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Classic Obsession

Jim Duffack’s Classic Car Collection

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“In the ’50s, cars were sold on sizzle,” said Jim Duffack, owner of Bellevue Toyota. That’s what he’s looking for as he curates his own collection of classic cars, one of which will be shown at the Joslyn Castle Car Classic on July 29. To be welcomed into his fold of restored vehicles (the contents and count of which can change at any time), a car has to possess a certain je ne sais quois.
 

“I’m not loyal to any vehicle. Just as long as it’s something special.”

 

Rebel without a cause

“I’m not loyal to any vehicle,” Duffack said, despite having acquaintances who are only into Porsches or Corvettes. “Just as long as it’s something special.” If pressed, he might mention a penchant for convertibles or high horsepower or custom-built machines. “I do this for a hobby,” he said. “I don’t like to judge others, and I don’t take mine to judged shows anymore. It’s for fun, it’s not for critique. We older guys, we know what we’ve got.”
 

Duffack personally details seven cars as they overwinter in his basement showroom. If heavier work is required, a mechanic steps in. During the summer, he rotates another seven into the showroom from an on-site storage barn. “There’s no rhyme or reason, no plan, as to what comes in next,” he said. “Just whatever I feel like working on.” While the showroom is spacious, every inch is efficiently used considering the boat-like sizes of the average classic automobile. “Getting the cars out isn’t so much a problem, but I never move cars in without someone else here to watch,” he admitted. “Backing in is tricky.”
 

“It’s fun to see people and ask, ‘What’d you bring tonight?’”

 

The magnificent seven

His first classic car is still in the collection, though not currently in the showroom, and definitely qualifies as unique. The sunshine-yellow ’55 Mercury has two front ends, requiring a double-take to understand what you’re really seeing. “The original guy who owned it had two Mercurys that were in back-end collisions,” Duffack explained. “He welded the two fronts together, put taillights in one end, and used it as a parade car.” The two-faced Mercury came into his possession in 1966 when he purchased it to draw attention to his first dealership. “It’s not a valuable car,” he said, “but it’s always been worthy.” The car is street legal, and Duffack may have had a few laughs driving it down one-way streets. “You just get a buddy who pretends he’s driving at the other end. What can I say, I was young.”
 

His current favorite is a 1953 Oldsmobile 88 and is in pride of place at the entrance of the little museum. The Olds is perhaps not the most vibrant car in the showroom but possibly the most glamorous. The creamy body is a complement to the rosy leather interior, and the rocketship theme of the ’50s 88s is everywhere. A golden ringed globe is set behind plexiglass into the steering wheel, a larger one in chrome spangles the nose of the vehicle, and a rocket with jet engines deigns to be the hood ornament. “It was powerful, it was sleek,” he said. “It was a rocketship!” While Duffack is usually fastidious that his restorations be exact replicas of the originals, this Rocket 88 had something special. That stunning rose-colored leather? “That’s not GM. That’s what would have been used for a Bentley.”
 

For the vehicle you’ll be seeing at the Joslyn Castle Car Classic, step over here to the cream and fire-engine red ’56 Chevy BelAir. While the fins are rather tame in comparison to what they would become in later years, this convertible kept up with the Joneses with a 220 HP Power Pack V8 engine. Its hood ornament, appropriately, is a jet. “It’s a total body-off-frame restoration,” Duffack said, perhaps with a smidge of understandable pride.
 

Speaking of V8s, here’s a robin’s-egg blue 1955 Plymouth, the first year they were made with that engine. And over there is a 1935 Ford Cabriolet convertible. Its eggplant finish complements the yellow-rimmed tires. “I have three sets of tires for this car,” Duffack said. “Each set gives it a different look.” Like a new pair of shoes? “Well. Yes. Actually, that’s good, I like that.” It’s a street rod, also with a V8 (late-model). And tilt-wheel steering, cruise, and a big sound system.
 

The ’57 Dodge Royal Lancer doesn’t get driven much. “It’s restored to perfection,” Duffack said of the black two-door hardtop. “It was at Joslyn last year.” The bright red 1955 Corvette is one of only 200 left. The cherry red ’54 Mercury convertible has every option ever made that year, including the first overhead valve V8.
 

Where the boys are

In the summer, Duffack takes a car out for some air at least once a week. “I like Flashbacks on Wednesday nights,” he said, referring to the Omaha bar that hosts a weekly car/motorcycle show during the warm months. “It’s fun to see people and ask, ‘What’d you bring tonight?’” Everyone has his own taste at the shows: the over-the-top fans of a certain make or the younger crowd with their rice-burners. “I just think, I’m glad they’re here. It’s good that the young guys are here spending their money on car stuff. There’s all kinds of other things they could be doing instead.”
 

Duffack also usually has a vehicle on display at the Quaker Steak and Lube in Council Bluffs, a restaurant that complements its theme with jukeboxes, Nascar artifacts and Route 66 memorabilia. Duffack’s own showroom is peppered with James Dean and Marilyn Monroe cutouts, drive-in speakers, neon lights, and faux ice cream cones melting on the tiles. “My favorite prop is probably my bumper car,” he said, motioning to a stop-sign red vehicle of the amusement park variety. “It’s from a park at Lake Okoboji, probably from the ’50s.” It’s certainly in keeping with Duffack’s unofficial theme: As long as it’s something special.
 

 

 

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