For a city so rich in history, it seems like a museum devoted to vintage cars is long overdue. Savannah Classic Cars and Museum, which opened downtown in October, will have a grand opening to give families and car enthusiasts a chance to visit the first museum of its kind in the area.
Owner and founder Tony Vazquez began his business with just a handful of cars that he sold over the internet.
“The classic cars would be in a storage house all locked up,” explains Vazquez. “I’d get a lot of calls during the summertime from people who were visiting who asked if they could see the cars and I’d say, ‘Okay, but it’s July and hotter than heck in there.’ I’d be showing these cars to people from Germany and other places and thought maybe I should find a space that is open to the public so that folks could come by and see the cars.”
As soon as word got out about Vazquez’s showroom, classic car owners from all over the region “came out of the woodwork,” he said.
“What happens is owners wanting to sell their cars in today’s environment are concerned about safety,” says Vazquez. “Put your car in an ad or on Craigslist and then potentially have someone you don’t know visit your home — people get very nervous about that these days. And the financial transactions, sometimes you don’t know if they’re scammers or if you’re going to get your money. People want someone else to take care of that legal paper work and transactions. Consigning is a huge business now, especially for classic cars.”
Besides the museum and consignment business, Savannah Classic Cars also does restoration work. Right next to the showcase is the garage where expert mechanics do every kind of mechanical and body work. Gutted husks, barely recognizable as cars, sit next to gleaming Mustangs like a before and after picture. “You can see how we restore them from nothing,” Vazquez points out.
Savannah Classic Cars sits on a 3-acre plot in a warehouse built in 1954 that was originally a box plant. The historical building has an abundance of space for the showcase, garage, and gift shop, and still retains most of its original structure.
“It still has the original steel trusses made by Great Dane back in the day, before they made trailers,” says Vazquez. “The last steel trusses they ever made were for this building.”
But ultimately, it is the cars people will want to see and dozens of pristine automobiles are on view including a purple 1931 Ford Model A Hot Rod, a 1977 Pontiac Can Am, and a 1954 Rolls Royce Silver Dawn.
“Each car has its own allure to it,” says Vazquez. “For example, I took the Rolls Royce out for a ride this morning and it was just amazing how, for a 1954 vehicle, how well it rides. It’s a real special car.”
While most of the cars are for sale, Vazquez likes to bring in a few museum quality cars and hopes to obtain a Batmobile or car from a movie to display occasionally. Because Vazquez is able to sell five or six cars a month, the showroom is constantly rotated.
“What I like about this is that if you are a Savannahian you can come every 2 or 3 months and see all new cars,” he said.
The family friendly museum has a fun atmosphere with classic rock and oldies chiming out of the sound system, a classic car themed gift shop, electric toy race tracks for children to play with, and vintage arcade machines on the way.
The space is available for meetings, birthday parties, car shows and other events. And since the museum is down the street from the Georgia State Railroad Museum, Vazquez would love to include it in a transportation-themed tour that also includes the Mighty Eighth Museum —think planes, trains, and automobiles.
Savannah Classic Cars and Museum will host its grand opening on Saturday free of charge. Dixieland Cruisers Car Club will present an old-fashioned “cruise in.” A variety of food will be available provided by food trucks from Chazito’s Latin Cuisine, Molly MacPherson’s Scottish Pub, Bowtie Barbecue Company and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.
Vazquez says, “Our museum is a chance to revisit automotive history, but also a chance for anyone living in the area or visiting the area to take part in a unique experience that will teach them a little bit about the evolution of the vehicles we drive.”
Savannah Classic Cars and Museum Grand Opening
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Savannah Classic Cars, 249 East Lathrop Ave.