Classic car couple Macoupin put an end to 30 years of “hobby”

STAUNTON – What started as a hobby for Russ Noel turned into a dream come true when he opened Country Classic Cars.

Now he is on the road to retirement.

“I’ve always been a mechanic and worked for Volkswagen years ago,” Noel said. “When I was 24, I went into business. So I had been doing it for 54 years. It’s kind of a change that doesn’t work, but we’re getting used to it.

Russ and his wife, Anita, opened Country Classic Cars in Staunton in 1999 after starting the business on the family farm in rural Edwardsville. The company’s humble beginnings date back to the mid-1990s, when Russ bought his first classic car.

“We have a little place at Lake Gillespie and my wife and I were up there with our girls, and we decided to take the girls into town for breakfast and to visit garage sales,” Russ said. Noel, now 78 years old. driving to a garage sale, and we saw an old car, so I told my wife I’d like to check it out.

“I went to the house and knocked on the door and asked the owner if it was for sale and he said it really wasn’t, but he said he might go ahead and sell it because he hadn’t raced it for a few years,” Russ Noel said. “I looked at it and there was no back seat. The owner said he bought it from an old man who bought it new and that was it.

He paid $350 for the 1957 Chevrolet coupe, less than the original asking price of $500. He took it home and made it work. But at that time, it was time to bring in the crops. So Noel parked the car in the barn.

He eventually discovered that the car was a rarity known as a “seller’s special” and built with a platform where the rear seat would normally be. He advertised the car and sold it for a profit.

This transaction put the Noels on the path to a career in selling classic cars.

“Very soon we had half a dozen cars here on the farm and we were up to 40 cars in 1998,” he said. “We ended up selling 280 cars on the farm on a dead end road.

“We operated here for a few years and got a dealership license after having about 10 cars,” added Anita Noel. “By then we were starting to think it was a bit more than a hobby.”

After finding himself on the road buying cars when he needed to be on the farm, Russ Noel knew it was time to quit farming and turn Country Classic Cars into a one-time business. full. He called a local farmer who to this day still rents farmland on a stock basis instead of cash rent from Christmas.

In May 1999, on Russ Noel’s birthday, Country Classic Cars opened in Staunton.

“It was a cornfield and we built a building with an office, which is still there,” Russ said. “We could put a few cars inside. I told my wife I wish I had 80 or 90 cars, and she told me I was crazy.

It wasn’t long before the company easily exceeded its original goal. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in April 2020, Country Classic Cars had 675 cars in stock.

“At the time I was thinking of cutting back, so that turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” said Russ Noel, noting that Country Classic Cars sold 650 vehicles last year.

They put the business up for sale in the spring of 2021. On August 2, the couple sold it to Josh and Candi Laurent.

As part of the sale, all eight Noel employees will work for the new owners.

“We had four full-time salespeople, a detail guy, a mechanic and two secretaries, plus me and my wife,” Russ Noel said, “Our people never leave because we treat them well and they treat us well. “

He said he enjoys traveling across the country to sell cars, likening it to family reunions.

“I would go about 800 miles, north, south, east and west,” he said. “I have a carrier named Kelly who lives in Texas and have worked with her for over 20 years. It’s good when you can count on someone like that.

“I would go as far north as Minnesota and as far south as Florida and I would go all the way to Oklahoma,” he said. “You never know when you go how many cars you’re going to have. It’s a great hobby that has turned into a great business.

It also brought challenges.

A major fire at one of Country Classic Cars’ warehouses in August 2017 destroyed dozens of cars. Then 18 months later, a tornado damaged buildings and cars. The fire cost 143 vintage vehicles; the tornado took more than 130.

“Luckily we had good insurance and were worried the insurance company would cancel after two big claims, but they didn’t,” Russ Noel said.

“Our employees came and helped us after the fire to clean up,” he said. “We had the fire on a Tuesday and by noon on Wednesday the phone company had our phones working in another building. We sold three cars the day after the fire.

Dealing with the catastrophic events may have precipitated the Noels’ decision to retire.

“Those two things were really mountainous and they cost us dearly,” said Anita Noel. “We were optimistic, and every day we put one foot in front of the other and did what we had to do.

“It gave you the weird feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she said. “I don’t think it hit Russ that much because he’s more resilient. But it was tough. We’re getting older and if one of us dies the other won’t be able to run the business on his own.

Anita Noel is from Bethalto and graduated from Civic Memorial High School. Russ Noel was born and raised in Bunker Hill. The couple have been married for 46 years; they have three daughters, a son and 11 grandchildren.

Now that they have the time, the Noels are hoping to take more trips – ones that don’t involve buying classic cars.

“My wife has three friends from high school and one of them lives in Chicago and has a house on Lake Michigan, so we go there once a year,” Russ Noel said. “We have a Chevy Cruze that gets good mileage, and we want to drive across the country and visit friends.”

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