NEWTON – Around Jasper County, it is no secret that people love hot rods. From decked out muscle cars to refurbished classics, hot rod enthusiasts are always on the lookout for a unique vehicle.
After competing with more than 4,500 customized vehicles, one couple in Newton can safely say they have a Buick that is “bitchin.’”
“Bitchin’ is a slang word for cool,” Newton resident Mike Duffus said.
Mike and his wife, Glenda, won the “Bitchin’ Buick” award for their 1965 Buick station wagon at the Goodguys 26th Speedway Motors Heartlands Nationals at the state fairgrounds the last weekend of June.
“We were surprised... There are some marvelous cars. You talk about pieces of art. There are so many cars that are deserving,” Glenda said. “There are maybe 4,500 cars there. I’d say there are like 70 awards. There is like a 1.5 percent chance of winning.”
From a young age, Mike has always loved cars. The 69-year-old said because he was brought up in Kellogg, he spent his childhood watching the Midwest Manufacturing Company test their go-karts on a nearby track. When he was 10, he said the Lions Club would host races, and on occasion, he would be allowed to sit in a kart and run it for hours.
“My folks (helped) run this track for the Lions Club out in Kellogg. I think the first race, one go-kart got on top of another go-kart, and one driver had to get 14 or 15 stitches in his leg,” Mike said. “My folks said you are never doing that.”
How did Mike respond? You guessed it – he put his butt in a seat and put the pedal to the metal. At the age of 21, he started racing go-carts. After 25 years, the Kellogg native decided to take his need for speed to the next level and he bought a race car.
“I was 48-years-old when I started racing the car,” he said. “I raced for five years. I was fortunate enough to win some races. When I saw that it was coming to an end at Maytag, I got out and sold my car.”
In 2003, Mike and several other Newton residents were laid off by Maytag. As a 55-year-old, Mike said it was difficult for him to find a consistent, full-time job. Glenda told him that he should use this time to do something he loves, and soon after, the Newton resident decided to take his love for cars one step further.
“I told Mike, ‘We have to find something that is your passion because you have too much talent to just sit in a lazy boy chair and watch TV,’” Glenda said.
After searching online, Mike found a car he liked at a decent price – a 1965 Buick station wagon. His grandfather owned a Buick, and Mike wanted something to keep him busy. After a lot of discussion, the couple decided to drive out to Springfield, Ill., and purchase the car.
“Online it looked good, but when we got it, it wasn’t. That is how the internet works,” Mike said. “We looked at the car and said, ‘What are we doing?’ Glen just said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
According to the couple, the car was leaking fluid from every place it could. Mike soon realized his little project would soon become a complete restoration job – something the couple has never done before.
“We didn’t know much about restoring a car. When we brought it home, it became our favorite saying, ‘Well it looks pretty good from 10 feet away.’ We called it our 10-footer,’” Glenda said. “The more Mike took it apart, the more Mike found wrong with it.”
Mike said, despite his lack of experience with restoring vehicles, he was able to figure things out thanks to his background of working with his grandfather on tractors, his experiences at working at Maytag, advice from Newton’s show car community and a whole lot of patience.
“Eventually there were all these parts all over the place. He sanded 11 layers of paint off the car. He came in and just looking all black and sooty, like he just came from a coal mine,” Glenda said. “There are a lot of cars you can restore where you can find replacements parts from a certain company. Buicks aren’t so much that way... Mike made a lot of his own parts.”
After seven years of hard, tedious work, the station wagon was officially finished in 2011. Since then, the car has been hitting the roads, making appearances at renovated vehicle displays from the Cool Car Car Show during NewtonFest to a showcase in Colorado.
“It kind of became my sculpture, my work of art,” Mike said. “The car has the original 322 Buick ‘nail hood’ motor in it... It has a modern day, Chevrolet 700 R4 transmission. It has a Ford nine-inch rear end.”
Add in two horns, tuned to a minor-third in salute to Glenda’s love for music, and the couple created a Buick that is truly one of a kind.
“So many things about building a car are personal satisfactions and that doesn’t necessarily show to everybody,” Mike said. “In those seven years, you can get pretty discouraged. A constant source of encouragement was Glenda. At one time, I thought, what have I done. I just created a big pile of stuff that is going to go to the dump. Ultimately, the car is better than I ever thought it could be.”
The couple said they plan to enter their car in as many car shows as they can. Although they do not revolve their schedules around vehicle showcases, they said they hope to participate in more events in Jasper County.
“If the weather looks good, it would be fun to do a show in Prairie City or Baxter,” Glenda said.
The couple said, for them, it is not about winning awards, they just want to share their “Bitchin’ Buick” and their love for cars with the community.
The next Goodguys car show will be July 28 through July 30 in Puyallup, Wash. For more information, visit good-guys.com.