In West Palm Beach, Museum-Worthy Cars You Can Drive Away

By: Steve Winston

It doesn’t look much like a fantasy land. But here, in this industrial/office neighborhood on the edge of downtown West Palm Beach, automotive fantasies come true.

Remember that first car that grabbed your eye – and your heart? That once-in-a-lifetime car that captured your imagination so deeply that you’ve never forgotten it? It just might be here, at Ragtops Motorcars.

But the difference between Ragtops Motorcars and “museums” is that, here, if you find that car you never forgot, you can drive out with it.

It all started with a gas station in 1980.

“I came to Florida because I was tired of traveling all over the country for business,” says Ty Houck, founder/owner of Ragtops Motorcars. “I was in the Dallas airport one day in 1980, and I called a friend in Palm Beach County. Instead of flying home to Maryland, I flew down here and bought a piece of property. And then I flew back to Maryland – to resign.”

Houck moved down to West Palm with his three classic cars. He bought the oldest gas station in Palm Beach County. And though he says he’s “as mechanical as a horse,” he started pumping gas and learning engines. Local folks, seeing his three classic cars, began dropping off their own classic cars to sell.

As Houck’s business grew, he began going to auctions and buying more cars. Eventually, he ran out of space, and had to buy adjacent lots to accommodate the business. He often had over 200 cars on the lot. And one year he sold 206. 

But he still has the three cars with which he came to Florida.

“I still have my ’56 T-Bird,” he says, “I still have my 1972 Mercedes 350 SL. And I still have my 1942 Army jeep, which my Dad bought as Army surplus at the end of the War.”

Ever have a hankering for a 1929 Model A Ford Phaeton? You can find it here – and you can buy it for $22,900. Want to play Tom Selleck in “Magnum, P.I.?” The exact same red Ferrari he drove is here. There’s a 1946 station wagon “woody” (polished wooden sides) with “The Wauwinet” (a Nantucket resort) painted on it. 

Do you think of electric cars as the newest rage? Well, think again. There’s one here from 1928. This car, called the Auto Red Bug, had no actual body; in fact, it was more like a go-cart. For $29,900, it’s yours. There’s a 1934 DeSoto Airflow, gleaming silver, complete with running boards on the sides and huge, protruding wheel wells with white-wall tires. And you can drive it out of here for $65,000.

Ragtops is a monument to the once-glorious names that dominated the American road, but have long since left it. There’s a 1958 Edsel convertible, which was going to help the company dominate the auto industry but which is now an historical footnote. It has a huge vertical grill, a seafoam-green body, a green-and-white interior, a push-button radio, and even a push-button transmission – in the middle of the steering column. If you can pony up $38,500, you can push those transmission buttons all the way home.

Speaking of ponying up, there are a couple of the original “ponies” here – Ford Mustangs – among them a fire-engine-red ’73 convertible, for $32,500,

You can also find from 1940, the last year the car was produced, a LaSalle convertible Series 50 Sedan with an enormous hood ornament of a woman with wings, and a $44,500 price tag.

“I’m a sucker for the Art Deco look,” Ty Houck says. “I love cars from the 30’s and 40’s – the old LaSalles, the Ford “woodies.” But I also love the newer classics like the ’65 Mustangs or the Avanti convertibles. And, believe it or not, we’ve sold tons of Corvairs, that beautiful/ugly Chevy from the 60’s that inspired either passionate love or passionate ridicule.”

Ragtops Motorcars is filled with posters of old movie stars from the 30’s and 40’s, neon signs blasting “Diner” and “Eat Here,” antique bumper cars, Sinclair “Dino” gasoline signs, phone booths (remember them?), a bench with “Coca-Cola Fountain Service” on it, and more white-wall tires and spoked wheels and protruding metal-bar bumpers than you can possibly imagine. Even a Shell gasoline pump upon which the price reads “39.9!”

For special events, there’s a “Drive-In” movie theater, where you can watch the old classics in classic cars, while you enjoy a burger and a shake. 

And, if you’ve got something worth trading, they’re all ears. For example, a gentleman recently drove in with his 1948 Willys Overland Jeepster, powder-blue with Betty Boop floor mats, white seats with blue accents, and a steering wheel the size of a hula hoop. An hour later, he drove out of the lot with a 1933 Essex, with “suicide doors” that swing open from the front instead of the back, a purple exterior with pink flames and a rumble-seat in the back.

“Sometimes,” Ty Houck says, “people even come in to trade or sell the car they bought from us 20 years ago! So, after all those years, it’s back on our lot – and we get to enjoy it again!”


(561) 655-2836

Steve Winston is a Fort Lauderdale-based writer who has written/contributed to 17 books, and whose articles have appeared in major media worldwide.

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