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Country Classic Cars, a Route 66 mainstay in Illinois, sold to new owners

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Country Classic Cars rises from the ashes in Staunton, Ill.

Russ Noel works on a 1966 Dodge Charger in the workshop area at Country Classic Cars on Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, in Staunton. Noel and his wife, Anita, have sold the business to Josh and Candi Laurent.

STAUNTON — A rare 1957 Chevrolet coupe got Russ Noel into the classic car business. Now, after more than 20 years, he’s retiring and heading out on the road in a modern Chevrolet Cruze.

Noel and his wife, Anita, have sold Country Classic Cars in Staunton, Illinois, to Josh and Candi Laurent, who plan to build on the Noels’ success and hope to turn the business into a destination for enthusiasts and tourists alike. The Noels are planning to take advantage of the Cruze’s gas mileage and travel the country and visit friends.

“Business has been good; the numbers are good,” said Noel, 78. “We’re excited.”

Noel started Country Classic Cars — a Route 66 mainstay 43 miles northeast of St. Louis — in 1999 as a hobby after he and his wife made a profit selling that Chevy coupe. Soon, Country Classic Cars grew into a verifiable depot of 600 classic cars.

“It was a lot easier than farming,” he said.

Country Classic Cars survived a fire and tornado in 2017 and 2018, and made it through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Noels recently decided to retire, listed the business for sale and sold it to Josh Laurent.

Country Classic Cars rises from the ashes in Staunton, Il.

Russ Noel takes a spare tire to a storage area at Country Classic Cars on Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, in Staunton, Ill. 

“One thing I saw here is the phenomenal potential in making this a serious player in classic cars in North America,” said Laurent, a more than 20-year veteran of the automotive industry who got his start as a technician and recently worked in dealership acquisitions.

Laurent and his wife, Candi, plan to modernize the business — they’ve already launched new social media channels for Country Classic Cars — and focus on restored classics.

Over the next few years, they plan to build a new indoor showroom, restoration shop and eventually reduce inventory to 300 or 400 cars. The Laurents also want to make Country Classic Cars a destination for Route 66 tourists. This spring, they hope to host customer events, such as car cruises and swap meets.

Country Classic Cars in Staunton is damaged - again

Russ Noel, owner of Country Classic Cars, looks at one of the damaged cars on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, at the business near Staunton, Ill. A tornado ripped through the business the day before, destroying two buildings and damaging more than 100 cars. 

The industry is changing, Laurent said, from those who liked having a project to work on to folks who are seeking restored, top-end models.

“They’re a lot higher dollar amount,” he said. “The values are rising drastically.”

Country Classic Cars is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. It is located at 2149 East Frontage Road in Staunton, off Interstate 55.

Steph Kukuljan • 314-340-8506

@StephKukuljan on Twitter

skukuljan@post-dispatch.com

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