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Tuesday, June 16, 2015 • 7:00 pm
KAARC Monthly Club Meeting
2122 Bronson Blvd., Kalamazoo, MI
Sunday, April 19, 2015
Gilmore Car Museum
6865 W Hickory Rd, Hickory Corners, MI 49060
Jim Luikens, photo by David LaChance. All other photos courtesy of Jim Luikens.
Known to many as a tuner of supercars and muscle cars during the Sixties and Seventies, Berger Chevrolet actually made its bones in the American performance scene by offering go-fast factory parts pretty much directly from General Motors. The man behind that success, Jim Luikens, remains a Berger booster today, and will recount his various war stories from behind the counter next month as part of the Gilmore Car Museum’s annual lecture series.
“Dale Berger was a performance enthusiast, but he was also smart,” Luikens said of his one-time boss. “He recognized that for every customer buying a 425 horsepower car, there were 1,000 people who needed a camshaft to run at the local dragstrip, so he decided to focus on the parts. We did sell hot cars – and build them to order for the customers – but we didn’t promote them like Yenko did. The parts business, though, was just something else. We had crate engines when crate engines were unheard of.”
Berger Chevrolet, which celebrates its 90th anniversary this year and which remains in business in Grand Rapids, Michigan, might have had plenty of regional success up until the late 1960s, but it wasn’t until Luikens, a local drag racer and Berger customer, got hired to run the dealership’s parts counter in late 1968 that the company began to take on a national profile. At Berger, Luikens began to comb the Chevrolet parts books, looking for unpublicized factory performance parts and other ways to capitalize on the muscle car-era focus on performance.
“It was like a game of hide and seek with Chevrolet, with all of those parts hiding in plain sight,” Luikens told Hemmings Muscle Machines for a profile on him in the December 2006 issue. “If you knew the engines, you could figure out which parts to look for. We made a lot of guesses, but trial and error helped us figure out which parts to order.”
With Berger’s blessing, Luikens began to compile a catalog and sell the performance parts across the country. The performance parts department eventually grew to four people, taking up a quarter of the dealership’s parts department, and Luikens recalled having to stay after hours most nights to package up parts to ship out the next day. The dealership’s reputation grew too, in part from sponsoring a number of local and national drag racers, including Jungle Jim Liberman.
“It was a pretty unbelievable time,” Luikens said. “At the time, we thought we were doing something special, but we never could have foreseen the importance of it and how important it would be to people this far down the road.”
Luikens will speak as part of the Gilmore Car Museum’s second annual lecture series, which started in January and will run through the end of April. Other notable lectures remaining in the series include David Lyon’s “Driving the American Road: The Likes of Us,” and David Irvine’s “A Trip to the Great Car Museums.” Luikens’s talk, titled “War Stories from the First Golden Age of High Performance – the High Performance Legacy of Berger Chevrolet,” will take place April 19, and Luikens said he hopes to see as many Berger cars turn out for the event as possible.
For more information about the lecture series, visit GilmoreCarMuseum.org.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Jim was the featured, after-dinner speaker and spoke on the History of the 1963 Tempest #50 Pontiac Race Car and the recreation that is currently under construction.