To the untrained observer, it was a hunk of rusted metal, a car that had spent a few too many decades sitting in the woods. Someone had even used it for target practice so the rust was dotted with bullet holes.
For Mark Killmer, though, it was a piece of history: a 1958 Chevrolet convertible, a vehicle made only for one year.
When he was offered the rotting pieces for free, he headed into the overgrowth with a trailer, but when he went to pull it out it broke apart. Killmer loaded the remains in three pieces, went home and sold it just as it was for $3,500. The seller drove from California to pick it up.
“I knew it was a ‘58 Chevrolet convertible and it was really rare. They only made 500 or 600 of them. I had seen it back in 1989 before it got all shot up and rotted away,” Killmer said. “There are parts on that car that they just don’t make.”
Killmer knows a lot about classic and muscle cars. In 2004, he started an Internet business, Southern Classic Parts, selling muscle car original and new restoration parts, specializing in 1967-1981 Camaro parts. He soon became known at car shows as “the Camaro guy.”
His love for the classics started long before that, though.
He bought his first car in 1981 when he was just 15 years old, paying $300 for a 1966 Impala Super Sport. By the time he was 17, he’d bought and sold a 1963 Buick Special, then a Nova, then a 1978 Camaro.
The 1970 Nova was the first car he restored. He went to the junk yard to hunt down the interior, rebuilt the engine, fixed the air conditioning and had his brother-in-law paint it.
“My sister’s husband fixed cars and he let me wash cars and change the oil when I was a kid. He taught me a lot and my brothers and I were just around cars a lot,” Killmer said. “Over the years, I built cars and sold them, but I did it for love not for money. Usually I lost money on the deal.”
Then the Barrett-Jackson auctions hit the Internet. That classic car auction originated in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 1973, but when it became an Internet live bidding auction in 2004 it immediately increased the value and interest in classic and muscle cars nationwide.
“That auction made the market. It created the popularity for these cars. Since then, even in this economy, my business has increased about 10 percent a year,” said Killmer, who currently works as a project manager for Jackson Heating and Air, but plans to run his car restoration parts business full-time in January.
While Killmer still restores old cars, it’s only for his own enjoyment. His current project is restoring a 1969 Camaro. The orange car was parked in 1982 on Bartley Road before Killmer acquired it in 2008. He estimates it will take him another six months to complete the restoration.
While he doesn’t do restoration work to order, he is always looking for the deal.
“I’ve been doing this for so long, I know the value of cars and car parts,” he said.
Recently he found a 1967 GTO 4-speed console in mint condition. He bought it for $20 and sold it on eBay a week later for $680.
He’s even shipped his parts overseas.
“I traded a new Camaro trunk lid, worth about $100, for a wood grain steering wheel from a mid-60s Volkswagen, then sold that for $560 and shipped it to France,” he said.
A compass from an old military car in a junkyard sold for $200 and went to a buyer in Germany.
Making a profit is good, but for Killmer, the best part, the part that keeps him up late at night with no promise of ever turning a profit, is bringing back to life a beautiful piece of history.