A pair of radical custom Cadillacs with Georgia license plates parked in one corner of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds said a lot about the lure of the Back to the '50s weekend. Kent and Mary Ann Endicott in the '49 fastback, and Kelly and Sarah Puckett in their chopped '60 Coupe de Ville had motored all the way to the Land of Lakes for the 28th edition of this midsummer auto fest. From the other direction, Ed and Sharon Nelson's purple and white '46 Ford convertible carried a sign on the front proclaiming "Seattle to St. Paul for Back to the '50s."

Does this event draw? You'd better believe it! Street rod and custom fans all across the country have heard about the fun to be had at this automotive celebration, and they all want to give it a go at least once. This year the turnout of pre-'65 customs, street rods, and classics totaled up to 9,854. Many, of course, belong to the Minnesota Street Rod Association, the statewide organization that puts on the event, while others swarmed in from surrounding states and farther away. Crowds-spectators and participants-were estimated at 85,000 for the three-day weekend.

Filling the state fairgrounds for the June 22-24 weekend, the event takes on the atmosphere of a fair with colorfully finished vehicles replacing cows and sheep, and horsepower instead of horses. Hundreds of vendors offer all kinds of custom automotive components and equipment, and several fairgrounds buildings are filled with arts, crafts, and car-related merchandise. Fairgrounds food vendors keep the mobs nourished with such fare as funnel cakes and bratwurst that can only be found at a fairground.

The swap meet is one day only, Sunday, but it keeps getting bigger. This year it filled the entire racetrack and infield with previously owned automotive treasures, including an old custom '51 Chevy Bel Air and a '49 Plymouth convertible just waiting to be restyled!

As if all this isn't enough, the MSRA provides free Friday and Saturday night concerts with such headliners as Johnny Tillotson, The Tokens, and Tommy Nystrom's tribute to Roy Orbison. For the third year, Mecum Auctions hosted a custom and hot rod sale, something for the "pedestrian" who just can't wait to build a custom!

If you aren't too weary after the day's activities, you can extend the evening as long as you want cruising Porky's or the other spots on University Avenue.

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are a great vacation destination anytime, but for hot rod and custom enthusiasts it's gotta include Back to the '50s! Mark it down for June 21-23 in 2002.