Summer at the lake means playing in the sun and parties on the water. It’s also an ideal time to hit the open road and enjoy the scenery, espeically for the many car afficionados who live in the area. If you’re itching to slide behind the wheel, hear the roar of an engine, and experiecne some serious horsepower, there are several local dealers and custom shops offering a variety of four-wheeled beauties guaranteed to turn heads. “People definitely take a lot of pride in their cars up here at the lake,” says Nolan Shue, manager of Ron Shue Imports in Cornelius. “Especially on good weather days. They like to show them off.” Ron Shue Imports specializes in selling preowned luxury and exotic cars, such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Porsche, Range Rover, Lamborghini, and Ferrari. Shue says Dale Earnhardt Jr. bought a Hummer H1 from them, and several of the guys who work in the NASCAR shops in the area are regular customers. But even though locals frequent the Shue lot, the dealer reaches a much broader customer base thanks to the World Wide Web.“The majority of our sales are from online, either our website or another website we advertise at,” Shue says. “The Internet dominates the car market these days.”The same is true for Streetside Classics, which touts itself as the largest classic car dealer in the country. You’ll find hundreds of cars available for sale on Streetside’s website, but you’d be remiss if you didn’t get a chance to experience one of its three showrooms, one each in north Charlotte, Atlanta, and Dallas-Fort Worth. The Charlotte location features more than 140 iconic cars inside the spacious showroom, including a 1957 Ford Thunderbird, 1965 Shelby Cobra, 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, and dozens of other makes and models that are no longer being made. Ellen Kelly, office manager of Streetside’s Charlotte showroom, says many of their customers are attracted to certain cars for sentimental reasons, such as wanting to own the same kind of vehicle they had back in high school. Streetside sells cars on consignment, taking in vehicles from around the country (some dating back as far as the 1920s). In addition to the aforementioned vintage American cars, they also sell a number of early-model luxury cars such as Mercedes, Porsche, and Rolls-Royce. And the same way they get hard-to-find cars from around the U.S., they also attract customers from around the country—the world even.“We have all different kinds of buyers, from Sikhs in the Mideast to professional athletes,” says Kelly. “We had a group come in one time that was representing a lottery winner out of Florida and they were just like, ‘he wants one of these and one of these’ [After they] worked out a deal, he sent up one of those big car carriers and loaded up 10 cars.” Veteran car guy Garry Beam had gotten into the real estate game for a few years, but when his son, Chance, opened Lake Norman Imports six years ago, he returned to the industry he loves, and serves as general manager of the dealership. He recites the makes and models of cars they’ve sold, the way a disc jockey would name songs on his playlist. Beam says while he deals mostly with “well-qualified” customers (meaning they have great financial means and credit), they are also smart buyers who choose to go the pre-owned route so they don’t take “the 20-grand hit” on buying luxury cars brand new. And it’s important that Lake Norman Imports features great cars.“Every car we buy, we buy with the assumption that somebody would drive 200 miles to buy that car,” Beam says.For the most expensive cars he’s ever sold, the buyer lived much farther away. Beam says they sold two of the Range Rover Autobiography Ultimate Edition, each for $250,000, to a buyer in China. Closer to home, he’s also sold cars to Dale Jr. as well as NHRA driver Shane Gray, who lives on Lake Norman (he bought a Maserati). While it’s easy to attribute the prominence of the racing industry to the vibrancy of the car culture in this area—race car drivers love great cars in their personal time; racing execs can afford the pricey toys—Huntersville resident Daniel Valjevac, owner of Retro Designs in Concord, sees another benefit. His shop specializes in custom fabrication on cars and building hot rods.“There are a lot of resources that the NASCAR people use that we can use for restoring cars and building hot rods,” Valjevac says. “You got metal suppliers, parts suppliers; everything’s kind of located around this area. I talk to buddies of mine who have shops in other parts of the United States, and they have to order everything. I can run 30 miles in each direction and hit pretty much everything I need to build a car.”Valjevac has built hot rods for several years. He worked at other local shops, but it was always his dream to own one. So he and his wife Misty invested their savings into building a 6,000- square-foot-shop three years ago. Today, he has three other full-time employees at Retro Designs and says business is booming. They’re currently working on about 10 projects, including a rare 1932 Plymouth sedan that had been parked for more than 70 years. Valjevac and his guys rebuilt the entire frame, suspension system, front grill, and floor. “The biggest thing in the beginning was showing people that I can do really nice work,” Valjevac says. “Once they realize that, most of them become repeat customers.”
Streetside Classics5400 W. W.T. Harris Blvd., Suite A, Charlotte 704-598-2130, www.streetsideclassics.com
Retro Designs4445 Motorsports Drive, Unit 10, Concord 704-607-9344, www.retrodesigns.net
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Lake Norman Imports3287 Highway 16 North, Denver 704-483-4619, www.lakenormanimports.com
Ron Shue Imports19401 Statesville Road, Cornelius, 704-896-1115, www.ronshueimports.com