BY GRETCHEN MURRAY
Special to the Record-Eagle
— TRAVERSE CITY — Jeff Stolowski loves cars — fast, loud, muscle cars.
Stolowski, of Traverse City, has a penchant for vintage Oldsmobiles, which he likes to find and restore. But he never expected his hobby to lead to the car buy of a lifetime and a big commitment to a local charity.
Stolowski researching his purchase of a neglected 1970 Olds 442 he bought for $600 at a Haslett estate sale in 2005 and realized he had the long-lost Number 1 Pace Car of the 1970 Indianapolis 500. It dawned on him that the car was a museum piece, so he sent it to Thornton Muscle Cars in Quakertown, Pa. for restoration.
As the car came together so did Stolowski’s vision of a way to turn his passion for cars into a way to help others. Now the founder of The Great American Muscle Car Giveaway, Stolowski and his wife Johanna are set on restoring other muscle cars with the purpose of raffling them off each year as their way of helping the March of Dimes’ mission for healthier babies.
Stolowski turned to his friend Bob Ashton of Pontiac for help. Ashton runs the world’s largest specialty car show, the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals, and gave him encouragement.
“Jeff wasn’t quite sure what to do, but he felt incredibly blessed to find that car, and somehow wanted to pay back his good fortune,” Ashton said. “We compared experiences and came up with a plan to do a car raffle every year that would be totally different than any other car raffle.”
Ashton said this year the Stolowskis are donating a fully-restored 1970 Oldsmobile Rallye 350, and next year Stolowski is setting his sights even higher by donating an exact replica of the 1970 Indy 500 Pace Car to the 2014 raffle, along with a trip to the 2014 Indy 500.
“I have a passion for these cars. They’re works of art,” Stolowski said. “All the muscle cars were dreamed up in Michigan, built in Michigan. These are Michigan cars, and I want them to help Michigan people.”
Stolowski decided the March of Dimes was a good fit with his goals, but the offer seemed too good to be true, said Gina Schulz, director of the organization’s Traverse City district.
“I met with Jeff at lunch about six months ago, and he told me he wanted to do this for the March of Dimes,” Schulz, said. “I didn’t believe him, but our goals did match. Our core mission states that money raised in Michigan stays in Michigan,” she said. “I left thinking I wouldn’t hear from him again, but he showed up the next day and showed me the title to the car he wanted to give away.”
The car was the fully-restored Sebring yellow Rallye 350, valued at around $25,000, which is this year’s raffle prize under Michigan Raffle License R20927. The raffle continues through Nov. 23. Tickets are $10, and the winner will be drawn at Cherry Capital Cadillac at 8 p.m. on November 23.
Tickets can be purchased at the March of Dimes, 10850 E. Traverse Hwy., Ste. 4445 or by phone at 231-947-2488 or on the web at www.tourforacure.net.