Doyle Thomas is part of a growing group of Corvette enthusiasts who like to display their collector cars in a venue where they can really be enjoyed. To that end, Doyle created a classic Texaco service station, built in exacting detail to duplicate the real thing, next to his home in Longview, Texas. People "stop and stare" at his creation through the black wrought-iron gates. It's easy to see why.
At Doyle's Texaco, the front room behind the pump island is Doyle's office. While he's not servicing cars for the public, his "station" has many of the functional Texaco service station components, including a service bay with a hydraulic lift. It's great for minor repairs on his Corvette collection. But Corvettes aren't the only thing he collects, for the middle door of the shop leads to a cavernous 60x100-foot metal building best described as a wonderland of classic memorabilia.
Doyle was born in 1950. His Corvette fun began when his uncle bought a new Corvette in 1963. Everywhere they went, the split-window coupe created a sensation. That's all it took to get Doyle "hooked" on Corvettes. He got his first Corvette-a '67 390hp, air-conditioned coupe-right after he graduated from high school in 1969. Doyle sold that one in 1975 to buy a '73 convertible. The 454ci/four-speed was his daily driver for seven years. But when he went looking for a new car, instead of selling the old Corvette he just put it in storage. It wasn't Doyle's original intention to collect Corvettes. Over time, they just began to collect themselves, so to speak. "I'd just buy them one at a time, get them paid for, and find another one. I'd hang onto everything."
Over the last 28 years, Doyle bought the Corvettes he liked and wanted to drive. In 1990, he combined his love of Corvettes and memorabilia into his growing chain of Whataburger restaurants, the business he became involved with after college. A couple of years later, Doyle pulled the '73 out of storage and began a restoration. The Whataburger chain kept growing; today, he owns eight restaurants.
At first, we figured Doyle built his Texaco station for car storage and then decided to showcase the cars and memorabilia. But actually, the reverse is true.
"I grew up with five cousins. They were all girls," says Doyle. "My uncle wouldn't let them go anywhere on the weekend unless I went with them. I saw how much fun they were having, out running around in the "graffiti" years, so I got hooked at an early age-just collecting, saving things, like microphones or pictures or buttons or just anything old."
Every car is a story. Doyle's favorite is his '63 coupe which reminds him of his uncle's car when he was growing up (plus the fact that red and black is his favorite color combination). Doyle found this 21,000-mile original in a Houston newspaper.
Low mileage became a mantra we kept hearing over and over during our time with Doyle, like the 10,000-mile '57 that became the centerpiece for our photography. It came out of a museum in Arizona in 1990. It's an original fuelie, but the fuel unit is currently off the car.
Doyle is interested in the history of his Corvettes. The '67 is a 390hp roadster and he has records of all six owners. Another low-mileage example is Doyle's '82 Collector Edition, which he purchased when it was six months old. To date, it has only 3,100 miles on the odometer.
The Polo White '54 is a three-owner, numbers-matching car. The red '55 was a project car, which Chuck Raney, who works as a mechanic fulltime for Doyle, restored while earning money for college. The '88 is a triple-white 35th Anniversary Edition car, number 168 built that year, currently with 3,100 original miles on the clock. "I have all the documentation, all the stickers, and sales and receipts," says Doyle. "I had a real neat license plate on this car when it was new that said '35TH.'"
The final Corvette in Doyle's collection was parked inside the dining area of his Whataburger in Longview. This unrestored, 29,000-mile, white '64 coupe is one of nine certified Benchmark cars. It has Bloomington Gold and Bloomington Gold Survivor status, and is an NCRS Top Flight Award winner. Doyle will keep the '64 on display for about six months, then insert another one on the dining floor for customers to enjoy.
Not all of Doyle's restaurants are exclusive to Corvettes. In Tyler, Texas, Doyle's Whataburger Hot Rod Cafe has on display a sectioned side of a black '57 Chevy Bel Air, a '40 Mercury convertible, and tons more memorabilia. Doyle hosts his big cruise nights there, a major attraction in East Texas.
Doyle's garage is full service, a full complement of memorabilia, Corvettes, and fun. Concludes Doyle, "Having these cars in this kind of display makes it fun. You can enjoy the cars and the history a lot more. It all ties back to a great time in America."