Back on the road
After Cruella de Vil car crash, Janice Link found new wheels
Fort Dodge residents may once again see a long and luxurious white car cruising the streets with Dalmatians as passengers.
No, the driver isn’t Cruella de Vil from the popular Disney movie “101 Dalmatians.”
Janice Link, of Fort Dodge, is the one behind the wheel.
The Dalmatians aren’t real. They are soft, plush animals.
But Link still cares for her furry friends.
“I’ve got 48 of them inside the house,” Link said. “They sleep well and eat well. And as a matter of fact, they are stuffed.”
For about the past five years, Link, dressed as Cruella de Vil, has driven around town to various events in a white 1986 Excalibur, built on a 1986 Camaro kit car.
But when she first acquired the car, she had no idea about the “101 Dalmatians.”
“I just liked the car,” Link said. “I didn’t know what it was, but I thought man is that neat. Then everyone kept saying that’s the Cruella de Vil car, and I said, ‘you’re kidding?’ I didn’t know anything about it, so we got a movie from the rental place and I said by golly that looks just like it. Before I knew it, there I was.”
That’s when Link decided she’d play the part. Included in her wardrobe is a black dress, leather red gloves, a black and white wig. Oh, and between her fingers is a slim cigarette in a foot-long holder.
She said her friends and family get a kick out of the role she plays.
“I have a lot of fun with it,” Link said. “And the kids love it.”
But on July 25, Link ran into some trouble.
She was in her car at the top of the North Seventh Street hill when she realized the car’s electrical system went out.
“I had no brakes, no power steering or horn,” Link recalled. “I couldn’t let anyone know I was coming”
The car weighed about 3,000 pounds and rolled backwards down the hill at about 35 mph before slamming into a utility pole.
The impact cracked the back bumper and startled Link.
“Oh God, I was terrified,” Link said. “Absolutely terrified. My biggest fear was that I would have kept going and hit someone. When it’s going at that speed they wouldn’t have expected someone coming down the hill and I didn’t think screaming was going to do it.”
After the crash, Link had a difficult time getting out of the car.
“I couldn’t get out the doors because the frame was all twisted and whatever,” she said. “I had both legs out the window and was ready to jump down.”
That’s when total strangers nearby decided to help, she said.
“A couple of kids came along in a truck and said, ‘no, we will help,’ and they got on each side and helped me onto the ground,” Link said. “It was a lady that came across the street. She had a first aid kit.”
Link said one of the young men told her she was bleeding.
“He tore off his shirt and said use this,” Link said. “And I said, ‘don’t do that,’ and he said it’s an old shirt, and then she came across the street with a first aid kit.”
Link said she had a 2-inch gash above her head from hitting it on the steering wheel, but was otherwise OK.
“I had no aches or pains,” she said. “Don’t tell me how that happened.”
The car was totaled.
“I was heartbroken,” Link said. “After that I thought well I’ll never find another one.”
But her husband, Al Link, did some research and found something he thought she’d like on the internet.
It was a 1992 National Moto Phantom on a 1989 Chevrolet Camaro body.
“I was shocked there was something out there that was similar,” Link said.
By Aug. 9, the Fort Dodge couple had purchased the car from its previous owner in Staunton, Illinois.
The car, which measures 18 and a half feet long, was transported to Link’s driveway on Aug. 22.
“She’s a big girl,” Link said.
She had a mechanic from Dayton check it over and by Sept. 4, Link was back on the road again.
“She drives nice,” Link said. “I’m very pleased.”
How fast can Cruella go?
“I had it doing 55 yesterday and a guy lifted the hood and said my God is that an engine,” Link said. “He said you could race with that.”
Link said she plans to take her Cruella car for a few more spins this year. But when winter comes, she plans to store it away.
On a recent Sunday, she drove it out to Pizza Ranch.
“The whole staff came out to see it,” Link said. “It’s something to have fun with.”
Link said she’s doing much better since the crash.
“I have a sign in my kitchen that says, ‘you aren’t dealing with an ordinary woman,'” Link said. “And my husband just laughs.”