Classic cars put the ‘yard’ in salvage yard


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Oldsmobile produced only 5,842 Jetfire hardtops in 1963, and Herbst has two of the models in his yard. The Jetfire is powered by a turbocharged, aluminum V-8, and the Jetfire name is uniquely spelled out inside the trim piece on the car's rear quarter panel. All photos courtesy Ron Kowalke.


THOMASVILLE, N.C. – Saving old cars from their demise is such a large part of Bob Herbst’s life that he has devoted the yard around his rural North Carolina home to storing several hundred vintage vehicles he wants to see get returned to the road. While his neighbors aren’t thrilled, even more upset might be the birds. The birdbath out front has been replaced by a 1957 Lincoln Premiere Landau four-door hardtop.

Herbst is the proprietor of Thomasville Classics, Inc., a 10-acre salvage yard in Thomasville, N.C. Part of Herbst’s collector car business formerly included a dealership in Thomasville, but, according to Herbst, “The city got on me,” so he was forced to relocate 65 vintage cars in a week’s time, and his yard became the repository for those and other vehicles. In all, at both sites, Herbst estimated he has 1,500 vehicles.

On a recent visit, lack of time prevented a tour of the Thomasville yard, so the photographs accompanying this story include only vehicles stored around his house.

It’s an interesting mix of vehicles, and Herbst added, “The cars I have are beyond rare. They have strange options.” He said that because of this rarity factor, he’s only interested in selling whole cars, and said he has the titles for most of these vehicles.

Herbst admitted that having so many vehicles in his yard has caused controversy.

His immediate neighbor was so upset at the cars accumulating in the yard that he offered to pay for a “beauty” fence to surround Herbst’s property.

Today, that fence is about all that contains the growing collection of vintage vehicles from expanding beyond property boundaries as Herbst is continually buying old cars.

Asked why he doesn’t move cars off his property to his much-larger Thomasville yard site, Herbst explained that the cars he keeps close to home are too valuable and prone to theft and vandalism, which has been a problem at the Thomasville yard site.

Almost in the same breath, though, Herbst admitted that he needs to sell some of the cars surrounding his home, both for space and financial reasons. “If I don’t get some support, I’ll have to quit,” he stressed.
Herbst added that he keeps a certain segment of vehicles in his yard for sentimental reasons. “I’ve owned the bulk of these cars for 20 to 30 years, and I drove a bunch of them.”

The passion Herbst displays for his cars started at a young age. “Ever since I was seven I was into old cars,” he explained. As with most automotive-curious kids, his entry into the old car hobby started on a smaller scale. “I was born in 1952, and I still have model kits from when I was a kid.”

It didn’t take long before Herbst’s hobby exploits moved to a larger scale. “I bought a 1951 Nash Ambassador sedan when I was 12, and drove it up and down our driveway.”

Owning one car in his youth spawned the desire to have many more cars, so his career path took a detour from finishing college. “I’ve been a car dealer since 1974,” Herbst said of his vision to make a living with cars. His initial inventory consisted of “a Ford pickup and a bunch of junkers.” His hard work paid off soon after by buying into a franchised dealership. “I was the youngest Chrysler dealer at age 26,” Herbst stated.

Being both a car enthusiast and a car dealer led Herbst to purchase vintage cars from local sources. After buying two cars from Thomasville’s salvage yard and liking what he saw, he bought the yard in 1987, and Thomasville Classics was launched.

Over the 22 years since he’s owned the salvage yard, Herbst has also accumulated lots of interesting parts, many of which are stored in the basement of his home. With outside access to his basement, he also stores several of his personal vintage cars there. When asked how many collector cars he currently owns, Herbst jokingly responds, “As many as I want.”

While visiting Herbst’s home, he warned that in certain months bees and black widow spiders can be a problem in the yard. Upon getting to know Herbst, it became evident he has quite a sense of humor. While it remained unseen during this visit to his home, Herbst said that his yard also contained a non-venomous, extremely large Black Snake that’s been named “Killer.” If “Killer” does exist, when visiting the yard, in addition to a pair of work gloves and hiking boots, it may also be a good idea to bring a change of shorts.

Ron Kowalke is Auction and Techincal Editor of Old Cars Weekly, published by F+W Media, Inc. This article was published in its Sept. 17, 2009 issue.



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More Images:

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Bob Herbst has a healthy sense of humor, so when he was asked to pose for a photo, he was adamant about getting his worn tennis shoes in the photo. Herbst selected a recent acquisition, a rust-free, complete 1970 Chevrolet Impala Custom hardtop, to pose with. As can be seen, the cars in his yard extend right up to the walls of his home.
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A new body style in 1956, this Chrysler New Yorker Newport four-door hardtop is powered by the Hemi 354-cid V-8. It had a production run of 3,599. This example is solid and complete, and deserves to be returned to the road.
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Bob Herbst's property includes many trees, so leaves have accumulated on and around the cars stored there. Falling branches are also a problem. The 1959 Cadillac (above) narrowly escaped a branch dropping on its fender. Also evident in the above photo is that the vehicles contained on the property are parked tightly together with just enough space -- most times -- to walk between them.
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Bob Herbst's property includes many trees, so leaves have accumulated on and around the cars stored there. This '56 Cadillac is buried up to its "Dagmars" in leaves.
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Sporting the single headlamps common to the Champion line, this 1958 Studebaker Champion sedan has been relegated to being a catch-all for downed tree limbs. Only 5,178 of this model were produced, and most were put into service as Studebaker's Econ-O-Miler taxicabs. This "civilian" version shows no rust-through and is complete, making it a rare survivor.
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If ever there was room for a birdbath in the front yard of Bob Herbst's home, it would have resided in the spot now taken up by this 1957 Lincoln Premiere Landau four-door hardtop.
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Among the vehicles in Bob Herbst's yard are several professional cars, including this (above) picked-over 1940s Oldsmobile. The barely legible writing on the door explains that this ambulance formerly served the Walnut Cove, N.C., Fire Department's Rescue Squad. A vintage Civil Defense symbol (below) still exists on each side of the car.
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Among the vehicles in Bob Herbst's yard are several professional cars, including a picked-over 1940s Oldsmobile. The barely legible writing on the door explains that this ambulance formerly served the Walnut Cove, N.C., Fire Department's Rescue Squad. A vintage Civil Defense symbol still exists on each side of the car.

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