Stihl Dealer Days

Rural Missouri Magazine
High-octane dreams
John Meyer's Happy Days Dream Cars brings high performance muscle cars back to the showroom

by Bob McEowen

John Meyer sold trash collection businesses in four states and opened a classic car showroom in a former John Deere dealership on the outskirts of Warrensburg. Happy Days Dream Cars specializes in muscle cars, classics and street rods. Meyer stands between a highly customized 1965 Chevrolet Chevelle convertible and a 1970 Dodge Challenger convertible sporting Chrysler’s new Hemi engine.

It may surprise young motorists today but during the late 1960s and early 1970s you could walk into almost any auto dealership and buy a race car — or at least a car worthy of the track.

The epitome of Detroit’s muscle car madness was surely the 426-horsepower Plymouth Super Bird and Dodge Charger Daytona models. Sporting scooped noses and 2-foot-tall rear wings, these cars satisfied a NASCAR requirement that cars used in stock car racing were actually available in showrooms. Not to be left in the dust, Ford and General Motors produced their own high-performance iron.

Sadly, for fans of American muscle cars, those days are long gone. Or are they?
In Warrensburg, you can still walk into a showroom and find the occasional Super Bird along with a number of other muscle cars, street rods and classics. In 2001 John Meyer launched Happy Days Dream Cars, a classic car dealership, after selling trash collection businesses he operated in four states.

“I always loved cars and I needed something to do to occupy my time,” says John, a member of West Central Electric Cooperative. “I thought about starting a collection but decided there’s a lot more interaction in a dealership. Also I’d see a lot more cars in a dealership than I would in a collection.”

John purchased an old John Deere dealership building along Highway 50 and converted it to his classic car showroom. Two huge walls of glass stream sunlight onto perfectly restored cars parked atop a gleaming floor painted black and white to mimic a checkered flag. Just beyond the main showroom the implement dealer’s service area has been transformed into more display area and filled with row after row of classic cars parked beneath automotive advertising signs.

Carl Maberry and Debbie Bryson of Sweet Springs admire a 1959 Dodge in the Happy Days showroom. The couple stops by the dealership on a regular basis to look at the cars.

“I don’t know any other place that has that many cars,” says Kerwin Looney who films segments of his automotive TV show “Cartunz” at Happy Days Dream Cars. Aired on Kansas City’s KPXE, the program features automobiles selected from John’s $3.5 million inventory. “There’s no way I can run out of cars to shoot at this place.”

Indeed, walking into the Happy Days showroom is like stepping into an automotive time capsule. A red 1966 Mustang Fastback sits near an original ’69 Z-28 Chevy Camaro and a 1970 Chevelle with a 454-cubic-inch engine. Down the row, a bevy of Dodge and Plymouth muscle cars sporting “440-Six-Packs” and “Hemi” engines await well-heeled buyers with a penchant for horsepower.

While these terms sound like gibberish to today’s drivers, mere mention of the triple carburetor Six Pack or the legendary Hemi engine — named for the shape of the cylinder head’s combustion chamber — is enough to make many a middle-aged man’s heart palpitate.

Happy Days’ inventory includes dream cars of an earlier generation, as well. In fact, John says his customers — typically, males aged 45-65 — are divided among several camps based on which cars were popular when they were young.

“Generally it’s people buying cars like they used to have,” says John, 59, whose own tastes lean toward older cars.

While muscle cars are the hottest seller these days, John says he prefers older cars like this 1959 Dodge.

“Personally, I like the ’55, ’56, ’57 Chevys, or cars like this old Buick out here,” he says, motioning toward a pristine 1941 Buick Super Convertible, priced at $65,000. “That ’59 Dodge out there — something like that is a lot more exciting to me than a ’70 Chevelle.”

Like his customers, John says his choice of cars is closely tied to memories and experiences from his early days behind the wheel. “My first car, when I was 16, was a ’55 Chevy, coral and grey. I dated my wife in it and asked her to marry me at the A&W drive-in in that car,” John says.

Today, John’s wife, Helen, joins him in the business as Happy Days’ bookkeeper. A customized ’55 Chevy convertible, similar to the car the Meyers dated in, is prominently displayed in one corner of his showroom. That car has never been priced for sale but everything else in the showroom is available — including the advertising signs.

Happy Days Dream Cars sells about 10 cars each month, primarily to out-of-state buyers. A few have sold overseas. John lists his cars in national automotive publications like Deals on Wheels and Old Car Trader, as well as on his Web site. Deals are typically made over the phone or via e-mail and the cars are delivered by commercial carrier. About half of John’s cars are sold sight-unseen.

Almost never does a person wandering into the showroom end up buying a car. Typically, visitors to the Warrensburg business come to see cars they’ve already discussed with John, or they are car buffs who stop by just to admire the inventory.

It’s not surprising that many people come to look and not buy. These cars typically cost $35,000 or more. A desirable muscle car with original parts can easily bring $60,000 and the most sought-after — like the 1970 Plymouth Super Bird John is currently having restored — can bring five times as much.

This giant air cleaner with cartoon graphics sits atop a 426-horsepower Chrysler Hemi engine, one of the most sought after power plants among the classic cars Happy Days Dream Cars sells.

But high-octane prices do not translate into high performance profits, John says. Between traveling the country to purchase cars, paying a staff and preparing the vehicles for the showroom, sales just cover expenses. “It’s kind of a hobby business in a sense,” he says. “Mainly we enjoy doing it and hope that it will pay the bills. It doesn’t do a lot more than that, but it does pay the bills.”

Instead, John has realized what he set out to do when he retired from the trash business. He has created a place where he can enjoy cars and interact with other enthusiasts.

“We enjoy sharing the showroom,” he says. “When people come in here they’re always smiling. When I was in the trash business and people came into my office they weren’t always smiling.”

More than anything, it seems the cars give John the greatest satisfaction. His enthusiasm is evident as he leads a visitor along a row of classic muscle cars and describes the details of each one. After years of working toward his retirement he has claimed his reward.

“I used to have money,” he says with a smile. “Now I have cars.”

Happy Days Dream Cars is located at 812 E. Young in Warrensburg. Visitors are welcome Tuesday through Saturday. For more information call (660) 422-7177 or log onto www.happycarz.com.

 

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