Just Off Route 66, Get Your Kicks at Bill’s Backyard Classics

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 09/2015
  • posted in: Great Garages

Bill Pratt once was an SCCA driver; today he’s driving Bill’s Backyard Classics to fame.

Five miles from downtown Amarillo and just 5 1/2 miles from Historic Route 66 and Cadillac Ranch (that landmark line-up of ‘40s-to-‘60s Caddys, half buried hood down), the museum comprises 125-plus cars, with another eight expected shortly.

A variety of makes and models of almost exclusively American classics are included, with an information sheet posted on each: six Buicks, 44-Cadillacs, 11Chevrolets, 18 Fords, 16 Oldsmobiles, 17 Pontiacs, five Lincoln Continentals, three Mercurys, two Packards, two Plymouths, two Edsels, and one each, Dodge Power Wagon, Hudson, Imperial, 1929 LaSalle, Mercedes-Benz, Smart Car Passion and a Willys Army Jeep.

“We have a 1941 Dodge fire truck sitting in our front side yard, and a full-size winch truck is waiting to be fully transformed into a handsome ‘Mater’ truck, inspired by the Disney-Pixar movie Cars,” says Bill, who has 88 national and international patents at the company he founded and owned for 43 years, Micro Beef Technologies.

“I purchased my first antique car, a 1931 Ford Model A Victoria, when I was 14 years old,” says Bill, who raced for 13 years in SCCA events and is also a pilot. Today, he and wife Linda are expanding the museum and their antique car business. He started increasing the collection in 2007 and intensified that after selling his company three years ago.

“At the museum, you can appreciate the memories of this style of classic cars from a time when the emotion and love that meant the most to a person, from a time when you can relive those memories that meant so much to you,” he says.

The front showroom showcases the late 1920s and early 1930s cars as well as some specialty vehicles such as the Power Wagon and the Willys Jeep, one of the true heroes of World War II. Here, a 20×60-foot mural, painted by Laverne Burton, which celebrates the Pratts’ family history.

“We have a beautiful 1949 Disney Juke Box in our front showroom, which plays the 78 record oldies for everyone’s fun, dancing and reminiscing,” he says. The Cars movie also plays nonstop for everyone to enjoy.

The back showroom is larger and showcases the Cadillac’s, street rods, muscle cars and celebrity cars. Here the oldies play all day.

Both showroom walls are lined with 1×4-foot cedar fencing, as are the side parking lots. All of property fencing is adorned with bright-yellow happy faces.

Also displayed are numerous pieces of nostalgic artwork, many by Larry Grossman. Route 66 –– Amarillo is almost mid-point of America’s Highway –– is highlighted on the museum logo, rack cards, “hoof prints” and horse statue.

Outside is a large covered, gated and canvas-enclosed picnic area for groups that want to use it for special functions or to just enjoy themselves.

Classic car enthusiasts and Route 66 enthusiasts from the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia, Australia and New Zealand have already visited the museum, where trained tour guides answer questions.

“We so often learn much more history on our cars from our visitors. When they share with us their own experiences of the cars they have had or their family members or friends have had, there is always valuable information and history told to us that we did not know about,” Bill says.

“Bill’s Backyard Classics is an incredible new attraction for Amarillo. Both the quantity and quality of the classic cars in the collection are eye-opening,” says Eric W. Miller, director of communications for the Amarillo Convention & Visitor Council. “You could easily spend an entire afternoon at the museum looking at all the cars on display.”

We don’t have quite an afternoon, but let’s open our eyes on a few of these great cars:

•1965 Dodge Power Wagon –– The Deep blue classic was purchased from Vintage Motor Cars in Warrensville, Ohio. The six-cylinder 251-cid flathead produces 125 horsepower through a standard two-speed-forward transmission with four wheel drive. “It’s an A-list collectible today,” Bill says.

•1956 Cadillac Fleetwood 75 Series Limousine ‘Judge Roy Hofheinz’ –– He was “The Judge” before the “Judge” Pontiac. Hofheinz became a Harris County judge, later mayor of Houston, and conceived of Houston’s famous Astrodome, the world’s first domed stadium.

Rediscovered rusting in an alleyway, the classic four-door limo had its gas tank sitting in the back seat, and the hood and trunk were open –– a car on the slow boat to the scrap heap.

But it was more than worth saving, with its 365-cid V-8, producing a remarkable 300 horses, and Hydramatic transmission. Steering, windows and seats are power. In addition, the judge’s cruiser has air-conditioning, AM/FM radio with antenna, and fender skirts.

Everything is large here: seating for nine, a wheelbase of 150 inches, bumper to bumper, 236 inches, and weighing 5,400-plus pounds.

Luxury is large, too: four cigar lighters, two electric clocks, heated seats, power windows, and a signal seeking radio with dual controls –– including a rear passenger override of the driver’s controls. It also had an automatic eye to dim the headlights effortlessly and a powered window divider to give passengers privacy.

•1947 Plymouth Coupe –– This 1947 Plymouth Deluxe two-door street rod, outfitted with a 350-cid V-8 with 350 horses, was purchased from Vintage Reserve Garage – Santa Barbara Classics in Lodi, California, after it had been beautifully restored. It is one of Bill’s favorites because “everywhere you look on it, it’s all curves and chrome.”

•1933 Pontiac Coupe –– This silver two-door coupe was restored by and purchased from an owner in Tallahassee, Florida. Customized, it has a Pontiac 400-cid V-8 with 360 horsepower and an automatic: the standard engine for GTOS in the mid ‘60s. Air- conditioning and a CD player with AM/FM radio are included.

•1961 Pontiac Catalina Convertible –– This black ragtop –– ‘Night Moves’ –– is from the collection of Robert Clark ‘Bob” Seger, American singer-songwriter, guitarist and pianist. The legendary 389-cid V-8 has 230 horses and is paired with an automatic tranny.

Former owners, Dennis and Mary Koss, who had a hardtop Catalina, saw this car and, after some discussion, wrote a check for it to, to their surprise! Seger, one of their favorite performers. She named it “Night Moves” after one of his hits.

“Night Moves” had won awards, day and night, at several car shows and cruised many evenings on Detroit’s legendary Woodward Avenue before being acquired by the Pratts.

Big cars were downsized in 1961, Bill explains. “It was the top seller that year. The new look featured a more square- looking body with sculpted sides, smaller tail fins and less chrome. Also, Pontiac reintroduced the iconic split grille design that would identify their cars well into the future.”

•1955 Oldsmobile Super 88 Deluxe Holiday –– Purchased from Volo Auto Museum in Volo, Illinois, this is Bill’s “OSU car” –– he is an Oklahoma State University alumnus –– because of the black-orange colors.

Its engine is the famous J2 Golden Rocket 371-cid with 315 horses and a Hydramatic transmission. Fender skirts, curb feelers and a continental kit complete this ‘50s magic.

The museum is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sundays by appointment. Adults pay $2, and children 18 years and under are free. All admission fees and donations are given to The Children’s Miracle Network.

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