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Empty NC plant turned into classic car showroom

HICKORY (AP) — Revving up Hickory’s image as a travel destination could use some more horsepower, and Paramount Classic Cars and Trucks has that in abundance.

The business is not brand new, but it now has a home in the former Clayton-Marcus furniture plant on Falling Creek Road. Inside the factory turned showroom is a sight that makes young men gasp, ladies swoon and old men cry. It’s filled with mint-condition sports cars and America’s most brutal muscle machines.

The Catawba County Chamber of Commerce held an investor briefing recently at Paramount Classic Cars. The visitors were impressed, not only with the stable of awesome autos, but with the transformation of the old furniture shop.

“We have 350 empty buildings (in the county),” Chamber President Danny Hearn told the group. He said they are a resource for economic growth. The trouble is, the former factories are not suitable for modern manufacturing. For one thing, the ceilings are too low. Safety and production standards aren’t what they used to be.

But this 120,000-square-foot building is just the ticket for Paramount.

“It’s solid and has lots of sprinklers,” said Paramount’s Danny Jordan. “It’s easier to meet code for this purpose.”

“You should have seen it when we got it,” said owner Benny Yount. “There was only one decent wall,” he said, pointing to faraway layers of brick. “But we had murals created from photos of our cars for the other walls (they were a drab gray), and we think the result looks good.”

Chamber members agree. The huge car scenes make a backdrop for the real attractions: Rows of vintage Corvettes, Camaros, Mustangs, Trans Ams, Austin-Healeys and Ferraris. There is serious speed wrapped in generous amounts of élan and flawless body-work in that showroom.

There’s a bright red 1962 Corvette, just like the one on “Route 66.” Nelson Riddle’s theme plays in the background. Lots of Vettes from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Stingrays — a couple tagged ZR1 and a 2013 60th Anniversary special edition roadster — represent their generation’s latest high-performance creation from Chevrolet.

But the roadster that catches everyone’s eye is the 1958 Corvette that stands alone. It’s Benny’s baby, and it’s not paired with any other car. The gleaming white body with the shark’s-tooth grille has won a ton of awards. It’s not for sale.

Most of the cars can be bought. This is not a museum; it’s a working consignment showroom for serious purchasers. You can take home a perfect ‘57 Vette for a shade under $80,000.

“We can market all over the world,” Yount said. “We are ready to start taking more consignments. We’ve sold cars to buyers in Switzerland and Sweden, and we’ve done well in Canada. And the United States, of course.”

There are more than 100 cars in the facility, and most of them are for sale. Those that can’t be bought are there because it’s a secure place to park collectibles. That’s one big reason why Yount has his classy-mobiles inside.

Visitors are welcome, but Paramount appreciates calling ahead for appointments. “That way we can be ready to give tours and talk to people,” Yount said.

The big building can also accommodate meetings, outings and even birthday parties for people who want to give something special, unique and nostalgic. Auto aficionados might want to live there, but that’s not allowed.

Yount created the business with expansion in mind.

“It’s great. It will be a great tourist attraction,” Hearn said. “He (Yount) wants to do a lot with this. It needs to be shared, and it will.”

“It’s a dream come true for me,” Yount told Chamber members who finally came together and sat still long enough to have a bit of breakfast. The showroom actually was occupied in time for last year’s Greater Hickory Classic. The visitors applauded when Yount said, “We had the opportunity to do this Charlotte. People said it needs to be in Charlotte. But Hickory is our community, and I want it here.”

Yount has been an auto dealer for several decades, handling a diverse number of makes and models. He’s the reason the Greater Hickory Classic is presented by Kia.

He sees his venture as a boon for Hickory. “It’s a huge market,” he said of classic cars and trucks. “We think we can put Hickory on that map.” The showroom and hands-on business is teamed with an Internet presence that gives Paramount a global reach. And Yount emphasizes the business model aspect of the dream rides under his roof.

He calls the connection between the retail side and the collectibles “synergy.” ‘’This is not a collection,” Yount said. “This is a business – an exciting business.”

Hearn told Chamber members that Paramount Classic Cars is an example of what Hickory and Catawba County need to do to polish the local reputation and grow. He said small business startups and growth are vital, and “We have to tell our stories and promote what we have (in labor and availability of resources).

“This,” he said of the automotive masterwork, “is an inspiring space,” referring to a visual component of the City of Hickory’s marketing campaign.

There was time to take another walk-around of the massive showroom, brightened by classic neon lights – Ford, OK Used Cars, Pontiac, Flying A gasoline and many more. Some are original. Others are exact replicas, not fluorescent but neon.

Some of the dream machines:

— A real, honest-to-goodness 01 General Lee from “The Dukes of Hazzard” movie. It’s tailed by a sheriff’s car that was used in the movie and before that in the TV series “CHiPs.”

— A replica of the Trans Am T.A.-66 used in “Smokey and the Bandit.”

— All manner of pace cars, including an Indianapolis 500 Camaro.

— A display from Dale Jarrett, including an example of his famous No. 88 UPS Taurus.

— The Ferraris: A 599 GTB Fiorano 60 F1 street-legal, but race-ready. It’s one of only 25 sent to America and among a 348, a 355 and a 308. They’re all red, of course. One wonders how Tom Selleck managed to get into the 308 seen on “Magnum, P.I.”

— A Hurst Oldsmobile W-machine with ram-air induction and a 455-cubic-inch engine that can growl a lot louder than the sleek XKE and XKS Jaguars crouched nearby.

— A slew of Porches, old and new and ready to roll. One is a replica of 130, the car James Dean drove.

— A Sunbeam Tiger, a rare sight. It’s not your daddy’s gas-sipping, mild-mannered Alpine. The Tiger may look like a toad next to the Porsches, but it’s fast – really fast. This is the car that Carroll Shelby stoked with a Ford engine and showed the Europeans what muscle was all about. Then came the legendary Cobra. Shelby unceremoniously wrested the F1 manufacturer championship away from Enzo Ferrari, and Detroit iron gained universal respect.

It’s that kind of respect that Yount and Hearn want for Hickory and Catawba County through expressive enterprises such as Paramount Classic Cars and Trucks.

The old furniture shop was important to the local economy. It never looked this good, and the building’s rebirth demonstrates the viability of resources the Chamber wants to market to investors far and near.

The showroom will attract car clubs, for sure, but it’s designed to be a big business and an attraction for everyone, even if the only thing a visitor can do is dream.

Benny Yount believes Paramount has the horsepower to get the job done.

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