Old Car City revs up new marketing campaign
by Matt Shinall
Aug 14, 2011 | 4802 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This panel truck marks the entrance to Old Car City U.S.A. in White on U.S. Highway 411.
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Art takes time. Just ask Dean Lewis of Old Car City.

Like an art curator he may direct onlookers toward vines overtaking a '50s model Buick, its graceful curves hidden by nature's verdant robe or a Plymouth Road Runner with a 50-foot pine growing through the engine compartment.

Some 4,000 vehicles scattered across 34 acres have brought visitors from around the world to gawk at the "world's largest classic car junkyard." Last week alone the roadside attraction in White found itself hosting guests from both Russia and Columbia.

For more than 30 years, Old Car City has found favor among media outlets from Atlanta news stations to national television features on every major network. Newspapers from across the state along with magazines from Sweden and Denmark line a display case in the lobby.

In recent years, however, the sprawling collection of rust and chrome have remained largely void of visitors for a variety of reasons, but after renewed interest, Lewis is gearing back up with fresh cut trails and tours open to the public.

A major proponent of Old Car City's revitalization is its popularity with photographers. The Southeastern Photographic Society has begun meeting regularly in White to catch the aging collection with each changing season. SPS board member Jack Martin has found an artistic beauty among the angles and curves of classic cars.

"We're always looking for interesting things to photograph. You'd be surprised to see how artistic some of the images are that we produce there. It's really just neat to see," Martin said. "We try to explore and illustrate the art and design of the old cars. ... We try to go beyond just documentary photography. The objective is to try to do something creative. We want them to have artistic merit."

Attention from photographers has led to increasing traffic via word of mouth, including tours scheduled later this month with the Atlanta Ballet Company. New signage has popped up along U.S. Highway 411 leading into White with a new coat of paint on a vibrant panel truck in lot number one.

Comprised of three separate lots, Old Car City holds more than just cars and trucks with school busses, tractors, bicycles, antique toys and even a marquis from Cartersville's Grand Theater lining the junkyard's more than six miles of trails. Entrance to lot one is free to visitors to view while tours of lot two and three are provided for $10.

Dubbed "junkyard jungle" and "photographer's paradise," Old Car City is reopening under a new plan of strategic marketing. Lewis is currently trying to extend the appeal beyond gear heads and car hounds to families and young adults. "Nature, Art, History and Cars" is the new slogan for Old Car City showing off the versatility of nature trails blended with automotive history. To schedule a tour, call 770-382-6141.

Despite the reopening, the collection is far from new. Begun by Lewis' father with a few cars, Old Car City flourished when Lewis took over due strictly to a love for classic cars before a loan in the '70s turned the junkyard into an international destination. At that time, 20-year-old cars and even those not long off the streets were not in high demand.

"My daddy bought me a '40 Ford when I was about 12 or 14 and I just liked old cars from then on," Lewis said. "When I got older and made some money, I got a loan and bought all these cars and it became Old Car City. I bought old cars when they weren't worth nothing. I saved them, other people crushed them."

Lewis' decision to buy into junk cars went against the grain at the time. In fact it was a conscious effort to distance himself from "normal" behavior, a trait he has tried to live by and pass on to his children.

"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," Lewis said. "I want to be more than normal."