Cadillac roadster enthusiasts to meet up in Billings

2014-07-31T14:22:00Z 2014-08-02T23:39:06Z Cadillac roadster enthusiasts to meet up in BillingsBy ZACH BENOIT zbenoit@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

With the flick of a switch from the driver’s seat, the trunk of Rod Hessler’s 2007 Cadillac XLR convertible pops open and the hard-top roof moves out, up and toward the front of the car on mechanized arms before settling on the body.

That’s just one of the many aspects of the XLR that Hessler and other enthusiasts like himself love about the now-discontinued luxury roadster and something a handful of them from across North America will get to talk about when they meet up for a week in Billings beginning on Sunday.

“These things, they just get wild,” Hessler said of the XLR. “The uniqueness of them. You know when you see one.”

Called the Montana Rocket XLR Run, the meetup will bring about 10 XLR enthusiasts and their cars to Billings from Aug. 3-10 to show off their rides and tour some the region’s scenic drives.

Beginning on Sunday, the cars will be on display off and on throughout the week in the Crowne Plaza parking lot, when their owners are driving them on trips along the Beartooth Highway, in Yellowstone Park, through Wyoming’s Shell Canyon and around the Billings area.

On Wednesday, they’ll hold a car show at Yellowstone Cellars and Winery, 1335 Holiday Circle. The public is welcome to attend.

The XLR was one of Cadillac’s flagship vehicles during its production run, from 2004 to 2009, before it was discontinued after only about 16,500 of them were produced.

“They’re built on a Corvette chassis and are Cadillac everything else,” Hessler said.

Hessler bought his XLR on eBay in 2008 for a small fraction of its original $87,000 asking price. It’s original owner had totaled it in a crash and Hessler, who owned and operated a Billings body shop at the time, bought it to rebuild it.

He did just that, completely rebuilding the front half of the roadster. He attended two meetups similar to the upcoming Billings version and was planning to host and organize a similar one over the summer of 2013.

“This was something that was in the works before my accident,” Hessler said. “And this car was the last full rebuild I did before it.”

A few months before the planned June 8, 2013, meetup, Hessler suffered life-threatening burns in an explosion and fire while he was welding at his body shop. He spent three months recovering in a Colorado burn unit and had to cancel the event.

But now, with a year of recovery that’s brought him back close to 100 percent, he’s ready to show off one of his favorite cars, and give others the chance to do the same.

“It’s so rare to see one of them, let alone seven or eight in a row, driving down the road,” he said. “I know there are more of them in Billings and if anyone wants to join, just give me a call.”

For more information on the event, call Hessler at 698-7073 or 245-7893.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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