Niagara-on-the-Lake’s longstanding Niagara Motors GMC dealership celebrated its 75th anniversary in true car-lover fashion on Saturday – with a car show and a barbecue fundraiser for Red Roof Retreat.
A wide variety of vehicles filled the lot, this time not for sale. Instead there were hot rods, souped-up drag racers, stylish old Chevys and vintage military vehicles.
Dave Dick, longtime owner of Niagara Motors, said it’s hard to imagine it’s been that long.
“I tell you something, when I started in this business, I can't believe how fast time travels. I mean it's just like that I was just a young guy here greasing cars as a 12-year-old, right? And now I'm 68 years old. Where'd the time go?”
He ended up taking over the dealership from his father David Sr. when he was about 30, he said.
He said the dealership has sold “tens of thousands” of cars over the years.
He recalls when there were three dealerships in Virgil and while the others “kind of went away,” his store has lasted, still bringing in a lot of business, locally and elsewhere.
A lot of people come from the city to buy a truck in the country, he said.
“We're truck central — we're kind of in the country, we're a country-type atmosphere. So people come from all over to buy trucks from Niagara Motors because we have the truck expertise.”
Over the years the dealership, like most businesses, has had to grow and adapt. And the changes keep coming. Now, Dick says the next phase will be electric vehicles.
“The technology in this industry changes so fast. Wow, I mean you gotta keep training and buy new equipment, and now with electrification you have to invest in all kinds of infrastructure,”
He was surprised how many people showed up Saturday as people ate burgers and hotdogs and browsed the vehicles.
“Beyond what I expected. I didn't think this many people would come,” he said, adding the dealership limited the number of cars in the show to try to keep the crowd smaller.
“People have been locked in with COVID. We'd have 1,000 cars lined up here if we didn't cap it, because people want to get out with their show cars.”
He was proud to donate proceeds of the barbecue to Red Roof.
“Those guys do unbelievable work. They make my job look easy.”
Terry McMillan, president of the Niagara Military Vehicle Association, was there with some collector's items.
“We've got a 1985 U.S. Army field ambulance, and a 1944 GMC, CCKW from World War II. And they're both extremely rare trucks,” he said.
He said it was the first NOTL car show they’ve been at for two years, as shows have only been allowed since pandemic gathering restrictions were lifted. Normally the association kicks off the year with a fundraiser of its own.
The club also lost several vehicles to a large fire on Townline Road last winter.
“The only reason we have these here is because we ran into the building while it was on fire and drove them out. Or we would have lost them. So, we got 80 per cent of our collection out before the building was burnt down to the ground.”
He said the club lost “three or four jeeps, four trailers, an army tow truck, World War Two Dodge weapons carrier and Vietnam era Mutt.”
“And then we lost all our tools, spare parts, motors, spare motors and all that too.”
The vehicles were all insured, McMillan said, but they aren’t replaceable.
“Once they're gone they're gone. So it was a labour of love that we ran in and got them and got them out. And we were lucky.”
One of the vehicles still had soot on it from the fire, he said.
He recalled not being able to see through the smoke when driving the vehicles out.
“It was a rough one for us, but at the time of the fire we got in. The first vehicle I drove out was a World War Two halftrack, and I couldn't even see the starter, I had to feel for the starter button. And then I couldn't even see where I was going,” McMillan said.
“I told the owner … either I'm going out the exit or I'm going through a wall. It doesn't matter because it's an armoured vehicle. But luckily it was lined up and I could get it out. That was a rough day for us. It set us back quite a bit. So we're just slowly getting our stuff together now and getting the vehicles out into the public again.”