Marquette man puts unique customizations on vintage cars

Christie Bleck
Mining Journal

Marquette — It doesn’t look like much now, with tools placed on its unfinished frame, but Mike Lindstrom’s 1961 Impala should look very different when he’s finished customizing it.

That’s why tools are placed on the unfinished frame.

“I’m doing some customizing to it, putting ‘63-style Corvette taillights in it,” said Lindstrom at his garage along Wright Street near his Marquette Township home.

He also is customizing the grill area and door handles, and plans a paint job: an emerald green “Cadillac” color with a white pearl gold roof.

Lindstrom acquired the vehicle in Brimley, a town in the eastern Upper Peninsula.

However, the Impala isn’t the first vehicle Lindstrom has worked on.

Mike Lindstrom of Marquette Township poses next to his 1961 Impala that he is customizing in Marquette Township. "I'm doing some customizing to it, putting '63-style Corvette taillights in it," Lindstrom said. He also is customizing the grill area and door handles, and plans a paint job: an emerald green "Cadillac" color with a white pearl gold roof.

“I’ve been doing on-and-off car stuff for about 30-plus years now,” he said. “I used to build stock cars too.”

In fact, he built a stock car in the 1990s for local racer Dan Duquette.

Lindstrom also has built many customized cars, and started building “rat rods” – hot rods that have been built by hand but don’t have the typical characteristics of street rods and are in what some might consider rough condition – and helped friends with their rat rods too.

Lindstrom has different plans, though, for his 1961 Ventura: a customized car, which typically involves doing something different with the taillights and having a “chopped roof.”

Chopping a car refers to cutting a section of the window pillars from a car’s front to reduce the front surface against the wind.

“They have what they call a mild custom, which this will probably end up being, and then they got extreme custom, which they’ll start chopping roofs and different body panels and stuff like that,” Lindstrom said.

He expects his Impala project to take about a year – about the amount of time he’s already spent on it.

“It’s had the paint off of it for over a year,” Lindstrom said. “I’ve been doing so much other stuff here and there that I haven’t had a chance to get back to it.”

As much work as he will put into it in the upcoming year, Lindstrom doesn’t plan to keep the car, but sell it instead.

“That’s what I do,” Lindstrom said. “I fix them up, drive them for about a year, and I usually sell them.”

His full-time job, not surprisingly, is a car-related one: mechanic at Pepp Motors in Marquette Township.

Lindstrom’s hobby place also reflects his love of cars — and family.

A person visiting his garage, located on property adjacent to his house, might wonder what the “Snakey’s” sign means.

“Snakey’s actually is a word that my dad got when he was in high school,” Lindstrom said.

The garage also has an old gas pump as well as a re-manufactured, or “re-popped,” Sinclair Oil Corp. sign that shows the company’s trademark green brontosaurus.

A driver headed down Wright Street, in fact, probably would get a good idea of his hobby, judging from the vintage vehicles in his yard.

A rusted 1937 Ford panel delivery truck, for example, rests in a prominent area of his front yard. However, a person can be forgiven for not thinking it’s junk. Instead, it’s more of a conversation piece – something that’s meant to be there.

So far, neither the township nor his neighbors seems to have given him much grief.

His fiancee, Kathy Schwenke, is a car buff too.

“We go to big car shows all over,” said Schwenke, who can perform body work on vehicles.

Her “engagement ring,” as she called it, can be seen in Lindstrom’s front yard: a 1960 Ford four-door Galaxy, which Lindstrom rebuilt for her. It’s 19-feet-long, from front to wingtips.

“It’s a monster,” Lindstrom said, laughing. “It took a little bit to get it in the garage to paint it.”

A 1970 LeMans that he turned into a GTO, which also belongs to Schwenke, is on display in the front yard as well.

For many vintage car aficionados, it must be gratifying to see an old jalopy, as some people would see it, and turn it into something special.

“This is our hobby,” Schwenke said. “This is what we do on the weekends. We work on old cars.”