — The “clamshell” station wagons produced by General Motors Co. 50 years ago turn heads today.

“When you show them how the rear tailgate and rear window work, people are just in awe,” said Hilbert Strusz, a collector of the cars.

Also Read
Zumbrota, Wanamingo, Pine Island and Goodhue will make a capital infrastructure request for the proposed regional wastewater treatment plant during the 2023 legislative session.
While the switch from the 2nd Congressional District to the 1st prompted some questions and confusion ahead of the Aug. 9 statewide primary, Wabasha and Goodhue county election officials say voters seem to be more aware of the change going into November.
The candidates for Goodhue City Council make their pitches to voters ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.

One of the largest caches of the increasingly rare cars is here in Southeast Minnesota. Clam Fest, a car show outside Goodhue this weekend, will highlight three of the largest collections of the unique wagons that were made by GM from 1971 to 1976.

Fifty years ago, the “clamshell” wagons didn’t get much notice except from people who wanted a car to transport children.

“You bought it, you used it to haul around your family, you beat the (crap) out of them,” Strusz said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Even 20 years after they rolled off assembly lines, the wagons still received little respect. Strusz would drive them in demolition derbies.

“They are the king of the ring on the demolition derby circuit,” Strusz said. “They are big, heavy, tough cars.”

Then Strusz and other area demolition drivers began noticing the wagons were becoming increasingly hard to find.

ezgif.com-gif-maker (4).gif

Strusz and fellow demolition driver Mike Bathke of Waseca, Minnesota, hung up their helmets and began collecting the cars.

Today, they’re a rare sight at car shows, Bathke said.

“I would be hard pressed to find one or two at any car show,” he said.

“Comparably, they’re more rare than Corvettes,” Strusz said.

Clamshell wagons were never meant to be collector or show cars, he added.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It’s like saving a minivan today,” Strusz said. “Who would ever think to save a minivan?”

A show specifically for the wagons in Ohio last year drew just over a dozen cars. Strusz said he expects the Goodhue show to feature more than 40 of them. Combined, Bathke and Jason Pagel, also of Goodhue County, own more cars than the entire show in Ohio drew.

GM Wagons
Collectors Mike Bathke, left, and Hilbert Strusz on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Stusz's home in Goodhue. Strusz and Bathke will be displaying their fleet of 1970's GM Clamshells at a car show this Saturday and Sunday in Goodhue.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

“Between the three of us, we’ll probably have close to 40 wagons at the show,” Strusz said.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a group assembled in one place like this,” Bathke said.

How did a corner of Minnesota become the epicenter of this niche car collectors?

A strong scene of demolition derbies ironically helped. The derbies gave Bathke and Strusz an appreciation for the cars and helped them realize they were becoming more rare.

The cars are now becoming an iconic symbol of timeless family road trips.

One of Bathke’s wagons was used in a cooperative marketing campaign advertising Southern Minnesota tourism destinations. Tourism directors at the Northfield, Owatonna and Faribault chambers of commerce combined efforts to create the “MinneRoadTrip.” One of Bathke’s wagons was pictured for the campaign with the logo on the door.

ADVERTISEMENT

Another of Bathke’s wagons has more widespread fame having been used in “Friday Night Lights” film and television series. The car got as much respect as most of the clamshell wagons have historically received, he said.

“It’s nothing great to look at,” Bathke said. “It’s an old car and they wanted it to look that way.”

Bathke left it as is, including spray paint on the exterior intended to simulate gravel dust.

GM Wagons
A 1976 Chevrolet Caprice Estate which was in the movie "Friday Night Lights" is seen on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Hilbert Stusz's home in Goodhue.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

“I didn’t touch anything on it because I want it to look just like it did in the movie and the series,” he said. “It’s a little piece of history in a way.”

People can see that car and others that have had some screen time at Clam Fest Saturday and Sunday. The show is open to the public. Food vendors will be on site.

If you go

What: "Clam Fest"

When: 8 a.m. Saturday, July 30; 8 a.m. Sunday, July 31

Where: 18675 Goodhue County Road 9, Goodhue, Minn.

GM Wagons
1971-76 Chevrolet Caprices and Impalas are seen on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Hilbert Stusz's home in Goodhue. Collectors Strusz and Mike Bathke will be displaying their fleet of 1970's GM Clamshells at a car show this Saturday and Sunday in Goodhue.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
GM Wagons
A 1972 Chevrolet Kingswood Wagon with all original parts is seen on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Hilbert Stusz's home in Goodhue.The car will be just one of many wagons displayed at a carshow this weekend in Goodhue.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
GM Wagons
A 1972 Chevrolet Kingswood Wagon with all original parts is seen, left, alongside a 1972 Kingswood Estate on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Hilbert Stusz's home in Goodhue.The car will be just one of many wagons displayed at a carshow this weekend in Goodhue.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
GM Wagons
An emblem of a Chevrolet Caprice is seen on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Hilbert Stusz's home in Goodhue.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
GM Wagons
Mike Bathke displays an original Chevrolet Car Buyer's Guide on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Hilbert Stusz's home in Goodhue. Strusz and Bathke will be displaying their fleet of 1970's GM Clamshells at a car show this Saturday and Sunday in Goodhue.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
GM Wagons
A 1976 Chevrolet Caprice Estate is seen on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Hilbert Stusz's home in Goodhue.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
GM Wagons
A 1976 Chevrolet Caprice Estate is seen on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Hilbert Stusz's home in Goodhue.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
GM Wagons
A 1976 Chevrolet Caprice Estate is seen on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Hilbert Stusz's home in Goodhue.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
GM Wagons
A 1976 Chevrolet Caprice Estate is seen on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Hilbert Stusz's home in Goodhue.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
GM Wagons
A 1976 Chevrolet Caprice Estate is seen on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Hilbert Stusz's home in Goodhue.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
GM Wagons
Hilbert Strusz pulls out a 1976 Chevrolet Caprice Estate on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at his home in Goodhue.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
GM Wagons
The "Clamshell" tailgate is seen on a 1976 Chevrolet Caprice Estate on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Hilbert Stusz's home in Goodhue.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Related Topics: GOODHUE
John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
What to read next
Council votes 5-1 to approve property tax levy and 2023 spending plan.
Request to authorize local vote on renewal of city's half-cent sales tax is expected to be sent to Minnesota Legislature next month.
Rochester City Council approves preliminary plan for 109-unit apartment building in city's northwest.
Proposed ordinance change would implement an annual inspection in an effort to ensure massage therapy license holders are meeting city expectations.