By Tom Travis
[This article has been updated to include new statistics about the 2022 Back to the Bricks event from Executive Director, Amber Taylor. Also, more photos have been added.]
Five years ago James and Pam Bogart of Flushing were riding their Harleys near Kalamazoo when they saw a sky-blue 1960 Pontiac Bonneville sitting in a parking lot. The next day the Bogarts went back to look at the car. Remembering the same car his dad had when he was a kid, James Bogart was gazing at the Bonneville when his wife, Pam, yelled out of their car window, “Get it, I like it.” And in August they brought the classic to Flint’s 18th annual Back to the Bricks, a tribute and celebration of the city’s love of automobiles.
Back to the Bricks 2022
The roar of muscle car engines, shiny wing-tip fenders are the sights and sounds of every August in downtown Flint.
“In the fall of 2004, Al Hatch and other car enthusiasts began to discuss the possibility of a car show in downtown Flint that would complement and coincide with the ‘Woodward Dream Cruise’ in Detroit. Together, they began to take steps that would make Back to the Bricks a reality.
When the committee approached Jerry Preston of the Flint Convention and Visitors Bureau about sponsoring the event, he arranged a meeting with the Small Business Owners of Downtown Flint to enlist their support for a bold new venture that promised to revitalize the city and attract thousands to the area to celebrate the automotive industry and its role in the history of Flint,” according to the Back to the Bricks website.
Back to the Bricks is a week-long series of events that draws more than 500,000 visitors to the Flint/Genesee County area. A Car Cruise that travels up and down Saginaw Street two evenings during the week, from downtown Flint to Grand Blanc, draws crowds to the curbs all along the route to watch the parade of classic, quirky, elegant and muscle cars. Back to the Bricks 2023 is the week of August 19.
The event this year hosted over 500 cars each night for the Tune Up party and there were 365 cars at the Speedway on Monday night, according to Back to the Bricks Executive Director, Amber Taylor. She added there were over 1,600 people at the US-23 Drive In, on Fenton Road in Flint Township, and on Saturday there were over 2,600 cars parked for display.
During the day many car owners park downtown lining Saginaw Street and several side streets so that classic car lovers can “Ooo” and “Ahh.” At a stage set up in the flat lot, DJs and musical groups perform, the music broadcasting throughout the downtown via a complex speaker system.
1960 Pontiac Bonneville had two owners and all 10 grandkids fit inside
Pam Bogart sat in the front seat, passenger side, with a cooler of snacks at her feet in the sky-blue 1960 Pontiac Bonneville her husband James had brought to Back to the Bricks. Pam said all her 10 grandkids fit in the wide-interior, 60’s model Pontiac
“This is a Michigan car. It’s been in Michigan it’s whole life.” Bogart
“I’ve had the car five years,” James Bogart said. ” I bought it from a man who had it for 25 years. He was 89 years old and he bought it from the grandson of the original owner.”
Bogart said it sat in a barn in Paw Paw, near Kalamazoo, for 10 years until the wife of the original owner died in 1993.
“After the grandparents, the original owners, died, the grandson didn’t want the car and sold it to the gentleman I got it from,” Bogart said. “This is a Michigan car. It’s been in Michigan its whole life,” he said. “It was repainted it the original color in the 1990’s after they pulled it out of the barn.”
A man came by and asked if he could look at the car. “I noticed he was having a moment. He had tears coming down his cheek, he was emotional,” Bogart said. The man told James that his dad had this same kind of car, same color, same year. He worked at Superior Pontiac/Cadillac. James’ wife, Pam, called him on his cell phone to ask if he wanted her “to save him” and he said, “No, let this man have his moment.”
James has had other special moments with his car. He recalls at a recent car show a wife, son and daughter-in-law pushed an elderly man, the wife’s husband, in a wheelchair up to his car. The old man was slouched and non-engaging until he saw the car, according to Bogart. The man’s relatives asked, “Dad, you remember your car like this?” He sat up, talked to everybody about the car and his memories. As they wheeled him away from the car he slouched back down into his wheelchair. Bogart claimed, “This car actually brought him back for that moment.”
Bogart said he’s spent about $5,000 and more than 100 hours in repairs and upgrades to the car, including fixing an over heating problem by replacing hoses and belts. He replaced the carpet because the original carpeting had horse hair insulation under the carpeting, and the horse hair, when damp, has a rotting smell.
The 1960’s Pontiac Bonneville is unique, explained Bogart, because it was the first one to have a complete grill across the front. Before 1960 the Bonneville had two-separate grills. James added the ’60 Pontiac is one of the longest cars made, — seven inches longer than a Catalina.”
For everyday driving, James said he has a 2012 GMC Chevy but has owned other classic cars including Chevelles, Malibus and Mustangs.
“I was walking down the street and I said, ‘I gotta have that car.” – Lawanna Cardwell
Lawana Cardwell parked her 1965 Oldsmobile Cutlass in front of the McCree Building, on Saginaw Street. She sat in a lawn chair on the sidewalk watching car lovers admire her car. A Flint Township resident, Cardwell said she bought her car seven years ago, to the day, at Back to the Bricks. The owner of the car had put a “for sale” sign in it. “I was walking down the street and I said, “I gotta have that car,” Cardwell said.
She said she’s never had a classic car but said she had always thought she would like to have one. “My brothers never believed I’d own one. But I always told them that when I see the car, I’ll know it’s mine,” she added.
Cardwell said nothing in particular drew her to the ’65 Cutlass being “the car,” except maybe the color. Cardwell said she always liked the color red. She said she just knew it was the car for her.
When Cardwell called the owner the next morning he asked her, “Who is this?” “This is the lady that was interested in your car,” she replied. “You were serious?” the owner replied.
Cardwell enjoys the car only during the summer and keeps it in storage during the fall and winter. “I watch the weather to determine when to put it away, usually sometime in October,” she said. The only major work she’s done on the car is replacing the back seat because of cracked upholstery, and new tires.
Her husband and brother are the only other people she allows to drive the classic car, insisted Cardwell.
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org