Home > Americas, Explained, History > World’s Largest Old Car Junkyard: Old Car City U.S.A.

World’s Largest Old Car Junkyard: Old Car City U.S.A.

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Fifty miles north of Atlanta, a 34-acre compound houses one of the largest car collections in the world. But this collection doesn’t have polished Ferraris or Porsches under shining lights. There are no immaculate Mercedes or Bentleys proudly displayed behind velvet ropes.

A rusty sign out front of the site reads “The world’s oldest junkyard jungle, here 80 years.”

Most of this collection is unsalvageable midcentury American steel, and it lays strewn about a forested property in rural Georgia. Over 4,500 cars – most of which are model year 1972 or older – belong to a man who spent his life saving some of America’s classic cars from the crusher. Sometimes-Interesting teams up with a fellow blogger to explore the what and why behind Old Car City U.S.A.

Photos courtesy Galen Dalrymple

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The Beginning

Old-Car-City-3Old Car City began in 1931 as a general store, opened by the family of current owner Dean Lewis. Dean’s parents ran the store in the town of White, Georgia, and sold various items ranging from clothing to car parts, tires, and gasoline.

When the United States entered World War II, resources such as steel and tires became scarce as they were directed toward the war effort.

The Lewis family smartly followed the money and shifted the business into scrapping cars; by the late 1940s the general store had morphed into an auto salvage yard.

But Dean had a different vision for the business; rather than profit off the destruction of cars he wanted to preserve their legacies.

He recalls “My daddy bought me a ’40 Ford when I was about 12 or 14 and I just liked old cars from then on.”

(click thumbnails to enlarge)

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Dean Lewis era

Dean would eventually acquire the family business in 1970 and spent the next several decades acquiring various junked and wrecked vehicles without the intent to scrap them.

“When I got older and made some money, I got a loan and bought all these cars and it became Old Car City.”

It was a bold move and possibly disastrous business decision, but Dean is not normal – and he is proud of it.

What I’ve always done is try to do things that other people don’t do because if you do everything everyone else does, you’re going to be normal.

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I want to be more than normal.

– Dean Lewis

The contrarian’s passion for cars helped grow the collection to what it is today.

His favorite car is a 1944 coupe. Lewis also likes Lincolns and admits he may have more of those than any other make.

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Main Building

Inside the main office are the nicer and rarer vehicles, including one of Mr. Lewis’ favorite: The last car Elvis purchased, a 1977 Lincoln Mark V.

Collectible oddities and other Americana help create the vintage atmosphere inside. Upstairs is Dean’s art museum, mostly comprised of Styrofoam cups. Lewis decorates them after his morning coffee, and has been doing this for the last 30 years.

Antique toys, bicycles, school buses, and tractors have become staples of the Old Car City as well. A Cartersville Grand Theater marquis sits in the yard.

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Old Car Junkyard

Old-Car-City-82Old Car City bills itself as the world’s largest old car junkyard, so how many cars are on the property? Dean says he stopped counting after 4,000. One thing he knows: There are more cars in Old Car City than people in White, Georgia.

Three separate lots contain the cars, scattered across 34 acres. Behind the main building are 6.5 miles of groomed walking trails; it’s not difficult to get lost.

Every vehicle has its own story, many discernable by the condition of the car. One Chevy pickup was clearly in a rollover. Next to some bushes sits what looks like a T-boned Plymouth Valiant. It never had a chance.

Light dances across broken windows as spider webs glisten in the morning dew. The oldest vehicles have been reclaimed by nature, completely buried in foliage unmolested for sixty years. Some cars are stacked on top of one another, exactly as they were delivered decades earlier.

(click thumbnails to enlarge)

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Not Much of a Scrapyard

Old-Car-City-95Mr. Lewis sees his collection as a combination of art, nature, and history. He will tell those who ask most everything is for sale, but be prepared to pay to remove one of the exhibits as the prized collection has a nostalgic value to Dean.

Those looking for parts or projects have returned empty handed, saying “most of the stuff you can fix is too high priced” and “they really don’t want to sell anything.”

Patrons usually don’t leave museums angry because they can’t buy the exhibits. Is the problem a failure by Mr. Lewis to set expectations?

Old Car City is more of a museum than a salvage yard, and Lewis acknowledges as much with his advertising; the website today refers to it as a photographer’s paradise.

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Might be unsafe at any speed… but it’s still here.

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Dean doesn’t hesitate to remind his critics:

I bought old cars when they weren’t worth nothing. I saved them, other people crushed them.

 

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Visiting

A recent re-design and re-opening billed the attraction as “Nature, Art, History, and Cars.” The metamorphosis from salvage yard to museum has both antagonized the vehicle restoration community and pleased photographers and purists.

Admission prices vary; photographers can expect to pay more than visitors without cameras. Guests reported paying $10 several years ago. In September of 2013 a visitor reported the prices were $15 to look, $25 to take pictures. Today the website indicates the base entry fee as $25 without a camera.

Comments on review sites have recommended stopping at Wes-Man’s Restaurant across the street from Old Car City after a long day of walking the grounds. Southern food and vintage décor help complete the walk down memory lane.

Just don’t forget the insect repellent.

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Photos courtesy Galen Dalrymple

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Note: Galen provided so many great pictures, but unfortunately we couldn’t possibly feature all of them here. Kudos to his fantastic job capturing so many of the relics in Old Car City. Please visit his blog for additional information & photos.

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Old Car City USA, 3098 Highway 411 NE, White, Georgia, 30184

[ Visit on Maps: Google and Bing ]

[ Old Car City USA Facebook Page ]

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aerial view courtesy Google

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Categories: Americas, Explained, History
  1. April 23, 2014 at 18:27

    I belong to a photography club. I’ve yet to get into the two salvage yard events they book up so fast. This guy is wise to charge a nice price for photographers. We’ll pay it to photograph what he has. Fabulous photos. I have a friend in Atlanta. I’m sending him this piece and telling him when I’m in town, we’re going!

    • April 23, 2014 at 20:21

      Absolutely worth the trip. If you can, talk to Galen for some tips about a visit to the grounds. He’s a good guy and I’m sure would love to steer you in the right direction. :)

  2. April 23, 2014 at 18:55

    34 acres of memories and heaven :-)

    • April 23, 2014 at 20:21

      I absolutely agree! I need to get out there, camera or no camera. A playground for me either way.

  3. April 23, 2014 at 19:03

    Fabulous article and such wonderful photographs. I know someone who is simply nuts about cars and will love to see this.

    • April 23, 2014 at 20:23

      Thanks Carla, appreciate your sharing with friends. You’re always on top of my posts when they’re fresh – thanks for being a loyal reader. :-)

  4. Robin
    April 23, 2014 at 20:28

    What a dodo. Letting vintage cars rust to oblivion isn’t saving them.

    • StevieB
      April 24, 2014 at 01:55

      I’d rather see them restored too. some of those cars could (maybe) still be rebuilt – shame to see them rust away.

      • April 25, 2014 at 16:01

        well realistically everything has a price. If someone was motivated enough to rescue one of the vehicles… ;-)

  5. April 23, 2014 at 21:08

    What a great series. I want that shark teeth DeSoto. ;-)

  6. April 24, 2014 at 02:19

    What a waste! Sorry but these guys annoy the hell outa me. They say they are “saving” cars but won’t sell for a realistic price. All they are doing is prolonging the end. You, sir, are worse than those who junked these vehicles when their value was nothing. You are the lowest of the low, you are preventing the use of parts or even whole vehicles being used to preserve automotive history.

    Why would you go to such lengths to “save” these links to the past and then refuse those who are in a position to preserve them the chance to do so by either flat out refusing to sell or demanding outrageous prices for what you have?

    You don’t care, the only thing you care about is you, If you truly cared about preserving these irreplaceable monuments to ages past you would sell for what they are worth.Instead you ask silly money for them. As such you are worse than those who crushed these vehicles when their value was not established.

    You, sir, are an enemy f the preservation movement not a proponent of it and the sooner you realise that fact the better off the world will be.

  7. April 25, 2014 at 06:00

    Fascinating post and interesting comments on the decay vs restoration debate. In the end this is a world that has been moulded by one individual, it’s his collection, his mind and his vision. To counter the slow decay there are probably plenty of other people who are preserving and restoring old cars to pristine condition. I can understand though why someone with a love for vintage cars is going to despair at this.

    I did love the “art museum, mostly comprised of Styrofoam cups” detail.

    • April 25, 2014 at 16:04

      Ha, thanks Alex. This is a good debate, I can see both sides. I do like your point – we have hundreds of people restoring these cars, but only a handful are preserving them in arrested decay. Art or business, it’s definitely unique.

  8. April 27, 2014 at 11:06

    Another place to write on my list to visit! I love how mother nature seems to take over the material objects we leave behind! Another great post and wonderful pictures! Thank you SI and Galen!

  9. Sum Ting Whong
    April 30, 2014 at 15:05

    I always thought the accumulation, build-up, and stockpile of junk was considered hoarding. Today, it’s apparently more trendy to refer to it as “art” and a “museum”.

  10. Ja
    May 5, 2014 at 18:16

    What an excellent blog! So glad i found it! :-)

  11. May 10, 2014 at 06:37

    If I ever have the money to follow the one passion I do have, it would be to restore the old car of my dreams.
    The have so much more character than any new car on the road today – just love them!!
    Thank for this post!

    • May 13, 2014 at 19:12

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m with you. I had a ’70 ghia once – would love to get that one back and restore it. Yes, I have a soft spot for the old aircooleds. ;-)

  12. Peter
    August 9, 2014 at 12:20

    > His favorite car is a 1944 coupe.
    They didn’t make cars from early 1942 until late 1945, so what 1944 coupe are we talking about?

  13. Wayne Graefen
    August 10, 2014 at 06:01

    I see dead cars. And little else. RIP.

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