For decades, as a business owner in the Atlanta area, Ole Miss alumnus Tad Provence (BBA 67) has crossed paths with Georgia Tech’s “Ramblin’ Wreck.” The old Ford Model A, named after the school’s fight song, is a rolling gold and white symbol of Georgia Tech athletics.
Provence has witnessed how the crowds are stirred by the appearance of the car grumbling onto the gridiron, flanked by cheerleaders. The school’s football team streams onto the field behind it.
Make no mistake — Provence still bleeds Rebel red and blue. But he couldn’t help but feel the rumble of Georgia Tech’s jalopy during his 42 years in Atlanta. Evidence of the car is everywhere — even on the cover of the Atlanta phone book. At one point, the car’s driver lived across the street from him.
“I’ve got so many friends who are Georgia Tech fans,” Provence says. “Through the years I’ve been to a lot of ball games, and as a fan, seeing that thing come onto the field, it’s a great, exciting thing.”
Then, something happened that for Provence, was Providence. Expanding his carpeting and flooring business in the late 1990s, he bought an 800-square-foot metal building previously owned by a car buff.
Inside were the scattered, disassembled pieces of a 1930 Ford Model A Sport Coupe.
Provence says he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his find.
“When I bought the property, the pieces to this Model A were strewn all over that building, so I piled them in a corner and said, ‘One of these days, I’m going to do something with them,’” he says. “Deep down inside, I had already decided that I really wanted to copy the idea that Georgia Tech had with their Ramblin’ Wreck. I decided I would build the car for that purpose and then kinda hang out and wait for my time to bring it to Ole Miss.”
Realizing a dream
Provence is one of a steady stream of family members to attend Ole Miss. He reckons he’s related to 21 Ole Miss alumni. Paving the way were his older brothers, with him following close behind. After them have come more generations of Ole Miss students.
“Now we’ve got nieces, nephews, grandchildren, who are Ole Miss alumni,” he says. “And we’ve got more on the way.”
After graduation in 1967, Provence, a New Albany native, worked in Memphis for a few years for the Frigidaire division of General Motors. He followed the company to its regional office in Atlanta. After a few years, he found himself marrying into a flooring business. After divorcing out of it, he started his own successful flooring company, and later bought his ex-father-in-law’s business.
Through the years, he has stayed connected to Ole Miss through family in New Albany, visits to campus, and active involvement in the Atlanta-area Ole Miss Club.
Now, retirement is beckoning for Provence. He is still connected to his company — “I moved from my big office to a small office,” he says, and has turned day-to-day operations over to his nephew, a Georgia Tech grad.
(There’s that Ramblin’ Wreck connection again.)
About six years ago, Provence got serious about his Model A. He began researching the car model on websites. He picked the brain of his old neighbor, the Ramblin’ Wreck driver. He found a top-notch car restorer in the Atlanta area.
But, first things first. How would he justify the expense to his wife, his company’s chief financial officer and not much of a football fan?
“With my wife, who is the CFO of the company, I thought the best idea was, we’ve got an 80-year-old company, we ought to have an 80-year-old car.” But he had visions of red and blue.
The painstaking restoration began in 2005, and lasted more than two years. “I found a guy here in Georgia who is a fine restorer and rebuilt the car, built it from the ground up, piece by piece,” Provence says. “The car has been rebuilt to the original specifications except for the red and blue color. It’s basically like a brand new car now.”
Provence made his dream a reality. The time had come for him to share it with the Ole Miss faithful.
‘Just started showing up’
Provence first brought his car to campus in 2008. “I just kind of started showing up, parking the car wherever I could,” he says. “Nobody really bothered me, even though I was parked illegally, by the Grove, showing the car.”
He returned in 2009, and discovered that even an Ole Miss-themed Model A can’t drive around campus parking rules forever. Police relegated him to whatever parking space he could find around the Loop, early on Friday, just like any other car.
Last season, Provence found Providence again, in the form of Alumni Association Executive Director Tim Walsh, who gave the Model A a prominent spot at the Triplett Alumni Center, at the corner of Grove Loop and Alumni Drive, next to the throngs of Grove tailgaters.
Provence has been blown away by the response to his car, which is a magnet for Rebel fans and opponents alike. Countless people have stopped to snap pictures and reminisce about the good old days.
“Anybody can take a picture with the car, whether they’re Ole Miss fans or the opponents’ fans,” he says. “It’s amazing to watch our opponents respond to the car and get their picture made with it.”
While anyone can take a picture next to the car, Provence says there are a few perks, for some: Anyone over 65 can have a picture sitting inside it, and anyone 5 or younger can jump into the car’s rumble seat. “We give the very young and the old ones a little special treatment,” he says.
“It is really neat to see the old-timers who actually drove Model As enjoy the car, and think back to those times,” Provence says. “Young kids who have never really seen an antique really do enjoy it too.”
Don’t tell his CFO, but Provence says he has more than $50,000 invested in the Model A — a car, by the way, which retailed for around $1,000 in 1930. “She likes the car now, that’s the main thing,” he says. “She knows how much I’m enjoying it. She wouldn’t deny me the opportunity to have fun with it.”
The car makes appearances at club meetings and other Alumni Association events, in addition to being parked at the Alumni Center for every home football game.
Provence hasn’t realized his ultimate dream: His Model A leading the Ole Miss Rebels into Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, cheerleaders hanging onto the running boards, Ole Miss’ new mascot in the rumble seat. But he says he has been talking to Athletics Department officials, and still hopes to contribute the car in a more official way.
In the meantime, it remains a conversation piece at the Grove. And, Provence is content with the fact that countless fans have already taken notice of his Ole Miss Model A.
“If it gets fans fired up, then I’m fired up,” he says. “It’s a toy that I’m just glad to let everyone else enjoy.”