Strusz Hosts Clam-Fest


When you hear the word “Clam-Fest”, you may conjure an image of shellfish on a barbeque pit.  That is not the type of event Hilbert Strusz hosted on July 30th-31st.  When Hilbert uses the word “clam” or “clamshell” he is talking about 1971-1976 General Motors’ full-size station wagons, or more specifically, the feature that earned them the nickname.  40 of these wagons and a variety of additional GM sedans converged on the Strusz farm West of Goodhue for this unique show.

The clamshell tailgate was a feature unique to General Motors’ vehicles in this era.  This GM patent was used on all the big station wagons of the early ’70s including Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile.  Marketed as the Glide-Away tailgate, it was a power-operated system that would slide the tailgate into the trunk floor while lifting the rear glass window into the hood. Such a design created unrestricted access to the luggage compartment and its cool styling was a very popular feature.

The station wagon was a transportation staple in America for large families and road trips.  Some models had a section of the back seat that would fold-down to allow access to third-row seating and could accommodate up to 9 people.  Their popularity started to dwindle in the late ‘70s with high fuel prices and became nearly obsolete with the introduction of the minivan in the ‘90s. 

As the GM wagons aged and fell out of favor with drivers, they emerged as a favorite among demolition derby participants.  At 5500 pounds, they were the largest, heaviest vehicles available and could withstand a lot of punishment in this type of competition.  The car is not the only thing that takes punishment in a derby, it takes a toll on the driver’s body as well.  Hilbert was introduced to the wagons when he participated in this hobby but he no longer cares for the bumps and bruises of the demo but now cares about the preservation of this unique vehicle. 

Strusz and fellow demo-derby participant, Mike Bathke of Waseca, started finding it harder and harder to find their preferred crash cars and realized the time had come to see them in a new light.  Both men now seek out the clamshell wagons and along with Jason Pagel of Cannon Falls, have a sizable collection.  Clamshell collecting is not limited to the trio but fans can be found across the USA.  A facebook group called GM Clamshell Wagon Fan Club has nearly 8,500 members and was a catalyst for organizing the first annual Clam-Fest held in Ohio with 16 such vehicles.

Hilbert thought his farm had a lot to offer and decided to host this year’s event, giving him an ideal opportunity to showcase his own collection of 9 wagons.  With the 10 he helped Pagel transport to Goodhue, and Bathke bringing his, they knew the show would easily be much larger than the first.  In fact, by Saturday afternoon, there were 40 such wagons parked on the Strusz lawn.  Hoping to create an even more interesting exhibit, he opened the show to any full-size 1970’s GM sedan and an additional 40 of those graced the property.

Clam owners brought cars from Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio and Iowa.  A sedan owner said he drove 300 miles and averaged an impressive 12.8 miles per gallon.  Some coming a long distance and those with multiple cars brought them on trailers and there was even a Clam fan from Colorado who swung in on his motorcycle.  The vehicles came in a wide variety of colors and conditions, from complete restorations and fancy paint jobs to works in progress. 

Mike Bathke has reason to be proud of the cars that have given him a connection to fame.  One was pictured in an Explore Minnesota marketing campaign advertising Southern Minnesota tourism destinations.  Another of Bathke’s wagons might be recognizable after having been used in the “Friday Night Lights” film and television series.  Bathke left it as is, including spray paint on the exterior intended to simulate gravel dust.  While it’s a popular car show entry, Bathke said, “It’s nothing great to look at, it’s an old car and they wanted it to look that way.” 

A special find for Strusz is a 1972 Chevrolet Kingswood with 22,000 miles.  He purchased the wagon in the Twin Cities after previously seeing it at a car show.  The shiny green car still has its original headlight bulbs and tires.  He was pleased with the way the show turned out; the weather was perfect, the music worked, the food truck showed up and exhibitors and visitors enjoyed bonding over these non-edible clams.


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