If the thought of muscle cars doesn't instantly conjure up images of rural Nebraska, it's time for some mental calibration. The "it" place for obtaining muscle project cars and muscle car parts is John's Muscle Car and Auto Salvage in Wymore, Neb.
Located in the southeastern part of Nebraska, Wymore, and specifically John Watts' salvage yard probably has cornered the market on rebuildable muscle cars. Among the approximately 300 cars that are mainly organized in rows within the 40 acres that comprise the yard, it's not unusual to find an entire row dedicated to one model such as Chevelle, Camaro/Firebird or even El Camino SS pickups. And that's just in the General Motors section.
In extremely complete condition, this 1953 Oldsmobile Deluxe 88 two-door sedan is an excellent return-to-the-road candidate. Only 12,400 were produced.
The yard, in business since 1998, is a life-long dream and a reflection of owner Watts' passion for performance cars. His personal muscle car collection numbers 32, all Chevelles ranging from 1964 to '72.
"I love them all," Watts explained of his fondness for the Chevelles that were produced during the heyday of Detroit's muscle car output. While Watts has a penchant for bowtie muscle, his yard has broader horizons and contains a decent selection of FoMoCo performance inventory as well as a few Mopar models. The only manufacturer that is totally missing in action is AMC.
This 1964 Chevy Chevelle Malibu convertible has donated its engine and some trim, but enough remains for a ragtop restoration project.
"I have no AMC [inventory]," Watts said, adding, "There was only one AMC dealer in this area, so there's not a lot of [AMC muscle] cars [locally]."
Walking around the several different fields that make up Watts' business, what quickly becomes apparent is that his inventory of non-performance collector vehicles is equally as impressive as his muscle inventory. Many of these collector vehicles remain in complete or near complete condition and appear, with minimal work, to be able to be returned to the road.
Nothing fancy, the sign pointing out John's Muscle Cars and Auto Salvage in Wymore, Neb., is hand-painted on the "beauty fence" surrounding the front of the yard.
Examples of these solid collector vehicles include several 1960s General Motors station wagons, especially Buick, and many 1950s GM models, including Buick/Oldsmobile/Pontiac and tri-Chevys. Pickups from the 1950s and '60s are also well represented as are a few heavier-duty farm trucks.
Years of experience
Watts said he began working in the salvage yard business at age 12, pulling parts for customers in his uncle Louis Watts' yard (Watts Repair). It, too, is located in Wymore, only miles away from John's Muscle Car and Auto Salvage. (Watts Repair will also be featured in an upcoming issue of Old Cars Weekly). Watts gives credit to his uncle for giving him his start. "I gained lots of knowledge on how to deal with cars and the public [working at Watts Repair]."
Neat rows of similar models is how much of the yard is organized, such as this column of first-generation Chevy Monte Carlos.
Watts remembers that the lessons learned didn't always come easy. He recalled the time he was driving his uncle's two-ton Chevy wrecker, trying to position a salvage vehicle in the yard. "The boom was up and I was dropping off a truck and tried to turn too sharply." The wrecker rolled over onto its side. Worse yet, a container of gasoline stored inside the cab spilled all over Watts when the truck overturned.
After 17 years of learning the business while working with his uncle, Watts decided to start his own salvage yard. In the fall of 1998, Watts selected a corner lot of 40 acres on the outskirts of Wymore and began both filling those acres with salvage cars and fulfilling his dream. To this day, he and his uncle maintain a collaborative agreement whereby muscle cars acquired by Watts Repair go to John's Muscle Car and Auto Salvage and select vintage vehicles and parts there are trucked down the road to Watts Repair.
Muscle parts A to Z
In all the years Watts has logged working in the salvage industry, he said the biggest change he's seen is in customers' needs.
"The demand has changed," Watts stressed. He said his muscle car customers now want "everything right down to the smallest part."
Chevrolet did not produce many of these Chevelle 300 two-door station wagons in 1964-'65, and their survival rate is small. This one has a solid body, and many of the parts removed are stored inside.
Watts can supply most of the parts requests he receives. "I save everything down to the last little bracket," Watts explained of how he stockpiles items from his muscle inventory. "I will not crush until every part is gone from the car."
Watts admits that most of his business is parts sales, but he will sell whole cars if a customer so desires. He also will allow customers to come to the yard and pull their own parts, but this type of request must be cleared first through Watts. He explained, "If someone needs something, I will pull the part for them unless they need to see how it comes off."
Watts said he can ship most any part to a customer, but warned, "I get busy, so sometimes it takes time."
John Watts poses with his yard truck in front of John's Muscle Car and Auto Salvage in Wymore, Neb.
Being busy, while good for business, has taken its toll on Watts' hobby activities. His youthful pursuit of building and driving stock cars is stalled. He also has lots of ideas for upgrading his collection of Chevelles, but that, too, continually gets put on hold.
"I get plans to start on something and someone will call with a lead to buy a car [for the yard], and there goes the money to work on my cars," Watts lamented.
Getting calls for muscle cars available for purchase is one way Watts continues to add to his yard's inventory. "I get one to five leads per day," Watts said, adding "There's still a lot of stuff out there."
Still wearing its 326-cid V-8 engine badges, this 1964 Pontiac Tempest Custom "Pillared" Sport Coupe has solid body panels, trim and glass. Only 13,235 were built equipped with the V-8.
One of his more interesting purchases two years ago, according to Watts, came from a phone call from a local farmer looking to get rid of a car taking up the space in his barn that he wanted for parking his new tractor. The car had been stored in the barn since 1974. Watts agreed to pay the farmer $2,200 to take away the car to make room for the tractor. Watts laughed when he revealed the car was a desirable 1967 Chevelle SS-396.
Admitting that he's bought up just about everything muscle-related locally, Watts said he's expanded his search area to include neighboring states. He also monitors ebay and its parts cars for sale category, and has been quite successful finding muscle parts cars for sale via the internet.
The faint outline of the missing Cobra script remains on the rear quarter of this 1971 Ford Torino Cobra fastback. Only 3,054 of this model were produced, and enough of this one remains to warrant restoration.
In addition to buying salvageable muscle cars, Watts said he gets lots of customer requests to locate muscle cars, which he does for a fee. He also offers his services to perform restoration work on muscle cars.
Watts has some candid opinions about the current state of muscle car values, and he's not afraid to share them. "I can see where they're worth a lot of money, but it holds back a lot of people from owning them," he stressed.
Watts said he keeps the prices he charges for muscle parts "reasonable." He added, "I like to cater to customers who want to drive their cars. Ninty percent of the people I deal with are people who enjoy their cars, [they 're] not [restoring them] just to turn them over."
While muscle cars get top billing at the yard, many pickups and heavier-duty farm trucks also populate the rows. This mid-1940s International K series stepside pickup, last registered as a farm truck in 1969, is near complete.
As far as where in the United States is the largest concentration of muscle car enthusiasts, Watts said, hands down, it's the East Coast. "Most of my stuff goes to eastern states." He also mentioned Minnesota and Wisconsin as two other strong muscle car interest areas.
For now, the office of John's Muscle Car and Auto Salvage is Watts' home, located on the corner of County Road S36 (off Highway 8) and Willow Road, on the southern boundary of Wymore. He is building a new office and parts storage facility in the field next to his home, but said until it's completed, customers should come to the house and knock on the door.
Watts said he is also open to car clubs touring his yard, but it's best to call first and set up a specific time, due to his busy schedule. Hours of operation at the yard are Monday through Friday (except Wednesday), 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The yard is closed Wednesdays and Sundays.
To contact Watts, call 402-674-3147 or use mailing address: John's Muscle Car and Auto Salvage, 3638 E. Willow Rd., Wymore, NE 68466.