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Archive for Friday, April 17, 1998

MORE THAN A CAR LOT CAN BE FOUND ON EAST 23RD STREET

April 17, 1998

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At Smith Motors on East 23rd Street, you can find just about any type of car. Owner Howard Smith says: ``I've just liked machines for as long as I can remember.''

Breck Minor

Classic, exotic, everyday and even an electric car can be found at Smith Motors, 1231 E. 23rd.

Owner Howard Smith, who grew up on a farm in Oskaloosa, may appear rough around the edges, but this businessman keeps a slim-line, flip-top cell phone in his pocket, has world-wide connections which he's cultivated during his 21 years in the automobile business, and owns about 10 acres at two separate locations scattered with possibly the widest array of collectible automobiles in the Midwest. Both lots have about 160 cars to select from at any one time.

"I've just liked machines for as long as I can remember," the 60-ish Smith said, said when asked how he got into his business. He had three cars in high school before entering Kansas State University to seek a degree in engineering but later left school to follow his instincts and became a dealer of American dream machines.

Americans have always had a fascination with the automobile. For those seeking to return to the golden age of motoring, his collection consists of cars from the late 1940s through the mid-'70s.

"Every year families make this a stop-off point on their cross-country trips to see the vintage automobiles,'' Smith said. He specializes in Cadillacs, Lincolns, Thunderbirds, and all makes of convertibles, from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s.

"Everyday cars pay the bills," Smith said, "but the old cars make it fun." His "everyday cars," however, are mostly 1960s and 1970s models ranging from poor to exceptionally good condition -- many with low mileage. He doesn't usually do complex restorations; he leaves that to car enthusiasts, father and son teams, and professional car restoration companies.

Cadillac convertible lovers, though, recently had the choice of four diamonds in the rough: 1963, 1966 and 1968 de Villes and one 1973 Eldorado.

Other favorites of Smith's included an array of Thunderbird convertibles from the '50s through the mid '60s. His highest-priced convertible was a restored 1955 Thunderbird priced at $25,000.

Smith Motors' front lot recently displayed a one-owner, yellow '62 Cadillac Sedan de Ville with only 76,000 verifiable miles on it. For a car to have verified mileage, it must have complete records from its original owner. "When the owner of the yellow Caddy, a doctor from Oklahoma, decided to finally part with the car, he contacted me," Smith said.

Sitting close to this yacht on wheels was a '57 pink Cadillac Sedan de Ville, which was recently rented by the Mary Kay Cosmetic Corp. to be shown next to a new pink Cadillac for a photo shoot celebrating the company's policy of giving pink Cadillacs to their best sales representatives since 1957.

If you can't find the classic car you're hunting for here, Smith will find it for you through his extensive automotive connections. "I buy and sell cars all over the U.S., Canada, and Europe,'' he said. ``Also, there's a big demand for restorable convertibles in New Zealand and Australia. The best cars go to Australia and Germany. These buyers have a lot of excess cash and intend to have the cars restored to showroom condition."

Hollywood has also discovered Smith Motors.

His cars have appeared in such films as "The Day After," "Kansas," "Truman" and "Where Pigeons Go to Roost," featuring the late Michael Landon.

What does Smith personally own and drive? A 1995 Lincoln Continental -- listed new at $42,000 and for sale at $19,900 with about 13,000 miles on it. The affable dealer was asked what would be his next personal car of choice, considering all of the cars he's owned.

"A new Lexus 400," he replied, available for a paltry $56,200.

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