The 1964 red Mustang might take you to the streets of New Jersey when you were a teenager lusting after the first-generation sports car. Or the 1924 Dodge pickup Beverly Hillbillies mobile could put you back in your parents’ living room in the 1960s.
Ideal’s main business is buying and selling classic and rare contemporary cars all over the world. But its 27,000-square-foot showroom is a free museum for everyone to enjoy. “Part of the [idea] is to bring awareness about cars to a younger generation,” says owner Michael Lombardo.
His collection includes about 100 cars from nearly every era, from a 1920s Ford Model T to a 2006 Ford GT, which sells for $350,000. The bulk of sales come via the Internet from buyers from Australia to Saudi Arabia.
The cars are displayed with mannequins, old gas pumps and signs. Among the recent vehicles on view: a 1932 Ford Cabriolet, a 1957 BMW Isetta with a sun roof, a 1936 Auburn Speedster and a 1966 Batmobile, complete with the iconic red bat phone and an after burner that shoots flames out the back. That care recently appeared in the Venice Holiday Parade.
Ideal has about a dozen movie cars—some replicas and some that have actually appeared in TV shows and movies. Among its collection: the Back to the Future car, the Scooby Doo Mobile, and Herbie the Love Bug, with its flirty, flashing headlights.
Lombardo, 53, started Ideal Classic Cars five years ago in Sarasota, after building and operating a group of high-end, used car dealerships in New Jersey. He’d moved here to kick back but quickly became bored. So he brought down 15 classic cars from the North and rented a warehouse to work on them.
“It started out as a hobby that quickly got out of hand,” he says. After six months, his collection had grown and he started selling cars through word-of-mouth and the Internet.
Although the economy was still sluggish in 2010, the Internet was exploding as a way to sell cars, literally opening up the world to Lombardo. When he ran out of warehouse space, he decided to move the business to a 30,000-square-foot-building in Venice.
That’s when he came up with the museum idea. It would be easier and more fun to display the cars. Lombardo also loved how people reacted to his classic cars. “People always had a smile on their faces,” he says.
The car displays became more elaborate as Lombardo and his employees brought in personal memorabilia. He then added mannequins, such as Elly May, Jethro, Granny and Jed, to sit in the Beverly Hillbillies mobile.
Lombardo keeps his private collection in the showroom, including a classic Porsche, a Ford GT, a dune buggy and several motorcycles. The one vehicle Lombardo will never part with is the 1980-built, red dune buggy with a custom, high-performance engine. “It was my first car and I bought it when I was 18,” he says.
At that time the Jersey boy from a blue-collar family could only dream of owning the cars he now sells. But by buying $50 cars as a teenager, fixing them up and re-selling them, he built a business.
Ideal now has 20 employees, including restoration experts, mechanics and people who have spent their lives in the car industry.
“All of our employees are as passionate about cars as I am,” Lombardo says.
He plans to open another building and add another 100 cars to his inventory. “We’re looking forward to it growing,” he says.