PIKEVILLE — When former Pikeville resident Bobby Collier closed his American Motor Cars dealership in 1980, it marked the end of an era for him, his family, and for America’s automotive history.
That is because the business, which operated from its location off U.S. 117 North in Pikeville from 1955 until its closure in 1980, was the very last AMC dealership in the nation.
Today, the former dealership looks more like a car graveyard than the company that once helped put people on the roads. Leaves cover many of the cars spread across the 5-acre property while grass nearly hides others.
Despite how it looks today, the former dealership still gets lots of attention from people across America and the world, according to the late businessman’s son, Robbie Collier. He said people have come to the former dealership to buy parts from cars and cars themselves, which are spread across the property, including a 1969 AMC AMX that once belonged to a well-known politician.
The car, Collier said, once belonged to former Sen. Barry Goldwater, a former presidential candidate.
“He (Goldwater) had actually bought the car for his grandson and had driven it all the way back to Arizona,” Collier said. “We actually ended up buying it at one point and we’ve had it here ever since. Now we’ve got someone who’s going to buy it.”
The car sits in a garage on the former dealership’s property along with a vintage Nash-Healy, one of just over 500 of its kind ever made, and is just one of many cars that Robbie Collier and his siblings are trying to find new homes for, four years after the family’s patriarch passed away, leaving the dealership and his father’s estate in his hands.
One car that already has a home is a 1967 AMC Rebel SST that Bobby Collier gave to another of his sons, Douglas Collier, many years ago.
The vintage car will feature tonight on the season finale of cable network MotorTrend’s newest series, “Roadworthy Rescues.” The series features vintage cars being restored by professional mechanics and then bought by interested buyers.
Douglas Collier, who grew up with his family in Pikeville but now lives in Raleigh, talked about the car and its appearance on the network Friday by phone.
“Our dad gave each of his children a car when we were younger, and for me, it was the Rebel,” he said. “It really was a dream come true. He had a lot of love for us, his kids. That’s why he gave each of us our own car.
“The people at MotorTrend actually called up the family about this project back in, I’d say, mid-September and said they were interested in doing this, so I said sure.”
Douglas Collier said while the show generally ends in the cars featured being bought, show runners agreed in his case to simply restore the car and return it to him because he did not want to lose something so special that his dad had given him.
While Douglas Collier has gotten his car back, he said the show’s creative heads would not release pictures of the restored vehicle in order to avoid any spoilers.
“It’s really neat to see someone take such an interest in the car,” he said. “I definitely intend to keep fixing up the car once I get it back.”
In addition, he said he, Robbie Collier and their other siblings continue to work to find homes for all of the other cars that still remain on their father’s property and that he believes their father would be proud to see his legacy kept alive through their efforts.
Robbie Collier agreed.
“We really are trying to close out his legacy with honor,” Robbie Collier said. “He was a good car man, a good father and many would say a master mechanic.
“We wanted to close out his estate back in 2018 when he died but we had some obstacles to overcome, so it just took this long. I really think he would be happy not only to see one of the cars that he gave to one of his kids on TV, but also to see that we are working to honor him and his legacy.”
The legacy established by Bobby Collier is just part of a much deeper legacy built by the Collier family in Wayne County, Robbie Collier said. He said the Collier family had been selling cars in Wayne County since the early 1900s, and had dealerships established in other parts of Pikeville through the years up until the closure of his father’s dealership.
Today, the Collier children each have their own careers, leading the family to work through their father’s estate and try to sell off the cars that are still on the property.
Tonight’s season finale of “Roadworthy Rescues,” featuring Douglas Collier’s car being restored, is scheduled to air at 10 p.m. on MotorTrend. MotorTrend is available locally in Wayne County on Spectrum channel 80.
MotorTrend is just one of the media outlets that has featured the Collier family’s former dealership. It was also featured in an episode of History Channel’s series, “American Pickers” in 2014 and has also been featured in “Hot Rod” magazine.