When Enoch “Nickie” Johnson sketched his dream car on a piece of paper in 1913, it looked like no other car in existence. It had eight wheels, rode low to the ground, and had all sorts of gauges and adornments.
The following year, he started collecting car parts, mostly Dodge, that he would put together to form his car. He collected parts until 1960, and then, in 1961, assembled the pieces into the Oktacar which became a standard feature in parades in Red Wing in the early 1960s.
“I have home movies of this car when it was in the parades in Red Wing,” said Mike Wilson, founder of the Red Wing Marine Museum and current owner of the Oktacar.
Johnson, a mechanic, inventor, and musician in Red Wing, sold the car to a museum in Elkton, S.D., in 1966. In 1970, the vehicle moved to a museum in Sioux Falls, S.D., and in 1977, it ended up in the Pioneer Auto Museum in Murdo, S.D. Wilson purchased the Oktacar from the Pioneer Auto Museum on April 11, 2017, and brought the car back to Red Wing with plans to put it on display at the Red Wing Marine Museum when space is available.
“The guy was a little bit eccentric,” Wilson said. “He liked lights and gauges and widgets. That’s why he made so much of the stuff on this car.”
The Oktacar features a 1953 Dodge “Red Ram” 241 cubic inch Hemi engine with 140 horsepower and automatic transmission. Power is provided by the front set of back tires, although a belt system connects those tires to the back set. The front of the car is protected by a wooden bumper.
One of the most difficult problems was how to make four front tires turn to steer the car.
“Just to figure out the geometry of turning this thing would drive anyone else crazy,” Wilson said. “He had to sit down and figure that out and make it correct.”
With the large motor, there was no room in front for a radiator, so Johnson, who designed many of the lifts in Red Wing boat houses, built the frame of the car using two-and-a-half inch pipe which he used to circulate water to a horizontal radiator in the back of the car.
“You have to be careful where you put your hand when you get in and out of the car,” Wilson said. “I’ve burned my hand on those pipes after the car has been running awhile.”
Johnson added all sorts of lights and horns and things to the car, many items he made himself. After buying the car, Wilson wanted to simplify some of the gadgets and wiring.
“We went through the wiring, and I had a pile of wire on the floor when we got done,” he said. “It was wiring that just wasn’t needed.”
While most people in Red Wing who remember the Oktacar picture it rolling down the street at parade speed, Wilson said it does just fine on the highway.
“I’ve run this down the road at 60 miles per hour, and she runs as nice as can be,” he said. “I don’t hold it there too long, because I’m afraid that stuff is going to start flying off this thing. She rumbles right down the road.”
In the 1960s, the car was featured in Hot Rod Magazine and Popular Science. In the September 1961 issue of Popular Science, Johnson said, “It rides great. The eight wheels glide over bumps and dips like a snake crawling over the ground.”
Working on the Oktacar has given Wilson respect for what Johnson created six decades ago.
“The guy was a genius in what he did,” Wilson said. “The things he did to make things fit were amazing. There is a lot of welding and cutting and fitting. There is only one of these.”