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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.

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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

Old-Car-City-10Dean 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.

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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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The Corvair 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

Old-Car-City-31A 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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Old-Car-City-89-2Photos courtesy Galen Dalrymple

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       Old-Car-City-88Note: Galen provided many great pictures of the “world’s largest old car junkyard,” 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 ]

Old-Car-City-aerial-1aerial view courtesy Google

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62 COMMENTS

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

    • Alot of these cars were saved from the crusher! They would be shredded metal by now. Not every car can be saved, the cost to restore is just beyond what the end would worth. To at least be able to see our history of the automobile, in what ever state is a good thing. If he sold every car to someone for their asking, there would be no Old Car City. It takes thousands of dollars to restore a car in good condition, some are just better as nostalgia.

    • I don’t think that’s true. I think what they are doing is saving old classic vintage cars from people who like to turn them into street rods. This place looks very cool. Whoever runs this is very cool and has a great business.

    • Right you are. People who let these cars get in this condition care nothing about them and in my opinion should be horse whipped.

  3. 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.

    • 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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”.

  6. 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!

      • That’s very true. Same here! I have fully stock 67′ beetle as my daily driver. I think this is the most interesting business ever! Keep up this awesome work! I’m gonna add this to my trip list

  7. > 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?

    • For many years a salvage yard only 25 miles from me now advertised in those popular magazines. “Old Gold” near Old Town, Florida. Living in the midwest I could never go there.
      Finally I did. Not nearly as large but there were many old cars and some in decent shape. His prices also were high. But if you really need something you will pay it. Have you priced a part for a Prius lately?
      Don’t know why but it closed down several years ago. Now the parts are gone…at any price. The cars at White City are mostly too far gone to restore or even salvage parts. The owner is smart enough to see that fools like us will spend money to look and take pictures. Better than crushing them like most yards are doing.

      • I recently had a friend stop. Old Gold salvagge yard reopened some time back on rt 349 Old Town. Florida. This is NW of Gainesville in the Nw part of the state.

  8. How time flies. It was summr 1989 when my wife and I stopped on our way from a Florida vacation back to Illinois when we wandered around this junk yard. I have several old cars yet and was most likely looking for Model T parts, 1933 Chevy, or 1939 Ford parts at the time. Have no idea if I bought anything but the memories of wandering among the cars remains. Thanks for the great story.
    I’ve been in many smaller old yards mostly in Illinois and always try to picture the reason many cars were there. Each has a story.
    Yes I was surprised when it was mentioned the owner’s favorite is a 1944. Why wouldn’t the author say what kind of 44? Mine is a 1940 Ford. But I don’t own one. I have a nice 1939 Ford coupe and a 1941 Ford 2-door. Sometimes I believe those years are actually better. But anything old with wheels catches my eye.

    • Hi ModelT Denny, the reason I didn’t indicate which ’44 is because Dean didn’t specify in the source articles (I did not interview him directly, this information was researched from newspaper archives).

      I bet your coupe is nice, those are pretty cars. Thanks for stopping by.

      • Thanks for the reply. I’ve had my 1939 Ford coupe since early 70’s I believe. It’s been sitting over 40 years. At first it needed only a radiator and brake lines. I’m sure by now it will need a lot even though it’s been inside and dry.
        I finally realized I will never get it back on the road so gave it to my oldest son to finish. At least I can watch him and hopefully ride in it someday.
        A 1940 Ford coupe has been my dreams since middle school and I was lucky to find the 39 just a few houses down our street.
        Keep playing with old cars, writing, and takig pictures. That’s all some of us have now to look forward to.

  9. The majority of these cars are well past restoration. If not for saving them in this environment they would have long ago been crushed or destroyed. I grew up getting parts from junk yards, and to preserve the junk yard itself is part of our automotive history. I built and restored cars for over 40 years and I have no complaints about this site. Enjoy it. If Ladybird Johnson were alive today it would be gone.

    • Using that logic then this is really a museum. Sadly even many car museums are closing now. It’s just a matter of time when someone will figure a way to close this natural museum. Until then let’s enjoy it for what is there.

  10. I have a junk car that doesn’t work at all. I’d really like to sell its parts. It’s not worth replacing the few parts that don’t work. I would rather just get a new car.

  11. I need a back window and a passenger door glass for a 1965 Chevy Malibu a hard top two door (773)503-7008

  12. i have been told that futrills auto parts was the oldest family owned junkyard in ga , i am a son of a son of the founder but i know now somebody was wrong i truly feel like i understand mr dean as i have watched many go the crusher i always hated crushing time but we needed the money still i saved what i could and now we got a old car cementary of sorts , my hats off to mr dean i really would enjoy going his junkyard sometime

    • Article says his favorite car is a 1944 yet it shows a 1941 Ford. How many other details are incorrect?
      I’ve mentioned before, this is not a waste. Look how many have enjoyed this yard over the years and how many are paying good money to get inside to look and take pictures. It’s a money maker and a part of our history.
      Since salvage yards are all but extinct this gives younger people a look back when people like me could wander a junk yard near almost any city.
      Also keep in mind those who complain about the parts they could use, most salvage yards would have scrapped these cars years ago. At least as they are reclaimed by nature we can look around and see them in various states of decay.

      • Hi ModelT-Denny, none of the photos are captioned with year/make/model details. The pictures are scattered about the article randomly; if a ’41 showed up near the sentence that mentions a ’44, its pure coincidence. Thanks for reading.

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