Clinton car comes down: Businessmen remove area ‘landmark’

The once-stuck and seemingly permanent hillside car in Clinton is no more.

Kevin Lungren drives away from the Clinton hillside with the abandoned Mazda coupe flipped over while Fred Lundahl takes video of the endeavor Feb. 3.

The once-stuck and seemingly permanent hillside car in Clinton is no more. Ben Watanabe / The Record | Colin Campbell rappels down the hillside in Clinton from a rope attached to a once-abandoned car.

A group of four intrepid businessmen took it upon themselves to remove the car from a private property hillside near Highway 525 and Bob Galbreath Road this week. Spurred by a Record story about the car’s origin and perceived meaning, Kevin Lungren, Colin Campbell, Fred Lundahl and Shane Thompson towed the car off the hill Wednesday morning. Their reason was simple: people want to see Clinton improved, and they didn’t want to wait for anyone else to help the natural beauty of the area flourish.

“Unless the people who live here care for where they live, unless you’re willing to take action yourself, you can’t ask others,” Campbell said moments prior to overseeing the truck towing the car about 100 feet down to a barbershop and commercial building along the highway.

Campbell, owner-operator of Cadée Distillery, and Lungren of Edward Jones Investments in Clinton spent Tuesday afternoon preparing for the endeavor. They spent the past week or so planning. They had asked the permission of the property owner, former Langley mayor Paul Samuelson, and found a way to dispose of the car courtesy of Island Recycling.

More than permission and disposal, the car’s removal required some lumberjacking. The car was lodged against an alder estimated to be at least 30 years old. With much of the undercarriage rusted out, rolling it down the hill on four flat tires was impractical. Instead, the men flipped it onto the roof, Campbell said, “like a sled.”

It’s kind of a landmark.”

Curt Gordon,

Port of South Whidbey commissioner

“This thing’s been eaten alive,” he said.

Years ago, though no one is certain exactly when, a driver attempted a straight, downhill, off-road commute from the restaurant that is now Hong Kong Gardens to the highway. The trip was short lived, however, as the Mazda coupe hit a young alder head on. With the car pulled down from the brush and bramble, the Washington state license plate had car tabs dated October 1990.

“That was the way somebody’s night ended sometime,” said Curt Gordon, a nearly lifelong Clinton resident, Port of South Whidbey Commissioner and Clinton Community Council member.

It made its annual appearance every fall and winter as leaves fell and exposed the bright yellow, decaying car on the hillside. Any vigilant commuters and visitors traveling north on the highway could spot it, clear as day, partway down the hill.

“It’s kind of a landmark,” Gordon said. When the cafe Anchor Books and Coffee operated just a few years ago, he said it was an odd conversation starter to sit at a table and look up at the car and wonder.

Efforts to improve the area’s aesthetics have been somewhat successful. The Washington State Department of Transportation conducts more frequent clearing of vegetation along the walkway to the ferry. Flower plantings near Clinton Community Hall add springtime color. Radar signs help slow the traffic as it zips and zooms to and from the ferry terminal. Treasure Island, the former everything yard/barn shop across the highway, closed last year. All of those changes began a process of altering the identity of Whidbey Island’s southern gateway from what some criticized as being the wrong kind of visual aesthetic for visitors to Clinton. Ben Watanabe / The Record | The Mazda coupe in its inglorious form after decades of waste.

“I don’t think it is emblematic,” Lungren said of the decrepit car representing Clinton’s commercial struggles. Large vacancies still dot the main business area, with Anchor Books’ former location and several spots in the small strip mall near the Clinton Food Mart empty. Ben Watanabe / The Record | Rust and time have left their mark on the Mazda coupe formerly stuck on a prominent hillside in Clinton.

“I believe to my core in 10 years we won’t recognize Clinton,” he added.

But taking the car down may be a bridge too far. Some members of the Clinton Community Council, the group of volunteers working on long-range planning and giving the unincorporated area a voice to the county and state, didn’t even know the old sedan was there.

“If it’s there, we ought to just leave it,” Clinton Community Council President Jack Lynch laughed, prior to the car’s removal. “It fits with the iconic nature of Clinton, one more feature that makes us outstanding in our own way.”

Despite its prominent color among the earth tones of the thicket, many longtime Clinton residents had not noticed it prior to The Record’s story. Neither Lynch nor Clinton Progressive Association President and Clinton Thursday Market organizer Carol Flax had seen it until alerted of its existence and location. Ben Watanabe / The Record | Rust, in places, has eaten through the frame of the Mazda coupe once on the Clinton hillside.

Several efforts are underway to help identify the commercial prospects for Clinton’s business hub near the terminal, from creating a sense of place through traffic mitigation to events. Also, business owners and volunteers are trying to spark interest in growth. They want people to consider Clinton, and those endeavors are more important to the policymakers and long-range goals of Clinton.

In an interview this past week, Gordon said the hillside car could have been an unconventional way of accomplishing economic development or at least creating identity. Ben Watanabe / The Record | The interior of the Clinton hillside Mazda coupe has seen better days.

“Let’s make the car into the Fremont Troll and get the off-island tourists to stop and take some pictures,” he said, referring to the iconic Volkswagen Beetle that is covered in concrete like a troll under the Aurora Bridge in Seattle.

But such possibilities appear past. The car was taken to Island Recycling, where it will remain for scrap or restoration or any interested parties — or the original owner.

“Anyone who actually cares about that vehicle can go to Island Recycling and get it,” Campbell said.

Ben Watanabe / The Record | Colin Campbell, Shane Thompson, Sandi Coutts, Kristi Price, Kevin Lungren and Fred Lundahl pose with the once-maligned and informal landmark in Clinton, an abandoned Mazda coupe on a hillside.

More in News

Langley man airlifted after rollover crash

A Langley resident was airlifted for treatment after rolling his 1995 Ford… Continue reading

Historical society to lead presentation about Gabelein family history

Pick up a local phone book. Thumb to the page with the… Continue reading

Laura Guido/Whidbey News Group
                                The Kettles trails were acquired by Island County in 1996 using funds from the conservation futures program. The county is now accepting applications for the 2018 award cycle, but a low fund balance may limit the acceptance of new projects.
No guarantees for awarding of conservation futures funds

The Island County Conservation Futures Program is now accepting applications from eligible… Continue reading

No injuries in pair of crashes

Two car crashes on Wednesday in Clinton did not result in any… Continue reading

Firefighter stops chicken coop fire, helps save Langley home

A quick response by a local firefighter may have helped save a… Continue reading

Photo provided
                                A evidence photo taken by police shows a deputy’s AR-15 rifle that was involved in a police-related shooting on North Whidbey in September.
Review: Deputy justified in fatal shooting

A deputy was justified in fatally shooting Navy sailor Nicholas K. Perkins… Continue reading

Planning Commission member Tracy Gilroy speaks during a meeting on Monday. The commission voted to approve amendments made in response to a settlement agreement between Island County and the Whidbey Island Environmental Action Network. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times
Forest practices changes heading to board

Island County Planning Commission voted Monday to amend code related to forest… Continue reading

Dancing Fish Farm to buzz with The Bee Eaters fiddlers

Acoustic concert features fiddling siblings

Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News Group
                                John Bagley, left, makes a preliminary appearance in Island County Superior Court Monday. He’s accused of pawning a telescope stolen from a robotics club.
Man arrested for pawning robotics club’s telescope

A man faces a felony charge after getting caught pawning a telescope… Continue reading

Most Read