Old Car City: When Nature and Old Cars Collide, It Makes Something Beautiful
If you love old cars and nature, why not blend the two with a visit to Old Car City in White, Georgia. One of the most unique places you will ever visit, Old Car City has the largest known collection of classic cars in a junkyard in the world. The cars are scattered throughout the yard, and nature has been allowed to come in and do its thing amongst them. It is as if a forest has grown and sprouted old cars with it as part of the vegetation. With hundreds of cars and plenty of classic Old South greenery to explore, Old Car City is a place you won't soon forget.
Old Car City began as a car dealership in 1931. It is still owned and operated by the same family who started the original dealership. The mission and purpose of the space has just changed, even as the cars have stayed. Located an hour's drive north of Atlanta, Old Car City is 34 acres of something special.
There are over 4,200 cars at Old Car City, all scattered amongst the forest that is part of the attraction. All of the cars are 1972 models or older. Some of the cars are genuine rare antiques, going back to the earliest days of the auto industry itself. The way the cars keep their dignity while being allowed to become part of the landscape is something you won't find anywhere else. It is truly a junkyard that can honestly be described as beautiful.
Old Car City is a junkyard museum. How many other places can you think of that have the same designation? Even if you can think of other junkyard museums, do any of them specialize in old cars? Likely not. Old Car City is something unto itself entirely, and an idea that is both imaginative and inspiring.
Owner Walter Dean Lewis inherited the car dealership from his parents, and slowly began to grow his collection of classic cars on the lot in the 1970's. He has many rare models there today, from a 1941 Mack milk truck (a true automobile rarity) to several 1950's-era Cadillacs with large fins like you see in movies from the time period. Lewis says he was brought up on cars and trucks, and never knew anything else. He kept many of the cars that came to his lot, thinking that one day they would be valuable. He was right in that regard. Many of the cars on his lot are worth a fortune in today's collector's market. Some might not be available for viewing by the public anywhere else, because the other models that exist are all kept carefully hidden in the garages and other storage facilities belonging to those wealthy collectors. At Old Car City, the unique and valuable models are available for everyone to see and enjoy.
While Old Car City has been developing as a museum for some time, Lewis kept selling auto parts from the location until about six years ago. It was then he realized just how popular the museum portion of his business had become, and thought it could be self-supporting as that alone. With that in mind, he stopped selling auto parts and just operated the museum. He charges $15 a person for regular visitors, and $25 for people who want to take photographs. The place is so unique in its appearance that Lewis estimates about 95 percent of the people who come there are there to take photographs, and don't mind paying the extra money in admission fees. With six miles of trails in the woods that are filled with rare and interesting car discoveries to explore, it is worth it to anyone who wants some good photographs to use in their own personal collection. In fact, the photographs you can take here will make excellent family memories, particularly if you bring the kids and/or grandkids and photograph them exploring and enjoying the cars (and the forest).
Lewis has added a little ambience to the place to make it seem more like the museum it is. He has artwork of various kinds up on walls, as well as amusing hand-painted signs and foam cups. Once in awhile, he gets his childhood friend, Eddie McDaniel, to play blues piano music by a shotgun and bear mounted to a wall as visitors enter the property.
Some of the cars on the lot have not moved from the spots they are in during the past thirty to forty years. During that time, trees have grown around and through the cars, and have even lifted some of them off the ground. Other cars have been turned into gigantic flower pots with colorful blossoms sticking out of them. When you look at the way the trees have mingled with the cars, the whole lot truly does become one large work of art.
Lewis looks at his car collection as a slice of history. When other people were discarding these cars for scrap metal, he was saving them. And he loves what he does. Being able to look at and work with old cars every day is truly Lewis's life's calling. He says he can't imagine doing anything else.
People do love the history associated with the cars at Old Car City. One of the most popular cars on the lot among visitors is a 1946 Ford truck that actually appeared in a movie. The movie was called "Murder in Coweta County," and was a 1983 movie that starred Johnny Cash and Andy Griffith. You don't find cars like that just anywhere.
The property itself is a piece of history. Lewis's parents bought the land that would become their car lot back when there was no electricity or paved roads in the area. They initially sold gas for 19 cents a gallon, and apples for a penny each. Once they earned some money, they bought an old junk car, then a second one. Soon, they had a car lot where they fixed up and sold junk cars. It was here that Lewis was born... in a junkyard. Being around these cars is bred into him from his very beginning.
Lewis spent his childhood playing with the cars on the lot, pretending to drive them all over the planet without leaving his parents' property. When he graduated high school, he worked for a while as a truck terminal manager, but then started buying junk cars to bring home to his parents so they could fix them up and sell them, or sell the parts. Over the years, he brought more than 4,000 cars to his parent's lot. Their lot soon became famous in the area, and they had many loyal customers. Even people who had never been there had heard of the family business in the town of White.
Lewis eventually inherited the family business from his parents, and as many of the older cars that hadn't moved in decades began to rust and merge with the forest that surrounded the lot, he began to see the place as more than a car lot. He saw it as a place to preserve automobile history... a museum.
His intuition was correct. People love Old Car City, and flock to it from all over the world. He has had visitors from as far away as Thailand, and as unlikely as Sweden. Even people who live in Detroit, the home of the automobile, travel to Old Car City. They come to see antique cars that even the birthplace of cars doesn't have anymore. But, those cars have a happy home at Old Car City.
And, Lewis knows every car on the lot intimately. He should. After all, he bought most of them. He rarely trades anything in, because he knows those cars have historical value, as well as value with collectors. He even still has the car his dad bought for him and his wife right after they got married. After she was done driving it, it became part of Old Car City.
While most of the thousands of cars there are just for observation and photography as museum exhibits, there are about half a dozen that Lewis has restored, and are technically for sale. There are no price tags on them. Lewis says he would sell them for the right price, whatever that may be. But he is quite attached to his cars. He hasn't actually sold any for years, and it seems unlikely he would really let any of them leave Old Car City now, even if the price was right.
Lewis has a strong belief in the righteousness of what he's doing. When some critics claimed he was letting good historical cars rot away in the woods, he proudly exclaimed that he was giving those cars a second life, and a way to be remembered through the pictures visitors take of them. The museum is a living auto show for the generations as far as Lewis is concerned, and that is how most visitors view it, too. He is preserving cars that might otherwise be scrapped or hidden from view. He is giving his visitors a real look at the history of cars, and it is one they can get up close and personal. Touching and interacting with the cars at Old Car City is encouraged. Children love to play on and around them. Rather than look at it as a graveyard for old cars, Lewis and his visitors see it as a happy place where those cars can be enjoyed as they were meant to be.
Old Car City is a perfect place to go to see automobile history in an intimate way. It's open rain or shine. Bring your camera and get ready to enjoy the natural setting of Georgia mixed with some of the most beautiful and intriguing antique cars you'll ever see. It's a visit to a unique place you will never forget.
We took over 3,000 photos during our visit.
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