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Kevin Houtwed spends most of his spare time finding cars that are experiencing the fullest effects of gravity.

He travels hundreds of miles around his hometown of Grand Island, searching for Detroit dinosaurs sinking into farmyards, pastures and shelter belts.

A ’31 Chevy coupe with a tree growing through it. A Galaxie engulfed by grass. A topless T-Bird rusting in the Sandhills.

He shares his photos — and his condolences — with the 20,000 followers of his Facebook page, Kevin’s Rust in Peace.

Houtwed was too busy Tuesday to watch Tesla founder Elon Musk launch his own Roadster into space. But he took some time Friday to wonder whether the $100,000 Tesla truly embodies the best of U.S. auto design: Is this the one car we want to show off to the rest of the universe?

Probably not. It’s a nice car, he said — he took a trip through Norway in a Tesla two years ago — but it’s not an American classic, at least not yet.

“When I think of the car that would represent the U.S., I think of a Mustang or Camaro,” he said. “Something a little more apple pie, if you know what I’m saying.”

Musk needed a test payload for the launch of his Falcon Heavy rocket, so he chose the “silliest thing we can imagine,” his own car. With a mannequin named Starman at the wheel and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” coming through the speakers, the 2008 red Roadster is expected to orbit the sun for hundreds of millions of years.

Car enthusiasts have strong opinions, typically divided among three car company lines. But they agreed a Tesla would not have been their first choice for the perpetual road trip.

Steve Schappaugh of Lincoln’s Musclecar Memories Restorations didn’t hesitate: A second-generation Chevy Corvette, built between 1963 and 1967, is one of the country’s most memorable cars and would make a strong galactic ambassador.

“I’ve been around for a lot of years and to me it’s kind of the iconic car when I was younger,” he said. “Anyone from my dad to my grandson recognizes that generation of Corvette as a Corvette.”

Auctioneer Yvette VanDerBrink of South Dakota made national news in Nebraska in 2011, when she sold the 500-car Lambrecht Chevrolet collection in Pierce.

She understands Musk’s motives. He’s a self-promoter, and hurling a Tesla toward Mars is the ultimate marketing event. “It’s a good representation of the tech world. It’s an electric car, and they’re trying to be in the future.”

But she had three better models in mind: The new Corvette; the Dodge Hellcat Challenger; and the Ford Mustang Bullitt. All three reflect the best of the past, and future, of American muscle.

“If they were expecting an alien to look at a car that would be representative of the U.S., you’d have to have three of them to represent the big three,” she said.

Dan Zichek of the Capitol City Ford and Mustang Club did not suggest a Mustang, even though he owns two.

Zichek followed the launch, and he knows something about Tesla. He said his son Andrew works for the company in California, drives a Model S and can’t wait for his Ford-loving father to experience its instant torque.

Zichek suggested a Ford Model T would have been a better payload, as a nod to Henry Ford and his mass production that made automobiles affordable and accessible and changed the country.

“I’d say Henry Ford really was the start of the automotive revolution,” he said.

Back in Grand Island, Houtwed will continue to chronicle the rusty remnants he finds in rural Nebraska. He knows they’ll return to the earth and disappear altogether, while the Roadster above will remain.

“The cars I’ve taken pictures of, they’ll have a pretty short lifespan compared to the Tesla.”

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On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.



Peter Salter is a reporter.

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