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Dunn Chevrolet - The Lost Dealership of Roanoke
Until it closed in 2007, no one had any idea the treasure trove of NOS parts and GM nostalgia that was stored inside the walls of Dunn Chevrolet
Jul 30, 2009
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Dunn Chevrolet - The Lost Dealership of Roanoke
Dunn Chevrolet operated by father and son James and James Jr. out of this building from 1941 to 2007, selling Chevrolets, Oldsmobiles, and even Geos for a while. The building was originally a livery stable built in the 20s, with the old stables eventually being used as parts storage for the dealership.
This was the dealership's service area up until the business closed in 2007. Yes, those are wood floors you see. To support the weight of cars, the floor is heavily braced underneath with massive timbers. Notice the art deco ceiling? At some point between being a stable and a dealership, the building served as a bus depot.
The main lobby of the dealership is packed full of GM brochures, films, memorabilia, and items originally sold by the business over the years. Covering the walls are pictures spanning the dealership's life, and promotional material from Chevrolet as new models were released.
Here founder James Dunn Sr. stands in front of the dealership in 1949. The Chevrolet Genuine Parts neon sign in the background still hangs in that same window today.
This is just a sample of the pictures, brochures, and newspaper clippings collected by the Dunn family over the business' life. For a small town like Roanoke, back in the 50s and 60s the dealership was a central part of local life and the community.
Here's a picture from an old dealer planning committee meeting.
When the '55 Chevy debuted at Chevrolet dealerships in the fall of 1954, it reinvigorated Chevrolet and created a new image for the company with such a sleek, sporty design. This massive sales booklet was one of many tools that salesman had at dealerships to help sell customers into new '55s. Notice that this booklet is an early one that doesn't show the 210 hardtop in the lineup?
When a new model came out, Chevrolet would send banners like these to its dealers for customers to see. This banner sings the virtues of the all new Chevelle and some of its features.
Here's another silk banner telling customers about the SS line and its many virtues, along with the Corvair Spyder and Corvette.
This neat page in another dealer's brochure shows how the lubrication system works on the old reliable 235 I-6 engine. Just spin the disc on the side to watch the paper crankshaft spin and the piston/rod to go up and down.
Who knows how many salesmen punched their time card at this clock before going out to sell anything from big block Chevelles to six cylinder Novas.
Here Keith Rowell, who bought the contents of the dealership in 2007 just after it closed, goes through a stack of dealer promotional banners. Over the years nothing was thrown away as the model years changed, so a library of original material exists today.
When was the last time you saw a Chevrolet Zippo lighter? Note the four digit phone number for the dealership and the Zippo guarantee insert. Other items lying around included matchbooks from hotels in Cuba where the salesmen took a special sales trip to in the 50s.
Need some new red seat covers for your 53-54 Chevy? Still brand new in the box.
Filling the old wooden cabinets in the lobby are tons of NOS parts and dealer promotional items, including trim, radios, a brand new stop light viewer for a Tri-Five, an autotronic eye, and a NOS '57 Chevy clock.
Here's a bottle of promotional perfume from 1964. Still unopened, we wondered what the scent must've been like.
Around 1990 part of the dealership building in the back fell in, destroying some 40s and 50s model cars that the Dunn family owned. The old derelict in the foreground is a 30s Chevrolet pickup that was the delivery truck for the dealership, and delivered ice around town. Even though it's dented and got some rust holes, the steel body is mostly there and could be saved by a well motivated street rodder.
Car's needing service would be pulled in to this part of the dealership, where the mechanics worked on the heavy wood floors. To the left are just some of the many service manuals spanning the dealership's 60 years of work.
One of the special items that came with the contents was this '57 Convertible that has always been owned by the dealership since ordered new in '57. The car has never been restored, still sports original paint and the original top. It has just over 52,000 miles and still runs like new, and up until the dealership closed was used in town events and parades.
For power the car has a 185 HP 2bbl equipped 283 and a Powerglide trans, along with power steering. At some point in its life, the 283 got a set of Corvette finned aluminum valve covers.
Over the years, the Dunn's stashed some NOS parts for the '57 in the trunk to keep the car in tip-top condition. Note the box of new floor mats and the rear bumper parts, still new in box.
The car's original spare still resides on the original wheel in the trunk.
More modern tech manuals from the 80s, 90s, and 2000s.
In the parts department are shelves and shelves or NOS GM and AC Delco parts, spanning from the 50s to this century.
Trim, rubber pieces, belts, all sorts of parts fill the shelves.
Check out the old AC Delco spark plugs. For a 1000-point restoration, there are guys who'd probably kill for these.
Here's a brand new tissue dispenser for a Tri-Five.
On the wall leading down to the basement storage areas, we spotted all these NOS dipsticks, still brand new.
Sitting on a ledge below the dipsticks was this dusty, but still new '57 Chevy radio delete plate.
Yeah, they're not auto parts, but it's still cool to see stuff like this. Aside form the old coke bottles, the guys at the dealership also liked Mello Yello, RC Cola (luckily we didn't find any vintage Moon Pies), Dr. Pepper, and Nehi.
When was the last time you saw a full bottle of Nehi?
Because the torque output of engines kept climbing in the 60s, the factory motor mounts were being pushed to the limit. As a temporary fix, GM issued out "Engine Lift Stop Cables"...
...that attached from the engine to the control arm cross shaft to keep the motor from tearing away from the mounts (pictured).
Here a whole stack of them wait in their original boxes.
Walking through the basement storage rooms, it gave me the same kind of feeling explorers of ancient Egypt must've had when they opened a long sealed tomb filled with relics and treasures never seen. Every shelf was stacked with countless numbers of original parts, from carb kits to belts to trim pieces.
Hiding in the rafters of one room were some trim parts and these brand new steering wheels. Note the one in the center is a '57 150 steering wheel.
These old yellow and black GM boxes date back to before the 60s when GM changed to green and white packaging for parts and accessories. Packages like this were all over the basement storage area, the cool and moderately dry conditions preserving everything for decades.
Here's a real jewel, a brand new, in the crate 283 short block from around 62-63.
Next to the 283 short block was this never used 235 inline-six bare block, ready to find its way between the fenders of an original resto Chevy.
One real fascinating group of artifacts from the dealership is all of the invoice books from car sales over the years. Any car sold, mundane or high performance, has a receipt in one of these books.
Out of curiosity we started flipping through this invoice book from 1966. Here we see a purchase by Mr. J.A. Huddleston for a brand new '66 Nova SS sport coupe. Tuxedo black with Fawn vinyl trim, we can only wonder what Mr. Huddleston wanted to car to do, noticing the 350 HP 327 option along with a 4-speed trans for his new Nova. His trade-in for the car? A '55 Chevy 2-door of some sort (doesn't say if it was a hardtop or sedan)
Cool, vintage Schlitz pull top cans! When they weren't drinking Nehi or Coca-Cola, the shop guys must've been sneaking down to the basement for some cold malted refreshment during their breaks.
Brand new in the box, this 235 air cleaner assembly is mint and ready for someone's restoration project.
Brand new Tri-Five control arm anyone?
One of the other cars Keith got with his purchase of the dealership's contents was this beautiful '78 Indy 500 Pace Car that's never been titled and has only 44 miles on the clock. The car was never dealer prepped, the cardboard floor covering and plastic seat protectors still in place, and the factory pace car decals in their box in the back of the car.
Inside the Corvette's interior is the same as when it left the St. Louis assembly plant in 1978.
Even the window sticker is still on the car. Look closely at the EPA fuel economy sticker, the '78 Vette with an automatic was rated at 17 MPG in the city and 21 MPG on the highway. Not bad for a smogged up, wheezing 350 with no overdrive and a carburetor. Total price for this Corvette in 1978, $13.939.21
More cool old Coke bottles. Never knew they made big glass 2-liter bottles like that. Just imagine the sugar buzz you'd get chugging one of those pint bottles, or that whole 2-liter bottle. We could get a whole issue of Super Chevy done in a day.
Just imagine how many people walked through this door to purchase a new or used Chevy over the years? Just off Main Street in Roanoke, this building was the jumping off point for who knows how many high performance bowties to terrorize the locals and leave burnout marks on the back roads of Alabama.
Back inside the main building, we found another pile of NOS trim parts, floor mats, and other components. The old dealership is an NOS hunter's fantasy, with many of the NOS packages, wrappers, and boxes almost mint.
This sign has been in the window of the dealership for over fifty years, telling those who passed that genuine Chevrolet parts could be purchased inside. For most of Dunn Chevrolet's life, GM was the global leader in auto sales, with cars like the Impala, BelAir, Chevelle, Nova, Corvair, Camaro, and Corvette leading the charge.
Next door to the dealership building was a massive elevated wooden platform about one story high that served as the used car lot. In this photo you can see an early Corvair, '57 4-door, '60 Impala 4-door sedan, the nose of a '62 full size (can't tell if it's an Impala, Bel Air, or Biscayne), and an early '60s truck. After part of the building next to the platform collapsed around 1990, the wooden platform was removed, and the area was filled in with dirt to bring it level with the street again.
Hiding behind this parts counter is probably the biggest stash of NOS parts found in one place in over a decade. Walking through the cramped isles of shelves, we spotted all sorts of things. On a key rack we saw a whole stack of original Briggs & Stratton-made keys, a new 60s AM radio, brand new points sets, a myriad of amazing stuff.
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