It wasn’t the typical scene outside the Maplewood headquarters of 3M Co. Friday as a parade of 101 exotic cars headed out on a two-day drive to Chicago as part of a fundraiser for the Epilepsy Foundation.
Lamborghinis, Porsches, Corvettes, BMWs, Ferraris and scores of other cars revved engines as 3M employees cheered car enthusiasts who had volunteered their time and hot rods for the Crown Rally, billed as a 750-mile “navigational adventure.”
Founded by a couple of Minnesota software engineers looking to reduce their passion for hard-core motorcycle riding, the Crown Rally has become an annual event that involves driving teams who navigate a series of checkpoints on the way to Chicago to help raise money for charity.
The rally is not a “race” since drivers ride on regular roads and must obey speed limits. Instead, fundraising, check point challenges, prizes and camaraderie among car buffs are celebrated.
This year’s event features 23 sponsors, including 3M, which agreed a few months ago to host Friday’s Crown Rally kick off.
The maker of Scotch tape, bus wraps and cellphone brightening films also decked each rally car in colorful decals and graphics, making them look like rubber-burning roadsters worthy of a NASCAR racetrack.
By 9 a.m. Friday, a battalion of flashy cars swarmed the campus as drivers checked out friends’ rides that were recently transformed by 3M graphics. Even the less glitzy Subarus and Jeeps sparkled like sports cars.
Until 3M’s partnership, Crown Rally cars “never had professional graphics. We just put on our own logos,” with mixed results, said DeLorean owner Matt Smith, who has participated in all three Crown Rally events. “Notice there are no air bubbles under here,” he said, admiring his vehicle. “That’s because they know what they are doing, as opposed to me who used to haphazardly throw it up there and hope for the best.”
At Friday’s rally, Chevys, Fords and Toyotas mixed it up with such exotics as Smith’s DeLorean and the McLaren P1 (worth about $1.5 million); a Porsche 918 ($1 million); and the rare Rezvani Beast (U.S. made) and Porsche RWB (made in Japan).
“We have the best cars flown or trailered in from all over the country,” said Crown Rally co-founder Justin Brouwer. “But the Crown Rally is not just for exclusive cars. We have ‘average cars’ too.”
Brad Hofvander’s newly decked black Cadillac CTS-V Wagon was the rally’s lead car Friday.
“My father has epilepsy, so this became a good personal cause,” Hofvander said, adding that he raised $6,000 for the foundation. He checked his GoPro cameras — one inside and one outside the car — and then gunned his engine before dashing to the starting line next to 3M’s newly built Design Center.
One hundred cars followed — including the Porsche Cayman driven by 3M senior product designer Nicholas Echeverri. Thanks to a chance meeting with Brouwer a year ago at the Brainerd International Raceway, the Crown Rally was now launching from his workplace and he was driving.
“I’ve never done a rally before. It’s like a dream come true.” Echeverri said.
Echeverri saw the Crown Rally decals on Brouwer’s Porsche in Brainerd and asked if he had ever worked with 3M vinyls. Soon Brouwer met 3M’s graphic film experts. They loved the idea of the rally and of using the 3M Wrap Film Series 1080 on participating cars.
Five months ago, Crown Rally registrants began taking their cars to one of three 3M-approved graphic installers. Yelo Autosports in Little Canada codesigned and installed decals on 98 cars. Creative Color Graphic and Print in Burnsville and Brand Ink in St. Paul separately wrapped three entire cars in fancy graphics and paint protection films. The jobs featured hand cut 3M vinyl films with curves, carbon fiber finishes, stripes, mirror-like coatings and more.
By Friday, rally drivers had raised more than $40,000 for the Epilepsy Foundation.
“We are really excited,” said Cordell Hardy, technical director for 3M’s $1.5 billion Safety/Graphics Commercial Solutions Division. “The energy of this event is the most exciting thing for me. We are so honored to sponsor this event.”
“Still, the rally will require faith from drivers. Everyone knows where we are starting and ultimately that we will end somewhere in Chicago. But in between, no one knows where we are going,” said Brower, laughing.
The first checkpoint Friday was Agave Kitchen, a restaurant in Hudson, Wis. A later check point would include a racetrack, where drivers could test their metal. Another scheduled check point was a hotel where the drivers stay the night.
“With this ride, point B is always kind of a mystery,” Echeverri said.