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Organized in 1980 the Willmar Car Club continues to promote the preservation and enjoyment of collector vehicles. The Club now has approximately 125 family or individual memberships totaling over 300 members. The annual show on the third Sunday of May attracts over 300 show cars and several thousand spectators. Nearly 10,000 breakfasts have been served to car buffs at the monthly Car Buffs Breakfasts since 1982. But how did this all begin?


In 1980 Steve Martens attended a Minnesota Street Machine Association (MSMA) car show in the Twin Cities and made inquiries with the MSMA officers concerning the formation of a Chapter of the MSMA in the Willmar, MN area. With the help of his friends Phil Bonham and Mike (Jake) Jacobson, a club was started and a car show was planned for the summer of 1981. Other charter members included Rod Beliveau, Tim Erickson, Dave Freese, Darcy Koepp, Kylene Martwick, Dave Mickelson and Chuck Ostendorf.


The first meetings were held at Phil Bonham's parents’ place on South Hwy., 71, Willmar, and also at Robbins Island Park. All the trophies for the first two car shows were cut, sanded and stained in Phil's parents' shop and the dash plaques were provided by the MSMA.


The first show was held on July 12, 1981 at the Kandiyohi County Fairgrounds. The second show was held at the Kandi Mall on May 23, 1982. The main reason the show changed from July to May was that Phil Bonham entered the Navy on May 24. After Phil's GTO custom convertible caught fire at the first show, he wanted to be there for the second show - with his GTO displayed in the Mall.


The MSMA provided guidance and advertising for the first show. With the rising cost to continue to be affiliated with the MSMA, and with a wider variety of interests in collector cars, the Willmar Street Machines name was dropped and replace by the name, Willmar Car Club after the second show.


Starting in 1983, the annual car show was held on the third Sunday of May at the old Senior High School, now Kennedy Elementary School, in Willmar. Part of the car show is the weekend display of vehicles inside the Kandi Mall. Shoppers can reminisce of by-gone days and are enticed to see over 20 times as many cars at the Sunday show. During the Car Show, a free Willmar Bus Service shuttle transports people from the car show to Schwanke's Car, Truck & Tractor Museum (over 350 units) and to the Kandi Mall to shop and of course, view more show vehicles.

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