“I’ve been in the car business 40 years and these are the cars [like] I used to drive when I was a kid in the early ’60s,” said Boarman, 65.
Ten of the 12 antique cars he owns are displayed in the special showroom called Boarman’s Bel Air Showroom, 224 W. Main Street, in Shelbyville.
These vintage collectibles are polished and in perfect condition and are mostly used for viewing only, but each is driven occasionally.
The value of these cars is higher than many of today’s vehicles. But for Boarman, the thrill comes from the cars’ beauty and performance.
Boarman said he and his wife, Pam, take the cars out on a Sunday afternoon drive or an occasional trip.
“They’re a lot of fun to drive. People see you in these cars and they might not in a new Cadillac,” he said.
The collectibles showroom built in 2005 is on the property with one of the two Boarman auto dealerships in Shelbyville and is open during regular business hours. There is no admission fee. The museum is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
It features 7,200 square feet of showroom with a total glass front, with a black-and-white checkered floor and a 1960s replica jukebox. Three overhead glass doors allow for the cars to be taken out on an occasional drive. A service door allows visitors inside.
The showroom’s walls are lined with metal diecast antique model cars as well as clocks and lighted signs of the era.
All of the cars on display have low mileage, are completely restored to their original state or are in their original paint, and most were one-owner cars when Boarman found them.
“Body shop guys who come in here drool over these cars,” he said.
Many of the vehicles still have the original license plates that came on the car when he made the deal, which Boarman keeps for nostalgic purposes.
Duane Askins, a Shelbyville classic car enthusiast, said Boarman’s display is special.
“It’s pretty unique to have all those old Chevrolets in such good condition. Bob is a rare guy to be able to do that,” said Askins. “It takes a lot of time and effort and he has a great love for cars — especially Chevrolets,” he said.
A member of the Coles County Old Car Club can appreciate Boarman’s efforts too.
“It takes a lot of work to go into one of those cars. I’ve seen his display and I like how he has it set up,” said Pat Sparks, secretary.
One of Boarman’s favorite cars in the collection is a 1959 red and beige Chevrolet Impala. Boarman bought the car in Tennessee two years ago with 800 miles on it. It now has about 4,400 miles on the engine.
“The [first owner] bought the car new. He got sick and parked it in the garage where it sat for 46 years. For 46 years it was never moved out of the garage,” he said. A high-energy man, Boarman and his team of auto body mechanics worked to restore the automobile that suffered from its abandonment.
“The interior was dry-rotted, the wheel cylinders and gas tank turned to concrete from years of non-use,” he said.
Boarman estimated the red Impala has about 300 hours worth of restoration work in it. He said the car is a rarity with its original chrome, and the parts on the body were each painted a piece at a time.
“It’s definitely one of my favorites. You can’t find a ’59 at the car shows,” said Boarman. “People didn’t like the (rear) fins at that time, but 50 years later, these cars are more valuable because of the fins.”
Boarman started buying the antique cars in the 1980s, and between 2003 and 2004, he purchased several more. Over the years he’s restored and sold many.
At least one, a 1957 mint green Chevrolet Bel Air, is for sale with an asking price of $25,000. The one-owner car has 23,000 miles on it.
The days of hard work involved in restoring the cars are done for Boarman, but more than ever he appreciates the polished vehicles that line the Bel Air showroom.
He intends to keep most of the vehicles and someday give them to his sons, Rob and Ed, who help run the car dealerships, and his daughter, Jodi.
“When I buy a car like this I look for it to be a one-owner title. Many of these I’ve had for 30 years or so, and some for just five or six years.”
Boarman said some antique cars can’t be driven great distances, but the old Chevys are fully capable of taking to the road at speeds of 80 to 90 mph still today.
“There are certain cars I just wouldn’t sell [for anything],” he said.
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