By Jennifer L. Williams
If you ever have the opportunity to meet Morrison, either at Backing Up Classics Motor Car Museum, which he purchased last May, or at Morrison Motor Company, located on Old Charlotte Road, you might think he has motor oil, not blood, running through his veins.
Morrison, 52, and his younger brother, Gary, were born and raised in a Cabarrus County mill village, and have lived here all their lives - and, for the most part, were never not around cars.
"When I was a kid, my daddy, J.P., always had cars. As a matter of fact, he had 13 '40 Fords,"Morrison said. "We never had a lot of money, but he always bought cars, and he always sold them.
"My brother Gary actually worked at a car dealership after he got out of college, and he's been the pushing force. We work real good together. He's more outgoing, and I'm the more conservative guy."
The Morrison brothers founded Morrison Motor Company in 1970, and specialize in exotic, hard-to-find vehicles; motorcycles, including Harley-Davidsons; and in pre-owned vehicles. He reflected on just how valuable some of these cars have become over the years.
"Back then, we just kind of eased into the car business, and we started off with Corvette convertibles," he said. "I have this picture with my oldest son - he's about 28 now - but he has a baby in that picture, so it was about 1975. The Corvettes were $3,500 apiece then - that's about 25 years ago - and now the same Corvette is worth $35,000. Are those Corvettes gonna be worth $350,000 25 years from now when I'm 77 years old? Probably.
"We grew up in it. The cars are something that we just bought and restored and fixed up and sold when we couldn't do any better. Now we try to buy real good cars.
"Used to be, we sold mainly Corvettes, but now we also do Vipers, Mustangs. We sell about 50 to 80 cars a month. Our parking lot gets so covered up with people on Saturdays, we can't wait on everyone. We're thankful for repeat referral business, since we're not on the main highway. Without it, we wouldn't have a business.
"A lot of people are just there looking. It's a business, and it's also a little bit of a tourist attraction."
But more so is Backing Up Classics Motor Car Museum, which he purchased from founder Allan Miles, who owned the place for 14 years. The museum, located just north of Lowe's Motor Speedway on Highway 29, draws sightseers from around the country - and the world. Morrison and his predecessor have maintained a wall and a guest book for visitors to sign after making their way through the museum.
"It's surprising, the traffic is up since we bought the place, since we've been publicizing a lot more. We get a lot of people from out of state, and it's continuous," Morrison said. "In fact, we might have 80-some people a day come in here. They'll write comments on the wall, that every time they come through here, they'll see something they've never seen before, something they hadn't paid any attention to the time before."
Morrison is in the process of selling some of the cars to make way for others. When he and his brother bought the museum, about 25 antique cars were included in the deal, along with plenty of automotive memorabilia. In the museum's back shop, waiting to make its debut, is a red 1913 Ford Speedster.
"It's the oldest car we have, and it was in here when we bought it," he said. "I've driven it. I've gotten intrigued by it, so we got it out the other week and decided to play with it a little bit. I've had the opportunity to sell it, but I got second thoughts about it."
He's also fond of a green '69 Z28 Camaro that has a fiberglass hood and a rear disc brake option. He owns three more Camaros from that same model year, one of which Roy Orbison bought new.
"An option like that - the fiberglass hood, two four-barrel carburetors and a crossram intake fuel system - is probably worth about $15,000, and a rear disc brake option is probably worth $6,000 or $7,000. These things make the car worth more and more interesting to people who collect them. You've got to be a real connoisseur to appreciate it all," he said.
"We don't restore the cars; it costs too much. When Allan first built the place, he restored a few cars for people, but it's too time-consuming and it costs too much. It's easier to buy and sell and change around and do minor things to them than it is to restore them. We try to buy them not needing anything, if possible. Most of them are more valuable with their original parts on them."
Morrison developed his eye for cars not only from his father, but also from longtime Cabarrus County entrepreneur G. Raiford Troutman. The Troutman "dynasty" is probably best known for its barbecue restaurants and car dealerships located throughout the county. Morrison worked for Troutman in his shop in 1969 before serving in Vietnam for "a year less than a day."
Since then, the Morrisons have formed their own business dynasty. Both Morrison's sons, Jay and Michael, work at Morrison Motor Company. His wife, Linda, and his daughter, Lindsay, both work part time at the museum, along with about eight other employees at each location. He emphasizes the value his father and mother, Louise, placed on hard work, and said he gained his first business "sense" working as a newspaper carrier for four years.
"I learned about people, how things worked with people," he said. "I learned about life."
For all his expertise, Jimmy Morrison still considers himself a student of the automotive trade.
"I'm a little bit of a learner. I know a lot about a lot of different cars, but I don't zero in on one specific car," he said. "I used to work on them and redo them, so I'm pretty familiar with different things. I kind of grew up with cars, I guess."
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