News Culture

The Clock Is Ticking for America’s Last AMC Dealership

Dozens, if not hundreds, of well-preserved AMCs on a lot in North Carolina are looking for homes. But they're running out of time.

Most of us don’t fully understand why we latch on to the things we love. But Ben Sechrist is one of the lucky few to be able to trace his interest in the cars made by American Motors Corporation back to a particular machine: a black 1969 AMC AMX that he often visited in his grandfather’s Washington, D.C. shop. It’s a car that, as an adult, led him to the eventual search for and discovery of Collier Motors—thought to be America’s last remaining AMC dealer.

We’ve covered Collier Motors before. But now, armed with insight from Sechrist—along with some from the dealership’s owner himself—we can tell a more complete story about where Collier Motors came from.

It’s a story that’s coming to an end soon. The Collier family is eager to sell as many of the (surprisingly well-preserved) cars on the lot as they can by the year’s end and to start clearing off what remains afterward to eventually sell the land, too. The Collier family doesn’t want to be in the car business forever, let alone tethered to the decades-dead AMC brand. 

That’s good news for collectors and enthusiasts—so long as they’re willing to act fast. 

The Goldwater AMX

But first, Ben Sechrist’s car. Well, technically, it was never his car. 

Rather, the black 1969 AMC AMX—believed to be depicted in these photos—belonged to the five-term senator from Arizona and former presidential hopeful Barry Goldwater. He took his cherished AMX, christened “Spot,” in for maintenance and extensive customization at Sechrist’s grandfather’s shop. Over the years, Goldwater spent $110,000 on gadgetry for the car, according to the Los Angeles Times, visiting the shop to have everything from an airspeed indicator to a HAM radio installed. Sechrist saw the AMX enough times that it became an inseparable part of his childhood, then early adulthood, as he learned to service it himself during his teens.

Fast forward a few decades to 2014. Sechrist told The Drive he found himself wondering what had happened to the car that captured his imagination as a child. Researching Goldwater’s AMX revealed it had traveled to a small town called Pikeville in North Carolina, the site of an almost mythical AMC graveyard on the lot of a decaying former AMC dealer. 

Sechrist got in touch with its owner, a fellow named Bobby Collier, who confirmed Goldwater’s AMX was indeed there, adding that it had been repainted red, though about half its gadgetry was missing. The two discussed a visit, but Sechrist, his curiosity partially satisfied, didn’t get around to following through. That is, not until November 2020.

That autumn, one of Sechrist’s brothers asked him for a photo of their grandfather’s old shop, questioning what had happened to Goldwater’s black AMX that had enraptured them so. Sechrist’s call with Collier came flooding back to him, as did his interest in visiting the car, so he reached out to Collier Motors, only to learn Collier had since passed away, leaving his lot in the hands of his first son, Robbie. Goldwater’s car was still there, Robbie Collier reassured him, and it was in need of a buyer.

Robbie Collier asked Sechrist if he wanted to come take a look. This was the moment things began to snowball.

“I said, ‘I’ve got this funny feeling that this is either gonna be the end or the beginning of something bigger,'” Sechrist said. 

R.A.M.B.L.E.R.: Call of Pikeville

Sechrist set out for Collier Motors, a former AMC dealer that signed on with the offspring of the Hudson-Nash merger in 1955. Collier Motors was, as outlined in our original story, one of AMC’s first dealers (not to mention its finest), dating back to 1955 under Bobby Collier. If anything, Bobby might have been too good for America’s fourth-biggest carmaker, which saddled him with shoddy Renaults around when monetary policy changes under the Carter Administration made debt-driven industries—like dealing new cars—a rough business. The family business consequently switched to selling used and specialty cars around 1980, so while what was left of AMC faltered and was eventually folded into Chrysler, Collier Motors lived on.

Business dwindled over the years along with the Collier workforce, which increasingly struggled to beat back the brush on the five-acre lot. Bobby’s business slowly faded into obscurity and gradually came to welcome more curious look-seers than actual customers. The flow of tourists only intensified after Collier Motors was featured on American Pickers in 2016, which bought a pair of cars but didn’t draw enough earnest buyers to make a real dent in the dealer’s still well-stocked inventory.

And so, when Bobby Collier passed away on Feb. 11, 2018, he left behind hundreds of unsold cars as his estate—the administration of which fell chiefly on his oldest son, Robbie Collier.

Forestry and Guided Tours

Robbie Collier explained to The Drive that today, selling old cars is only a small component of running this five-acre, multi-year, 24/7 estate sale. Collier Motors’ remains are now an international attraction to those enthused by the offbeat, and people still visit two to three times weekly, occasionally from places as far-flung as New Zealand and Switzerland. Robbie has two visitors’ books full of signatures, many of which belong to people who were not to there shop for a project car but just to see the sights.

Even those who come with purchasing in mind don’t always leave having made one, as was the case with a recent visitor from Wisconsin, who spent his visit deforesting Javelins but ultimately left empty-handed for whatever reason. Even so, the Collier family—which regularly meets for “family workdays”—appreciated the help, as groundskeeping is more than its skeleton crew can manage.

“It’s almost a full-time job to keep the place under control,” Robbie told me. “The weeds have really taken over the place pretty bad.

“There are places where the trees are growing up in front of cars, in a couple of cases between the bumper and the car,” he continued. “We had a ’78 AMX down there, and [my brother] just cut like a four-inch tree out between the bumper and the car. It was growing underneath the car, and it chose to go up through the bumper.”

More Cars Than You Can Shake a Tree At

That ’78 AMX is among the roughly 40 most desirable, most restoration-worthy cars still hiding among the brush, along with another AMX, “a small handful of Javelins,” another Nash-Healey and a matching parts car, and plenty of miscellaneous high-performance AMCs. There’s a 401-ci Ambassador and 1971 Matador coupe, a V8 Spirit, Ramblers of American, Rebel, and Rogue flavors, plus plenty of cars from AMC’s forebears, Hudson and Nash.

Because Bobby never parted cars out, they’re pretty much all mechanically complete. The ones that aren’t have only been pilfered for big-ticket items, like the 360-ci V8’s high-compression heads that were only offered from the factory for one year, or entire 401-ci V8s, which remain popular to swap into Jeeps and AMCs. For the most part, though, Robbie’s cars are complete vehicles, making them far better parts cars than AMCs elsewhere in the country.

“Our nicer cars, they’re gone. We’re down to restorable cars [and] parts cars,” Robbie said. “People got the impression we hung onto the cars just to hang on to them. But everything’s been for sale. It’s just certain things would sell better than what we end up keeping.

“There are a lot of good parts cars—Concords, and Matadors, and wagons, and a few Rebels, and Dusters, and there are a few Hornets,” he continued. “We hope to sell those this year, and go and try to wrap up the business. We’ll end up having to crush some of the other ones or part ’em out.”

So, the cream-of-the-crop cars are gone, but there are still plenty worth whacking out of the brush for, either in the name of saving or stripping to keep another car running. One car definitely worth keeping intact, though, is the red 1969 AMX that compelled Sechrist to cross the country to see it for the first time in 40 years.

Eyes on the Prize(s)

Within days of his call with Robbie, Sechrist traveled to the defunct Collier Motors, where he made a detailed observation of the site; a far more technical one than American Pickers made years prior. The word he used to describe it was “surreal.”

“It’s an interesting feel, if you like to go into those places,” Sechrist said. “It’s like… this lost-in-time dealership, but not really. It’s not a junkyard, yet there are parts cars there, there are all these complete, non-wrecked vehicles. It’s just so cool.”

According to Sechrist’s own appraisal, the cars on the Colliers’ lot are not a mere wash and new gas away from being roadworthy, though many are apparently in far better shape than you’d expect.

“Compared to a Maine or Michigan car, these things are cherries,” Sechrist continued. “If you’re used to getting California cars, you’re probably gonna be a little bit, ‘It’s more than I wanna contend with.’ But anybody that’s gone around looking at anything else is gonna go, ‘Holy smokes, these are great.'” 

Of the lot, he said, “It is overgrown and you gotta spend some time and enjoy the essence of what’s here now. It’s the present you’ve gotta have in mind.”

AMX Marks the Spot; a Cobra in the Barn

When Sechrist arrived at the red AMX he came to see, he instantly recognized a trio of aviation stickers in its window that had been there since his childhood. This was the genuine article; the car from his youth. Half of its custom instrumentation was missing, but the car’s “mystical” presence hadn’t faded over the decades since he had last seen it. 

A thought briefly crossed his mind; one of buying it, repainting it black, and filling the gap left by the removed gadgets with the kind of technology Goldwater might’ve had installed were he around today. But someone else was already on the hook to buy the car, forcing Sechrist to look elsewhere on the lot for cars that struck his fancy.

He found just that by the front fence, where a pair of Javelins were parked. One was a low-mile example in rare Big Bad Blue paint; the other, a one-of-2,501 homologation special, a Mark Donohue Javelin SST. Both had clearly been sitting for an extended period but in a spot where weeds hadn’t grown, allowing air to circulate under them and keep their frames dry. Sechrist sorely wanted his Javelin, and after some brief negotiation, he and Robbie settled on a price.

Somewhere along the way, Sechrist brought up how badly he wanted an AMX with the four-speed manual and Robbie mentioned there was one left on the lot, but that it was inaccessible: It was inside the collapsed paint booth. Through the shop’s window, though, Sechrist saw the roof itself hadn’t fallen on the car. It was suspended on a refrigeration unit, and while some of the ceiling was touching, the car would be fine as long as the roof didn’t completely collapse.

He asked permission to go in and, after signing a waiver, concluded the AMX could be saved. Using his experience in construction and demolition, he proposed bracing what remained of the structure, and building a makeshift tunnel to the shop door. Robbie was on board, and the two agreed to reconvene two weeks later for the car’s recovery.

On Nov. 20, one serendipitous day after our original story on Collier Motors ran, Sechrist returned with safety gear, tools, and the help of his brothers, Chris and Sam. They dismantled the shop’s unstable brick gable, then winched the AMX down a debris-lined path around a stranded Matador. By dusk, the car was at the door and it was safe to poke through its insides. 

There, Sechrist found the owner’s manual with the name of the original buyer, who turned out to still be kicking. “He’s so pleased that it’s still around and that it’s gonna get restored, y’know, he’s just tickled!” Sechrist exclaimed, who opened a standing invitation to the AMX’s original owner to drive the car after its restoration.

Let’s Make a Deal

Sechrist declined to disclose what he paid for either vehicle but emphasized that he didn’t feel he overpaid and that the Colliers are still cutting good deals.

“Robbie is a fair guy, and each deal is a private thing. We came to what I thought was very fair and reasonable for both parties. They’re not asking the sky and the moon, they’re not giving stuff away,” he said. “That Big Bad Blue [Javelin], that’s gonna be a high-dollar car. You want a Pacer, that’s gonna be a different story.”

Whatever you’re looking for, whether that be an AMC, a vehicle from one of its forebears, or even one of the miscellaneous makes scattered around the lot, the Colliers’ goal is to sell it to you. To them, that outcome is infinitely preferable to feeding cars to the crusher for TikTok.

“The boys, [with] Robbie leading the charge, are actively pursuing getting rid of all that inventory, and there’s a lot down there, a lot of neat, neat stuff—history,” Sechrist continued. “These things are going to go to good homes. That’s the idea.”

“They’re trying to do the right thing and get these cars that are restorable into people’s hands that will restore them. This is the final chapter. The curtain is closing. This is it.”

“Be involved,” Sechrist urged. 

Everything Must Go

Robbie Collier’s talk of a crusher isn’t some empty threat to scare customers out his way or incite outrage online. He has a life he needs to move on with, a family to take care of, a house to pay off, and he can’t steward his dad’s unsold stock forever. 

The Colliers hope to have the cars people want most into customer hands by the end of the year, at which point they can start clearing the property of the nearly 300 unsold vehicles that will be left.

“The business is not technically open anymore. We’re actually selling out the estate. So, whatever I can sell, I will. It’s sort of a slow process,” Robbie said. “Eventually, I’ll probably have to have this stuff crushed, but it’s gonna be a challenge ’cause of the trees.”

Trees tower over the cars at Collier Motors, DecayingDougPhotos

When all is said and done, Robbie imagines his family selling the land. That probably won’t happen for at least several months, but it’s time the Colliers closed the chapter of life Bobby left them, hard as that may be—both physically and emotionally.

“It has been a big part of my life. The hardest thing is to see it in the shape it’s in right now,” Robbie said. “Maybe we were misguided in collecting so many cars. I’m thankful for the time that we have dealt with cars like this—and it’s in my blood—but I don’t have the expertise my dad had. He was a master mechanic, and going to the auctions, I didn’t really worry about some cars because I knew my dad could basically solve any mechanical problem that we would have. I had confidence when I was partnering with him.”

Robbie would certainly benefit from that sort of expertise to resurrect his first car, a 360-ci ’74 Javelin in Sienna Orange, which his dad took as a trade-in, and held onto at his request. He’s still got the car and envisions restoring it after wrapping up his father’s estate. But first comes the task at hand—to sell what he can and toss the rest.

“As long as people give me a couple days’ notice, we’ll let ’em look around down there, and pick something out if they want to,” he said.

Those interested in adopting an AMC can contact Robbie Collier through Collier Motors AMC’s Facebook page.

Update: Oct. 14, 1:22 p.m. ET: This article has been updated to clarify Sechrist’s Mark Donohue Javelin SST was not owned by the racing driver himself.

An AMC Ambassador SST in a sad, sad state, DecayingDougPhotos

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