29 January 2007

Gunner’s Great Garages

Americans have a big love affair with nice garages these days, as our 2006 Hobby Survey has shown. This trend has been written up in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Additionally, some books have been published about great garages, such as Garage (Kira Obolensky, The Taunton Press) and Ultimate Garages (Phil Berg, Motorbooks International).

Recently, Mid America Motorworks, a supplier of Corvette and Volkswagen wares, held a “Best Garage” contest and invited its customers to send photos of their garages and Corvette-themed rooms. The pictures that arrived proved that even your average car collector can create Great Garages.

When Tony the Tiger dug into a bowl of corn flakes, he always let out a big “Grrreat!” And that’s exactly how I react when visiting fellow collector car enthusiasts who store their cars in a nice, safe garage with all the trick equipment, flooring, lighting, heating and/or decorated with gas station collectibles (a.k.a., petroliana) and automobilia.

This month, we’re starting to showcase of all types of garages, shops, sheds and theme rooms devoted to the car-collecting passion. In some instances, we’ll visit hobbyists to get great garage ideas that they’re willing to pass on to the rest of us. In other cases, we’ll rely on you to send us your photos, tips and suggestions. While we can appreciate “ultimate garages,” we’re also interested in practical, affordable, real-world spaces that you’ve built and decorated for personal enjoyment of our great hobby.

Here, I offer a little about my own car storage building, which is a continuing work in progress. But this is just to get the ball rolling… In the future, we want to share your great garage with other collector car enthusiasts – to offer up ideas, tips and just to show ’em off!

Gunner’s own garage started with a 40x72’ wood-framed steel building erected in 1996. It has 13 ft. high sidewalls, two windows along each sidewall and small and large overhead doors in front, with a service door between them. An optional ridge vent down the center of the roof was ordered for ventilation and another option was transparent “sidelights” on the upper part of the sidewalls to let light in. Originally a 25 x 25-ft. concrete slab was poured behind the large overhead door so that a Backyard Buddy 4-post lift could be installed. The cost of all this was in the $22,000 range and it was financed with a loan from a 401K. (Anyone capable of erecting a building themselves could have reduced the cost by about $8,000-$10,000.)

From the start, the plan was to upgrade the garage as time went on. Originally the building had a gravel floor. Eventually the rest of the floor was finished off. Then a 25x25’ walled-off room was built around the original concrete slab to serve as a two-car shop/garage. Then, a radiant heating system was installed to heat the shop in winter. Last but not least, the driveway to the building – originally grass and gravel – was paved with asphalt. This raised the total cost to about $40,000. Performing each major upgrade in stages kept the work affordable. Each time something was added, three or four contractors were consulted and a lot of effort was put into getting the best possible price.

The interior of the building took several years to paint and decorate. Most of the decorations were items picked up for free or next to nothing, such as calendar photos mounted in $2 Wal-Mart frames, car show posters picked up over a 20-year period, toy cars and trucks bought at junk sales, and refurbished and promotional items given away by hobby suppliers. A liquidator outlet loaded with reproduction porcelain signs priced at $5 was nearby. Later, the store dropped prices to $2, so I purchased all remaining signs. The duplicates were sold on eBay and eventually paid for the whole lot. 

A couple of items were splurged on, such as an old traffic light bought at Carlisle for $60 and a beat-up gas pump purchased at the Iola Old Car Show for $75. A vintage Sun tune-up machine was purchased at an auction for $10. After investing a lot of blood, sweat and tears in cleaning and painting, some of the decorations looked pretty good. Others, like the gas pump, turned into long-range projects that will be finished “someday.” If anyone worries about things like that getting finished, they hear the stock answer, “It’s my hobby and we have no deadlines around here.”
Now that you’ve heard about Gunner’s Garage, let’s hear about your own great garage. Send us pictures of what you did and practical advice on how other hobbyists can accomplish great things on a reasonable hobby budget. E-mail kkazarian@hagerty.com or send by snail mail to: Hagerty, Attn: K. Kazarian, 141 River's Edge Dr., Traverse City, MI 49684.

John "Gunner" Gunnell is the automotive books editor at Krause Publications in Iola, Wis., and former editor of Old Cars Weekly and Old Cars Price Guide.

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