To William “Red” Lewis of Green Bay, the automobile is beauty in motion, art on wheels. Now the dozens of vehicles he has collected and restored are his legacy and a community investment.
Open since 2016 is The Automobile Gallery, a revamped car dealership that treats about 50 vintage cars as precious masterpieces. Unlike fine art, all can be touched by the average person, and you can occupy the driver’s seat of a few.
Almost all were Red’s babies until he transferred ownership to the nonprofit gallery that he established. Another 30 vehicles are in storage or under restoration, near Wrightsville.
“We make them perfect,” says Red, best known for creating and manufacturing touchless automatic PDQ car washes. Before that, he was an auto parts salesman and tow truck driver.
Daughter Becky Lewis says Red’s life always evolved around cars. “He was either cleaning them, building equipment to clean them, restoring them or pulling them” out of a ditch, she says.
“You need to get a hobby,” family and friends advised, upon Red’s retirement. So he planted 1,100 apple trees, then began collecting cars. The hobby outgrew one garage, then another.
“What are you going to do with all those cars when I go to the great car wash in the sky,” he wondered, to his family. Setting up The Automobile Gallery, he decided, would let everybody enjoy them and help revitalize Green Bay’s downtown.
“My favorite part is listening to all the stories,” Becky says. “Everybody seems to have a story” about one or more of these cars.
Across the street is Captain’s Walk Winery, which developed a hard apple cider with fruit from Red’s orchards. Between auto galleries is a catering kitchen, bar and space for corporate events to wedding receptions. Upstairs, with a wall of glass overlooking the showroom floor, is a 20-seat executive conference room with multimedia capabilities.
“The car is the art here,” Red emphasizes. “You won’t see gas pumps or signs” filling the stark white walls.
Outside is a lipstick-red, 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Inside are a 1917 Milburn Electric car to a 2015 Cadillac CTS-V. It is an unusual mix of the flamboyant and ordinary: Think DeLorean to Javelin.
Red “doesn’t want people to think it was a rich guy’s collection,” his daughter explains.
In the opened wagon of a flawless and buffed 1957 Buick Caballero are photos that reveal the tough shape of the vehicle before a two-year restoration began. “Who’d ever think that you could look at a station wagon, versus a Corvette, and call it stunning,” gallery volunteer Jeff Jacobe asks, rhetorically.
The Automobile Gallery, 400 S. Adams St., Green Bay, is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends. Call for weekday hours. Admission is $10 ($8 for seniors, veterans and ages 7-17). Active military/reserve and ages 6 or younger get in free. theautomobilegallery.org, 920-437-9024
The gallery hosts its first car show from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 17 in the 300 and 400 blocks of South Adams Street, featuring pre-1992 vehicles. The limit is 200 cars, and there is no judging.
About 150 miles south of Green Bay is Gateway Classic Cars, a consignment shop for classic and exotic cars that also welcomes visitors who just want to take a look. It opened less than one year ago and is one of 15 Getaway showrooms nationwide.
Usually 100 vehicles are on display, says spokesman Jim Laing, who notes that 85 percent of Gateway’s cars are sold sight unseen because of vehicle details posted online.
Most expensive in the Kenosha showroom? Jim nods toward a 1966 Ford Bronco with 111 miles, listed at $175,000, because “every part is customized.” Near the low end: a 1977 MG Midget with 63,000 miles ($9,595).
Most unusual? Jim mentions a 1967 Amphicar with 733 miles for $54,000; it travels on land and water. I rate a three-wheeled, 2008 Kawasaki T-Rex Replica ($44,995) and 1923 Ford T-Bucket ($24,995) as finalists too.
Car buffs show up for the free “Cars and Coffee” from 9 a.m. to noon on the last Saturday of the month. That means java, doughnuts, gawking, music from a DJ and a lot of car talk. Jim says it turns into an impromptu car show because of the number of attendees who arrive in their own restored vehicles – about 100 for the May event.
Gateway Classic Cars, 9949 58th Place, Suite 400, Kenosha, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but closed on Sundays. It is in an industrial park and doesn’t have flashy signage. gatewayclassiccars.com, 262-891-4253
Kenosha, longtime home to auto production, hosts a major car show every three years, and this year is it. Events during the Kenosha Homecoming Car Show, July 25-30, culminate with a big car show at Kennedy Park, 4051 Fifth Ave. For details about this, cruise nights and other activities, go to kenoshahistorycenter.org/events.html or call 262-654-5770.
Car shows are common in Wisconsin during summer, but the king is the 300-acre Iola Old Car Show, July 6-8 at 130 Jensen Dr., Iola (Waupaca County).
Expect 2,500 show cars and 120,000 attendees at the 45th annual gathering, which pays particular attention this year to Trans-Am Series Pony Cars, the Camaro and Firebird (the latter two have golden anniversaries).
The nonprofit event, in a village of 1,300 residents, raises money for at least 100 charities and rates as one of the nation’s top car shows. Admission: $10 per day or $18 for a weekend pass. Gates open at 6 a.m. iolaoldcarshow.com, 715-445-4000