Matchbox case for vintage cars? Climate-controlled garage opens in Danbury

Chris Bishop still remembers his first car that wasn’t the Matchbox toy type: a 1978 Land Cruiser that his brother picked out for him, but that he loved.

In Danbury Friday, Bishop was driving a Cadillac Escalade, but he was quick to add that he likes a variety of cars — and as wide a range of the classic variety as one can imagine is now housed in the new North American Auto Shop Bishop has built in Danbury .

The Danbury facility has room for nearly 300 collector cars, which are stored on three levels of racks in a climate-controlled showroom.

Behind its main showroom—where a Porsche once owned by the late Eddie Van Halen was on display—the company has a custom shop under the American Metal brand that can handle about 10 vintage car overhauls at any given time.

For Bishop and his staff of nearly 20, it’s a labor of love, but one that’s been a challenge during the pandemic amid difficulty getting the parts they need.

“During COVID, one of the more difficult things was getting parts — it was difficult,” Bishop said during a tour of the North American auto plant Friday. “One thing that is not difficult is to treat people the way our grandparents taught us. It’s not rocket science – we’ll listen.”

Customers provide their own ideas for how they want the vehicles to be modified, which in some cases requires downright craftsmanship to achieve. American Metal’s Ralph Baldwin said the rebuild of a custom 1955 Chevrolet on display in the showroom took 19 months, with many engine parts rebuilt from scratch.

If the customization shop and storage garage are the revenue drivers, there are plenty of extra touches at North American Motor Car. The front showroom includes a turntable that can slowly spin newly refurbished vehicles for owners before they receive the keys, providing a video moment for that person. Upstairs, people can relax in a lounge with a fully stocked bar that features the boots worn by Elvis Presley on his 1968 comeback tour and Peter Fonda’s star-studded helmet from the cult classic Easy Rider.

In another section of the facility, a modest shop stocked with oil cans and other items from the past has a secret door that opens to a smaller lounge equipped with a jukebox and leather couches.

You don’t have to be a vintage car owner to take advantage of the opportunity—North American Motor Car plans to offer the showroom and showrooms for private events, though it hasn’t yet determined pricing.

Out back, several vehicles were in various stages of completion, including several being prepared for next weekend’s Vintage Car Beach Races in New Jersey’s Wildwoods. And a 1950 panel truck is being overhauled to serve as the official truck for auto shops across North America after officials spotted the vehicle for sale.

“We all looked at it and said, ‘Man, we’ve got to be able to roll in something we’ve never seen here before — let’s do something fun,'” said Josh Allison, who runs the American Metal jobs insider North American car facility.; @casoulman