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Meet Young Rodder Conner Kujak

Meet Young Rodder Conner Kujak
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I met 18-year-old Conner Kujak at the MSRA Back to the 50’s in June 2017. I was that horrible ‘board member official’ standing at the end of the line who had to tell people, “The autograph line is closed for today, please come back tomorrow.” Conner did not leave. Carrying his heavy backpack and wearing an engaging smile, Conner walked beside me and said he would wait, just in case the line moved fast enough and he could get an autograph from his favorite celebrity, Dave Kindig, before the clock hit the zero hour.

Over the next 50 minutes, as the line moved forward, I learned this amazing young man had just graduated that month from high school, is an Eagle Scout, is going to college in the Fall for biology and pre-med, and that he has a true passion for classic cars and everything from the ‘50’s era. He shared his senior project book and photos, all the while telling me the history of the 1960 Buick Invicta Custom and the provenance of the specific car he is restoring.

I was so impressed with Conner that I wanted to share his story with you, the HRHL readers. As I was writing this, I realized that no one can tell it better than Conner. And, YES, Conner did get an autograph from Dave Kindig and Kevdogg (Kevin Schiele).

1960 Buick Invicta Custom- with a bucket seat interior

As told by Conner Kujak:

“I have become so enveloped in the lifestyle of the 50's and the hobby of restoring cars. I truly believe this hobby started when I was 5 years old. I collected many Hot Wheels cars and was mostly interested in the ones that were different from the others (the classic cars). From there I was curious to know what each car looked like.

“It wasn't until I was around 12 years old that I started to pick up on different makes and models of cars. By the age of 15 I knew every American make and model from the 1940's to the 1970's. The 1950's and early ‘60s are my favorite cars. Every time I would look up a specific year, make and model of car, I would be interested in how different each year looked from the last and point out the subtle and sometimes drastic differences.

"The really cool factor is just how often the cars changed styling back then. There were designs from the jet age in the 60's with futuristic buttons and cosmetic designs featuring thruster-looking taillights, like on the car I am restoring. There were up to 17 different kinds of interiors on cars in the 50's and 60's. Bumpers were made more for the look versus having a purpose for safety and cars were made to look like rolling art.

"I became interested in the hobby and looked for other ways to become involved, and even though I realized restoring a car was out of my budget, I attended multiple car events surrounding my area, including some from Chaska and Victoria.

“The man you see pictured next to me in the photo with the car on the trailer is Jean Kern. Mr. Kern was not the owner, but had the car sitting in his back yard for over 20 years. His son, Dan Kern, owned the car until I purchased it from him. The back story on the car is that the car was purchased as a used car in 1963. The car was seldom driven and was not used for coyote hunting in South Dakota, as it was a treasured car. The car was driven by Mr. Kern’s mother when she was in her 70's. He said his mother use to fly around corners at 100 mph and occasionally bottomed out the rear (makes sense since there were so many dents in the gas tank).

"The car then sat for 15-20 years on a farm where it was stolen and returned back to this family. The car was then given to Dan to repay him back for borrowed money. Dan had plans around the 1990's for the car to be restored. The car had been hit in the front right fender as it was sitting downtown next to an auto body shop. After that, the car was stored outside for 20 years as Dan didn't have the time or money to finish the car.”

That's where Conner’s story of the car picks up. Conner spotted the Buick about three years ago. It was in horrific condition. The engine was a 445 Wildcat and it and the transmission had to be rebuilt. Conner had the opportunity to possibly restore the car as a Capstone project for his senior year. So, Conner and his friend,Andrew McGuiness clarified with their teachers if it would be ok, if they would be able to do it.

The teachers debated what would be involved, the time involved, and said that a portion of the restoration would be ok as a Capstone Project. Conner shared that he and Andrew, for the Capstone project, 3D printed the lenses for the turn-signals on the dash. The two of them put together a 35-page paper including all the diagnostics for the plastics, how thick should it be, the density, the color, light sensitivity to it, does it fade, all the testing and more, and they were graded on that.

The car will soon be ready for paint, which will be a pearlescent midnight blue.

It has been exactly a year since Conner and Andrew picked up the car in his grandpa's hometown of Plankinton, SD. Conner, with his dad’s encouragement and support, has decided to restore the car. As a result, Conner has developed an emotional attachment to the car and its history. Conner started researching and found on Facebook  the 1960’s Buick Universe group. Everyone on that Facebook page has a 1960 Buick, and they have been welcoming and helpful to Conner and his questions, especially Bradford Hamilton and Mitchell Lehrman.

At that time, Buick was trying to compete with the Thunderbird, and Conner was told that Buick made 45,411 Invictas. Bradford Hamilton shared with Conner that there were 1700 Invicta Customs produced: 300 Wagons, and 10 are still in existence, and the Hardtops and Convertibles, which are believed to have had an even production split. Conner was told there are about 200 of the Invicta Custom models believed to be in existence. Conner mentioned that Buick offered three different colors for the interior on the 1960 Buick Invicta Custom, and Conner’s car has the blue color selection.

To quote Conner, “This car was definitely influenced by the jet age in 1960 and had things like the Mirro-Magic dash, where the speedometer was actually reflected by a mirror, and the tap start for Buick.

“Aside from cars though, my life has been a mixture of today's music and culture versus the 50's and 60's lifestyle. My room has become a ‘mancave,’ Linda said, as there are multiple pieces of automobilia, like AC spark plugs in their original boxes, model cars, a 1920's headlight, tin cans, radio, films, road maps, drive in movie trays, old pop bottles and so much more from the 1920's-1960's.”

Conner also shared that at Senior Prom they drove his dad’s Camaro… 60’s style!

And to once again quote Conner, “My dream when this car is finished is to be able to cruise down the streets without a care in the world and play some music from the 50's or 60's.The Skyliners are my favorite. Even though I wasn't born during that time period, I still like to say that it takes me back. By the way, I was born in the wrong generation.”

If you have a question or would like to contact Conner, you can email him at: [email protected].

Conner with Dave Kindig and Kevdogg.