Remember your mother talking about her first car, perhaps a purple 1976 Gremlin? Would you like to see it? Not just in a vintage Polaroid or a picture on the internet, but actually stand in front of an old rusty one? Then you need to visit Old Car City USA in nearby White, Georgia.

Old Car City USA is a classic car junkyard with more than 4,400 automobiles nestled in the middle of North Georgia’s pines, poplars, and sweet gums. A great many of the cars have been there so long that trees grow right through them.

Red, White, and Rust | Old Car City USA | Photo Credit: Courtney Gattis/Courtney Gattis Photography

A vintage Pontiac sits among the more than 4,400 cars at Old Car City USA. (Photo Credit: Courtney Gattis/Courtney Gattis Photography)

What the Lewis family started during the Great Depression as a small junkyard behind a general store evolved into a spare-parts business. Dean Lewis grew up playing in the cars his dad collected and continued the spare-parts business.

According to Mike Poppalardo, who’s worked there for nearly fifteen years, it was around 2010 that Dean had an epiphany.  “Dean was tired of it; he wanted to focus on his art. But one fellow kept coming back to take pictures, and even brought his girlfriend to see it, which sowed the seed in Dean’s mind that maybe this could be a tourist destination.” And has it ever been!

Treasure Hunt

On a Wednesday afternoon in April, a quick look at the sign-in sheet told me that earlier in the week visitors from as far away as Germany, Belgium, and China had come to see rust buckets that ranged from the 1930s to the 1970s. They’re almost all American-made cars, but you’ll see the occasional Triumph Spitfire or Volkswagen Karmann Ghia also.

With some method to the madness of the arrangement, roughly by carmaker, an old Mercury Comet sits right beside an equally old Mercury Meteor.

Christine Poore and her son, Sean, were visiting that day. He’d made the trip from his home in Quincy, Massachusetts. “I love touring places of industrial decay: abandoned towns, old mills, things like that. This place is right up my alley,” he said.

When asked, Christine revealed her first car. “A 1973 Chevy Monte Carlo,” she said moments before I spotted one.

My wife, Cheryl, born in Detroit—The Motor City—visited with me in search of a Ford Falcon. Her mother owned a red one prior to starting a family and had loved it. We found several, including a red one just like her mother’s.

I looked for a Ford Carryall like the one I’d used on the farm as a kid. They were the precursors of today’s sport utility vehicles. Imagine a low-slung panel van with windows, a rear bench seat you could pull out, and an engine geared low to pull heavy loads. I hadn’t seen one since 1971 and doubted I ever would again, but there I spotted the same baby-blue Carryall we had. Plus, I spotted a GMC Carryall, and the even rarer and larger International Travelall.

In addition I laid eyes for the first time on a Chevy Corvair, the car made infamous by Ralph Nader’s 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed. Its publication resulted in the creation of the U.S. Department of Transportation the following year.

Oddball vehicles showed up here and there as well: a funeral hearse, a paddy wagon, an American Red Cross van, an old fire engine, a police car, and even a single-engine plane. 

Everything is exposed to the elements and covered in moss, lichen, pine needles, and rust, as the vehicles hearken back to the days when car exteriors were metal from bumper to bumper.

Along the Rusty Trail 

Old Car City USA has become a popular destination for photographers and even a venue for weddings, birthday parties, and car shows. Part history, part folk art, and part junkyard, it covers thirty-five acres with six miles of walking paths. The outdoor museum invites visitors to spend a few hours strolling along memory lane in comfortable footwear.

Whether you’re interested in the oldies—Studebakers, luxury Cords, and Nashes—or you’re more into muscle cars such as Mustangs, Camaros, and GTOs, or even if you bought your own first car back in the 1970s—a Pinto, Vega, or Maverick—you’ll likely find one here. I’m already making a list to look for on my next visit, including AMC products such as the Matador and Pacer.

Red, White, and Rust | Old Car City USA | Photo Credit: Courtney Gattis/Courtney Gattis Photography

From models such as Studebakers, Mustangs, and Camaros to the last vehicle purchased by Elvis Presley, Old Car City USA is home to over 4,400 American classic cars. (Photo Credit: Courtney Gattis/Courtney Gattis Photography)

You will need to know what you’re viewing, though. No signs explain what’s what. It’s a junkyard. In a forest. But history and adventure await out here along the rusty trail.

 

 

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