The Mystery of Flickr's Ghost Car Dealership

Illustration for article titled The Mystery of Flickr's Ghost Car Dealership

Somewhere in Ohio sits an abandoned Chrysler dealership with old cars parked on the showroom floor, like a prop leftover from a nuclear bomb test. The only evidence of its existence were a set of eerie Flickr photos. Until now.

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Illustration for article titled The Mystery of Flickr's Ghost Car Dealership

Photographed by Sean Posey
The first photo of this abandoned dealership actually hit the Flickr photo sharing site in 2004. There's no name on the building or doors, just "Chrysler Plymouth Dodge Jeep" in a font that went out of style around the time Ronald Reagan became president. But the reason this dealership even hits our radar are the two Plymouth Fury sedans seen behind the bird-stained plate glass, tires sagging under rust.

Illustration for article titled The Mystery of Flickr's Ghost Car Dealership

Photographed by Scott Mulhollan
Flash forward six years later and the scene looks much the same, evoking the preservation through neglect that suffocates much of Detroit and Rust Belt America. The weeds block some photos and are shorn in others; clearly the building is still standing and occasionally maintained, but otherwise it's an automotive time capsule. But where is this located? What happened? How did two mighty Mopar classics get here — and why did nobody care enough to move them?

We decided, after stumbling across the photos in a random Flickr search a few months ago, to find out.

Illustration for article titled The Mystery of Flickr's Ghost Car Dealership
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Photographed by Scott Mulhollan
The photographers report finding the ghost dealership in East Liverpool, Ohio, a little town on the Ohio River near Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Its history tracks the Middle American template: mid-century boom around a single industry, in this case pottery, peaking about 1970, followed by a steady decline. But the photos don't provide an address, a dealership name, nor any other information that could explain the scene.

Illustration for article titled The Mystery of Flickr's Ghost Car Dealership
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After some digging and a series of dead ends, Jalopnik dialed up a man named Basil Mangano. "Yeah, that's my building," he told us.

Mangano, 79, was a car dealer for nearly five decades, owning several stores around East Liverpool, before selling off his final store in 1998. When he closed up shop, he sold all of his buildings except this last one, the former Mark Motors, where he decided to stash the old cars he kept around. It's at this point that Mangano drops a real bomb on us.

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While the '67 red Plymouth Fury and blue '78 Fury have the spots in front, they're not the only classics this old ghost dealership is hiding from the light of day. Mangano says the building and its annex — hidden from view in the Flickr photos - actually houses a treasure trove barn find of between 35 and 40 classic cars. He says the collection includes "a Chevrolet LUV, a (Dodge) Warlock and Red Express, just a bunch of shit...they're all over the board."

Mangano plans to close out for good soon, saying he found a buyer for the building and needs to unload the old cars. He's not on the Internet, and hasn't posted any ads in newspapers, magazines or anywhere else, so exactly how that process will work isn't clear.

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We're hoping that however - if ever - Mangano happens to unload this dealership barn find of fairly epic proportions, he'll allow us to document the process. But when that happens is just as unclear as the how.

"I'm getting old and feeble," says Mangano, who sounded anything but on the phone. "Even my goddamn doctor says I look good, that son of a bitch."

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Photo Credit: Randy Fox (Top)

DISCUSSION

Back in 1993 I was shopping for one of those mammoth, oil embargo-era Caddy convertibles, and found one to look at in nearby Ypsilanti, MI. I went with a buddy, and upon arrival neither of us were very impressed with what we saw. It was a run-down place that sold only vintage Cadillacs, most of which were more used up than "vintage". It was owned by the proverbial abrasive, crusty old man. The car I came to look at was a mess, with an interior that was damp with the smell of mold and various bio-hazards, which were slowly eating their way through the remains of the tattered leather interior.

Even though I was not interested in the car, the old guy apparently took a liking to us both, because after talking old cars with him for a bit, he decided he could trust us with his big secret. Though there was no one else in the building, he leaned in close and whispered, "Got somethin' to show ya", then turned on his heels and disappeared into the back of the building, while motioning for us to follow him.

We went down a narrow, dimly-lit hallway, arriving a the main garage area of the old building. This room was brightly-lit with row upon row of buzzing fluorescent light fixtures. It took my eyes a moment to adjust to the bright light, especially because they must have popped out of my head upon seeing a room-full of perfectly restored 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertibles. There were 22 of them, arrayed in a giant "U" shape, all parked with their tail fins pointed at the entryway we were standing in. All 44 fintails and 88 bomb-shaped tail lamps hung menacingly midair, aimed to fire at chest height.

The old guy explained that it was his goal to have an Eldorado in every color and interior trim offered that year, and it looked like he must have been close to completing his vision. The cars were gorgeous in each and every pastel and pearlescent color that the '59 Eldorado was available in, with most of the cars equipped with the ultra-rare front bucket seats. There must have been close to 2 million dollars worth of Detroit iron in that room.

I recently tried finding any mention of the place, the cars or the owner on the internet, without luck. It seems almost as if it were a dream to me now, but it really did happen.