Old Car City

Made in America, Odd Collections, People, Traditions
on May 6, 2001

Dean Lewis, owner of Old Car City, has 4,000 vintage cars on his lot. That means there are approximately 3,458 more cars than people in his hometown of White, Ga.

Lewis loves cars, and it shows. To get into his office, you must walk under a 1957 Chrysler mounted over the doorway. Inside, you'll find him either parked at his desk talking cars with a customer, or walking around his outdoor emporium admiring his hard-to come-by vehicles—almost all of which were built before 1972. Many of his cars are housed and protected from the elements under various sheds, but some are just "in the woods" as one customer put it.

Many of Lewis' cars are restorable, while some just yield parts. He calls a No. 3 car one that's in good condition. A No. 6 might be a rusted frame of a car used only for parts—perhaps a door, moldings, or a heater core.

"I grew up around them," Lewis says about his car fancy. "For as long as I can remember, there have been cars in and around my family. I love 'em."

He must. It's not every car dealer who can rattle off the model, condition, and appraisal value of all his available cars.

Lewis' late father, Walt, and mother, Lucile, 88, opened the business in 1931 as Walt Lewis General Store. They kept 50 cars outside and parts inside for sale.

"People would come here to swap cars," Lucile says.

When Lewis took over the business in 1970, he changed the name to Old Car City. He deals strictly in American cars—heavy metal, as he calls them—citing their durability. Word has it he's the largest dealer of American antique autos, trucks and parts in the world, and he's shipped cars to Belgium, London and Canada.

"A fella called from Australia wanting directions to my place," Lewis says. "Two weeks later, he showed up looking for a 1954 Dodge."

Though that customer didn't purchase anything, most others leave satisfied.

Randy Scott, from Villa Rica, Ga., was on his way back from a trip to the mountains when he spotted OCC. He stopped in and looked at a 1940 Ford Coupe Deluxe.

"1940 is far enough back in time that you can't find them sitting in barns or on someone's carport anymore. I was glad to find it," Scott says, grinning ear to ear. "I'll bring the car home and put it alongside my 1950 Ford two-door sedan."

Americans have a long-standing love affair with their cars. They're glorified in our popular music and have been an important part—if not the subject—of more than 150 movies, such as Coupe De Ville, Ford: The Man and The Machine and Heart Like a Wheel.

It seems there's a car for every personality. Take, for instance, the car owned by Marilyn Monroe, a streamlined 1955 Lincoln Capri convertible painted coral pink—a lipstick shade, perhaps—and sporting extended rear fenders. Lewis has the same make on his lot.

Of course, a trip to OCC wouldn't be complete without a look at Elvis Presley's last car, a maroon 1977 Lincoln Continental Mark V. Lewis bought it to promote his business. Though he likes having the car, he says he'd sell it if the right deal came along.

His other celebrity car is the 1946 truck Johnny Cash and Andy Griffith used in the movie Murder in Coweta County.

But the car Lewis wants most has so far eluded him. A man from TNN television network who'd been buying parts from Lewis arranged for him to meet Dolly Parton backstage at a concert. Like any smart businessman, he handed her his card. When she asked him how much he'd give for her 1967 Camaro, he hesitated. And before he could reply, she left to go on stage. "Darn," he says, "that Camaro is my favorite car. I have others I like—a 1957 Chevy and a 1934 Ford, but that one? Oh well."

Next time you're in northwest Georgia, stop by OCC. Dean Lewis and his mother are always glad to talk cars. But watch out—Lucile probably will try to sell you her 1959 Thunderbird.