By Marshall Smith
There is an old maxim that little boys don't grow up - their toys just get more expensive. And rare is the boy who doesn't dream of someday owning an exotic sports car.
Jimmy Morrison of Concord is living every boy's dream. At the same time, he is helping many others fulfill their dream of exotic car ownership.
He is the owner of Morrison Motor Company, which makes him the owner of about 35 Corvettes, 13 Mustangs, nine Camaros, a Pantera and a Shelby Cobra. In addition to the sports cars, he has rare and classic models including a '99 Plymouth Prowler, a '57 Thunderbird, a '67 Corvette convertible and a '66 Corvette coupe, a '60 Cadillac Coupe deVille and a '98 Corvette convertible Indy Pace Car. He once owned an Indy race car that had run in the 1949 Indy 500.
He learned the value of hard work as a young boy living on a farm near Hartsell school.
"Growing up, when we wanted anything extra, we had to work for it," he said. "For a while, I carried newspapers. I still have a savings bond that I won in a Concord Tribune contest. I never cashed it because I was so proud of it."
While he was in high school he went to work for a body shop.
"My dad had cars around when I was a kid," he said. "I grew up around cars."
His father worked at the mill and bought and sold cars as a sideline.
His budding career was interrupted by military duty in Vietnam. When he returned home, he just continued buying and selling cars," he said.
"At first it was just a small-time operation. Around 1970 it wasn't much," he said.
But he moved from the back yard to a major sales operation about 1980 and bought the property his business now occupies. He built his present building and showroom in 1990.
Anyone who confuses Morrison with a typical used car salesman is drastically mistaken. His soft voice is a contrast to the hood-thumping, loud-shouting TV salesmen.
What's the secret to his success?
"You've got to have something out of the ordinary," he said.
Most of his Corvettes are mid-'80s to mid-'90s models. He gets them from a variety of sources, including dealers who take them as trade-ins. He's sold about 50 new body style Corvettes in the past year, he said.
Besides his specialty cars, Morrison sells motorcycles. In the three years he has been in the two-wheeled business, he has sold about 850 motorcycles.
He also sells his cars and motorcycles overseas, including one motorcycle to an Australian buyer. He said he sold about 50 cars to people in South Africa, England, Germany and other countries.
"Most people don't realize we sell regular cars, too," he said. "Cars for transportation, dependable cars for maybe $3,000 - say, a Honda Civic."
The company does almost no body work or mechanical work on the cars they buy. They try to get cars in near-perfect condition or as nice as possible, he said. He bought a '96 Viper with only 400 miles on the odometer and never met the seller - he just bought it over the phone, he said.
"A guy in Florida had a buyer in New Jersey who bought it from me," he said.
Morrison has made a specialty of locating rare cars for customers. He has developed his own unique market. He knows his buyers and sellers well, he said.
He once found a car for Rick Hendrick, who wanted it for his father. It was a '41 Ford convertible. Hendrick had never seen one before Morrison tracked it down in Virginia.
"It's a network," he said. "People know about us and our business is based on our reputation. You learn to meet people and they remember you."
His Plymouth Prowler is unusual partly because most auto companies don't make such limited production vehicles. The GoodGuys GoodTimes Yearbook calls it "perhaps the most stunning vehicle hatched by Detroit since the '32 Ford." The yellow machine has a 3.5-liter 24-valve V-6 engine and an aluminum frame. It is a high-tech street rod, Morrison said. It is not the first Prowler he has owned.
"Kenny Wallace bought our first one," he said. "We sold another one to a guy who had just sold a computer company."
Morrison admitted that he doesn't always make money on a car. The market can be very tricky, he said. He doesn't know from day to day exactly what the Prowler might be worth. It could vary from $50,000 to $100,000 to nothing.
He once bought a 1994 Z28 for more than $25,000. After it sat for what seemed like forever, he said, "losing money by the day," he sold it for less than $20,000.
Sometimes he makes a profit in days. One customer sold Morrison both a 1995 Corvette ZR1 and a 1996 Corvette. Three days later, he bought back the ZR1 at a modest profit to Morrison.
At 49, Morrison is enjoying himself and shares his business pleasure with his sons. Jay, 23, and Michael, 21, work in the business selling cars.
Others in the community like and respect Morrison, according to Gene Verbal.
"I watched him grow up," Verbal said. "He is smart as a whip and a hard worker. He's a nice man. He tries to do things the way they are supposed to be done."
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