STAUNTON, Ill. – An overnight fire Tuesday wiped out the main building and more than 100 collector cars and trucks at one of the country’s most well-known collector car dealerships. Country Classic Cars in southern Illinois lost between 100 and 150 vehicles, according to early reports, as major blaze scorched the building that housed the dealerships main office. There were no injuries reported and no cause for the blaze was immediately known.
According to published reports, the building measured 510 x 50 feet and had a wooden support structure under the metal exterior shell. The fire apparently began before 8:00 p.m., and required fire departments from more than a dozen area communities to extinguish. The business is located along Interstate 55, but the road remained open. The roof on the burning building collapsed and disintegrated before fire crews finally got the flames under control around 11 p.m.
The business is owned by Russ and Anita Noel and is a longtime advertiser and fixture in the pages of Old Cars Weekly. The Noels still live on a farm and are not far removed from the days when they were full-time farmers. They opened Country Classics about 18 years years ago with the idea of splitting their time between farming and peddling old cars. That arrangement lasted a few years, but the car business, which started on the family’s Edwardsville farm, ballooned and became too big to handle as a part-time gig. Now they lease the farmland and run the car business full time.
The business has focused on affordable cars and cars that are restoration candidates. Over the years the Noels have shipped many cars overseas, and their inventory often exceeds their indoor storage space. The three buildings that house the cars are generally filled bumper-to-bumper with a wide range of muscle cars, finned cruisers, pickups, sports cars an hot rods of all types. Many of the cars on the property are there on consignment, stored for free until they sell.