Teamwork pays off for Austin couple

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 7, 2003

It was like it was meant to be.

Dick and Marcia Johnson were among 13 other finalists Jan. 25 for the Street Rod of the Year award at a banquet at the Xcel Energy Center. Their two sons, who rarely are able to get together, were in the audience.

Friends who had helped them reconstruct their 1937 Chrysler Imperial Airflow were there as well.

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Then their names were announced as the winners. In front of family and friends, they were given the Street Rod of the Year traveling trophy from last year's recipient.

The car that Dick, Marcia and friends had spend three years and eight months refurbishing had earned top honors by the second-largest car club in the United States.

"Getting this award is the Academy Awards of street rodding," Dick said.

The Minnesota Street Rod Association has 14,000 members. Of those members, 14 of their cars were nominated for the 2002 award at shows throughout the summer. The Johnsons' car was nominated after it won at a show in Cannon Falls.

After the nominations are in, each member is sent a ballot and votes.

"The prestige in getting nominated is enough," Dick said.

So when they won, they were "shocked," Marcia said.

"We were shocked for the rest of the evening," she said, smiling.

The cream-colored machine, which attracted so much attention its first summer out at car shows last year, was a mess when the Johnsons bought it.

The Pillsbury family, owners of the Minneapolis Pillsbury Co., were its first owners. A chauffeur drove Jane Pillsbury in it to work every morning. At that time, it was painted blue-green.

By the time, the Johnsons bought it, they were its fourth owners. It was painted black and rusting on the exterior, the hood and on the car floor.

Dick and his friends took it apart completely, down to its frame, and got to work.

Because the car is so rare -- only three are registered in Minnesota and the Johnsons' is the only hot rod -- parts were hard to come by. Dick had to make many of them on his own.

The Johnsons decided on a cream color to brighten the car up. An orange and cream detail stripe was put on its sides.

The interior is all leather upholstery, custom-made by McFall's Auto Trim in Iowa City, Iowa. The interior looks modern, complete with a 12-CD stereo and cruise control.

Dick and his friends also installed an air ride to raise and lower the car.

One friend in particular, Dave Ofstedahl, logged hundreds of hours of work on the car, Dick said.

"He loves that car," Dick said.

Now the Johnsons look forward to basking in the prestige of their award. Past recipients have told them they will be very popular at car shows. The car has already been featured on the cover of Northern Rodder and will be in an upcoming issue of American Rodder.

The Street Rod trophy, which has been given out since 1967, stands as tall as Marcia and can be switched on to light up on top.

With the award also comes the responsibility to appear at three winter shows, one in Fargo and two in the Twin Cities.

Dick doesn't drive the car in the winter, so Thursday, he bought a truck to haul it. Today he plans to pick up a trailer to tow it behind him.

"It's going to be fun," Dick said, smiling.

Cari Quam can be reached at 434-2235 or by e-mail at