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Blast From the Past

Rick Quinn and Keith Conlee talk about their Rebel-themed vintage cars, sometimes spotted in the Grove on game days.

Written by Eugene Stockstill | Photographed by Joe Worthem

You know it as soon as you see one — like a high-finned, baby-blue Firebird with extra-white whitewalls and an engine with a roar that makes your insides rumble. You can almost hear Bill Haley and His Comets rockin’ around the clock when a so-called classic car rolls by you.

Rick Quinn can tell you all about it. The Corinth pharmacist in years gone by would bring his prized possession to home games — and he can still be found with it occasionally on campus on game day. “It’s perfect red and blue,” he said.

Quinn still remembers the day when he saw a 1939 Beardmore taxi on the back of a trailer and exclaimed, “Doggone, that’s a cool car.” He tracked down the owner and bought it.

It was rotten, the old wood,” he said. “The steering wheel was on the right side of the car, like in England. It had the suicide doors on it. There was still that old engine in it.”

He paid to have the works replaced, added Michelin tires and a new stereo, a 350 Chevy engine that maxes out at 80 miles per hour, as well as reclining leather seats that make you feel “like you’re sitting in your recliner at home.”

Quinn would park right by the basketball stadium for games. He’s loaned his car to acquaintances for weddings. And at one showdown between Ole Miss and LSU, he remembered, “I bet there were 500 people who had their pictures taken with it.”

Quinn also calls his passion for his classic car a family affair.

I’ve got four grandkids,” he said, “and they’ll be enjoying it for years to come.”

Some call it the tailfin era. “The tailfin era of automobile styling encompassed the 1950s and 1960s, peaking between 1955 and 1961,” according to Wikipedia. “It was a style that spread worldwide, as car designers picked up styling trends from the U.S. automobile industry, where it was regarded as the ‘golden age’ of American auto design.”

South Mississippi has made big headlines for Cruisin’ the Coast, a huge automobile event that draws thousands of car enthusiasts every year. But you sure don’t have to go to Gulfport or Biloxi to find guys and gals who spend a great part of their waking hours fixing, waxing and driving old cars.

“There are a lot of people around town that are into classic cars,” Sandy Haynes with Southern Classic Motors in Oxford said. Haynes' son, Austin, in fact, operates the local business Oxford Wedding Cars, which deals in renting out classic cars for weddings and special occasions.

“They’ll rent a cool old car and drive it to the hotel,” Austin Haynes said. Sandy Haynes' father inspired him to get into classic cars and he, in turn, did the same for his son.

Around Oxford, you should have little trouble spotting a large number of older models the third Thursday of each month. Destination Oxford, the city’s annual car show, draws anywhere from 75 to 120 cars, Sandy Haynes said. One car show in Water Valley, he said, drew around 200.

And in Tupelo the first weekend in May, Blue Suede Cruise brings hundreds of people from around the country to show their antique, classic and hot rod cars plus experience Tupelo history and celebrate rock ‘n’ roll.

While there may not be a whole classic-car subculture at Ole Miss, you probably don’t have to look too long before you spot a unique, antique Chevy or Pontiac around campus. In addition to Quinn, other Rebel-themed cars have become part of Ole Miss fans’ Grove experiences through the years.

Take Keith Conlee, for example. The New Albany alderman’s uncle, the late Larry “Tadpole” Provence, had such a car that turned heads whenever it found its way to the University of Mississippi.

Here’s how Conlee tells it. His Uncle Tadpole (probably nicknamed thus because he had a brother nicknamed “Frog”) was working in the flooring business in Atlanta when he saw the famed Ramblin’ Wreck car from Georgia Tech, the 1930 Model A sport coupe and school mascot. The experience inspired him to create his own Rebel-themed car.

Tadpole zeroed in on an old Ford in North Georgia, paid to have it restored, and as a result, found himself the proud possessor of a red and blue vehicle that has demanded undivided attention from Ole Miss fans and opponents alike. From time to time, it helped lead the football team onto the field. Cheerleaders hung onto it while beaming and waving at cameras.

“There was nothing Tadpole loved more than going over there to The Grove, setting the car up and letting people get their picture taken with it,” Conlee said. “As Tadpole got sick, we took turns driving the car. It was one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking things I’ve done.”

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