If you’re restoring a beast of a Chevrolet muscle car such as a ’65 Chevelle Z-16 or a ’66 Impala SS 427, you might want to pay a visit to the “beauty parlor” of Jim Carlson’s Auto Center in Holmen, Wis. Carlson can fix you up with items such as a very rare instrument panel for a “factory tach” Chevelle or a new-old-stock Chevy AM/FM radio from the mid ’60s, which ain’t exactly a common item, either.
Let’s say your 1959 Impala, Bel Air or Biscayne needs a “facial.” You’ve come to the right place. Carlson’s “beauty parlor” probably has those chrome grille pieces you’ve been looking for. Not far away — in his multi-acre outdoor storage area — you’ll find racks full of good used front bumpers to replace the one you dented last summer when you tried to lift the car up with the factory bumper jack.
Carlson is a collector, car dealer, parts peddler and restorer who loves ’50s and ’60s cars, particularly Chevys, Mercurys and Buicks. Up until March 2007, his beauty parlor was a real one — a place that ladies went to get their hair done. The unique thing about this “hairport” was that it was built inside a trailer. That trailer was next to Carlson’s car lot. When the beauty parlor real estate became available, Carlson bought it since the trailer made a great place to store his best parts.
The trailer is long and wide with wood-paneled cabinetry and lots of curtained windows for natural lighting. The quality constructed trailer is also well insulated so it stays cool in the summer and dry year round. Carlson didn’t take a thing away. It is still set up with shelves, sinks and mirrors. He just added things designed to make “iron ladies” as beautiful as their human counterparts.
Since buying it, Carlson has been packing every nook and cranny in his “once upon salon” with his best parts, most of which reside in light brown boxes with turquoise-and-orange Chevrolet graphics on them. Sliding-door cabinets that once held styling gels and pomades are now filled with wheel covers and headlamp bezels. Waxy paper wrappers with dark blue bow-tie graphics protect unused trim moldings from dings, dents and dust.
“Barber chairs” upholstered in burgundy vinyl are stacked with chrome gravel shields, small display cases from Chevy dealerships and other treasures found in the attics of now-boarded-up car stores. Some of the boxes are marked with the prices that flea market vendors wrote on them with a Magic Marker 10 or 20 years ago. Carlson says, “In a lot of cases, I am charging those same prices today, because my goal is to get this stuff into the hands of other car collectors.”
Carlson has also been using a former International Harvester dealership building for 35 years, but local real estate prices have risen lately and he realizes that the time to sell is coming.
Carlson has also been spending a lot of time lately cleaning up the “backyard” of his business, which he describes as a “GM fan’s beat-the-crusher’ heaven.” He has sold off a lot of the parts cars he had since our last visit in 2008, although he still owns 75 or more such vehicles from a 1956 Caddy four-door hardtop to an IH tow truck. Today, his inventory is mainly 1955-1967 Chevy and he still has lots of these cars, such as eight 1958 Impala parts cars in a row. It won’t be long before the parts cars really do have to be crushed, so getting rid of them has inspired some aggressive selling and sales of the better parts. Sales of NOS parts has picked up, too.
Carlson also has two barns filled with rare items that came off these parts cars including fender skirts, continental kits, sheet metal and seats, plus a couple of used cars that are too nice to part out. At one time, Carlson thought he could get all of this really organized, but reality has set in and it’s time to clean the barns, too.
Carlson sells his parts or whole cars and deals with buyers in person, by phone or by mail order. He accepts both domestic and foreign orders. He has been shipping parts all over the globe for decades and can help buyers pick the best way to ship a specific item. He just sent a ’59 Chevy sedan off to Sweden.
“My beauty parlor and my parts cars have helped lots of classics get prettier,” Carlson reflected. “But my days of helping people build beautiful beasts are heading towards the end, because each part I sell today brings me closer to the last one.”
Jim Carlson’s Auto Center
*As an Amazon Associate, Old Cars earns from qualifying purchases.