Many people have likely seen Kent Brothen’s classic convertibles, whether at car shows, in parades or just cruising around the lakes area. But do you know the story behind his persimmon-colored 1955 Mercury Montclair or its history in the lakes area?
Brothen, now of Breezy Point, grew up in both Crosslake and St. Louis Park. In 1946, when he was 6, his parents bought the 14-cabin Anchor Point Resort on Rush Lake on the Whitefish Chain. The family lived in Crosslake from fishing season through deer season and spent the rest of the year in St. Louis Park.
Brothen attended part of the school year in Crosslake through sixth grade, then moved to his aunt’s house for the full school year starting in seventh grade to play football.
“I think my life was the best of two worlds,” Brothen, the oldest of six children, said of living both up north and in the Twin Cities area.
During the fall when he was 15, Brothen said: “I got the blessing from my father to go look for a car.”
He ended up at Bill Boyer Ford in Minneapolis, where the 1955 Mercury Montclair convertible was on the showroom floor.
“It was my high school colors,” Brothen said, referring to the St. Louis Park Orioles’ orange.
His dad co-signed for the car and Brothen paid around $2,700 for it with money he saved from working at the family resort. He said the car had a 90-day or 4,000-mile factory warranty, and he still has the original set of keys, complete with a key for the gas cap.
He had the car through high school and college, driving it on gravel roads to the resort. He took the car to his high school prom, graduation and class reunion.
After college, in 1964, Brothen’s job included a company car so he left his prize possession at his dad’s house. He didn’t get it back for another 31 years.
He started a 35-year career in marketing and advertising at the Star Tribune in 1965, but when he went to get his car back, his dad said: “You don’t own the car anymore. I’m charging you for storage. I own it,” Brothen said.
He tried to buy the car back from his dad in the mid-1980s to no avail. In 1994, he saw a beautiful blue Oldsmobile convertible for sale in a church parking lot. He left a bid at the church office on that final day of bidding, and returned to submit a second, higher bid.
The minister called to tell Brothen he was the proud owner of the 1970s Oldsmobile with the second bid by $50.
Brothen and his wife, Laurie, still have that car. But Brothen never forgot about his orange Mercury Montclair. His dad parked the car in the garage in 1971, and Brothen finally bought it back at an estate sale in 1995, after his dad died.
The car had suffered damage from Minnesota winters, and it took Brothen several years to rebuild the car from the frame up and get it back on the road. The Montclair has original hubcaps, wheels, chrome and interior. It took 14 years for Brothen to find original exhaust tips on the back of the back bumper.
Brothen said only 10,000 1955 Mercury Montclair convertibles were made. There are 14 registered in the United States today, and his is the only persimmon one, he said. It has 85,000 miles on it, and a Minnesota collector license plate reading “MYHSCAR.”
Brothen began taking his cars to shows, and the Mercury Montclair has won nearly 100 trophies. Those trophies include a first-place finish for 1900-56 convertibles at a juried, invite-only show in 2015 in Milwaukee. The Montclair has been at four juried, invite-only shows that are for factory direct stock cars only.
“The fun is showing the car, letting people reminisce,” Brothen said.
He has a mannequin, Bobbie - a 1972 window display model for J.C. Penney - that serves as a 1950s car hop complete with roller skates and a tray of food at car shows, which attracts attention. At a car show, Brothen met the woman whose grandpa gave her those roller skates the mannequin now wears.
Brothen hopes the persimmon Mercury Montclair stays in the family, and that just may happen as his daughter, who used the car at her wedding, has indicated interest in the car.