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June 26, 2009

News & Features

Garage guy: For car collector Ed Johnson, a regular garage wasn't quite enough

Special to NWautos


Ed and Tanya Johnson in their 4,000-square-foot garage near Poulsbo that's part showroom, part work shop. (Photo by Jeff Layton)

Walking into Ed Johnson's 1950s-themed garage is like suddenly stepping onto the set of "Happy Days."

Tucked away on shady waterfront property near Poulsbo, Johnson and his wife, Tanya, have built an homage to yesteryear. It's part auto shop, part museum and part showroom, complete with more than a dozen restored classic cars and vintage memorabilia.

"My wife is an enabler," he jokes.

Tips on restoring and collecting
  • Know who specializes. Ed Johnson knows a restorer who does nothing but refurbish wood on Ford Woodies.
  • Network with collectors. Many of Johnson's parts have come through collectors or dealers who know what he is searching for.
  • Collect with an open mind. Johnson once found a Niehoff parts cabinet. He's been using Niehoff replacement parts ever since.
  • Attend swap meets. The two biggest automotive swap meets in the U.S. are in Hershey and Carlisle, Pa.

For the Johnsons, "The Dock Street Garage" is the result of 20 years of scouring swap meets for parts and collectibles.

In one corner, Johnson shows off a 1955 Packard with Caribbean trim. When the front door opens, the car automatically rises -- very high-tech in those days.

Nearby sits an original Edsel, a Ford "Woodie" and a 1955 Kaiser Manhattan two-door -- the best-preserved of only six remaining, Johnson says.

As a teenager in Chicago, Johnson used to sneak into parties that local auto dealers threw to promote new models. He now collects all the cars he couldn't have back then. "I was into cars and girls," he says, smiling, with a wink at his wife. "I never got over either."

Johnson built the 4,000-square-foot garage with his cars in mind. It features wide doors and a heated tile floor to help keep the tires in good shape.

While many restorers focus only on the cars, the Johnsons have picked up props such as clothing and vintage drive-through trays to give their cars a historical context.

Original newspaper advertisements and billboards line the walls. An old but working pay phone, Coke machine (charging 10 cents), checkerboard floor and pink neon make the garage feel like a '50s diner.

In the corner, a Seeburg high-fidelity jukebox blares doo-wop music from vinyl 45s. Occasionally, the Johnsons host sock hops or wedding receptions in the garage.
It usually takes Johnson a year and $20,000 to fix up a single car, but, like many restorers, he is shy about talking about the value of his collection.

He says that after spending so much time restoring the cars, it's hard to imagine selling them. He says his collection has doubled in value in the past 10 years. The vehicles don't stay locked away, however. The Johnsons take a different car out every weekend.

"Several times a year, we take part in organized road rallies around the Northwest," Tanya Johnson says. "And each year, more than a few cars come back on tow trucks."
"My favorite car is the one I'm currently driving," Ed Johnson says. "It's historical ... like rolling art, in a way."


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