Swope Auto Group Integrates Classic-Car Museum and Sales Into Dealership Family | Edmunds

Swope Auto Group Integrates Classic-Car Museum and Sales Into Dealership Family


Just the Facts:
  • Swope Auto Group, in business more than 60 years, runs its own classic-car museum with cars from the 1910-'60s.
  • Museum stock came from founder Bill Swope's personal stash of collector cars, a hobby that started with a 1918 Dodge Touring Car he acquired as a young man after World War II.
  • The group has also opened a store with a working garage and classic cars for sale, added to its stable of five dealerships in Elizabethtown.

ELIZABETHTOWN, Kentucky Swope Auto Group is a highly successful group with five new-car dealerships selling Chrysler, Ford, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota, and other brands in Elizabethtown. To that mix, founder Bill Swope added his personal collection of classic cars from the 1910-'60s in a Cars of Yesteryear Museum, and he made admission free to the public.

The auto group has a working garage and sales facility for classic cars, too.

The Swope Cars of Yesteryear Museum is located right between two of its new-car dealerships: Swope Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram and Swope Nissan in Elizabethtown, but the inventory couldn't be more different.

At the former, you can admire a 1914 Model T or a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro; at the latter are the latest Nissans, Jeeps, and Ram trucks, but Chrysler products are on view at the museum, too, such as a handsome 1952 Plymouth Cranbrook with less than 16,000 miles on the odometer, one of the jewels of founder Bill Swope's lifelong car collecting hobby.

Although Swope, now 92, retired at the end of 2011, he still comes in to the museum regularly, museum hostess Sue Marski told Edmunds. She's one of three women who serve as part-time guides. The museum was first opened in 1999 but was remodeled and enlarged for the 60th anniversary of the dealer group in 2012, adding space for "nine new cars — seven inside and two outside," Marski said.

"This is a great job, because the people who come in are always in a good mood," she said. "They're not complaining about anything! They're happy they get to see the cars."

She said visitors tend to drop in while they have vehicles in for oil changes or other work at the two dealerships nearby. Steve Tucker, general manager of Swope Nissan next door, confirmed that to Edmunds.

"We have a lot of customers go over while they're waiting on service who had no idea that [this museum] was available here in Hardin County," he said. "It's truly amazing to see this collection. A lot of them are priceless cars."

However, Marski said, a large percentage of visitors come specifically to see the museum, whether on tour buses, as members of car groups, or while on road trips from Cincinnati, Nashville, or other points on nearby I-65. Fort Knox, also located in Elizabethtown, brings its share of visitors, especially friends and relatives of those stationed at the U.S. Army post.

"This is a great asset to our community. Even right now"— at 10:30 a.m. on an October weekday — "we have eight visitors going through the museum," she said.

Bill Swope's son, dealer principal Carl Swope, told Edmunds that his father is still actively collecting cars: "He just bought a '23 Buick that's under restoration right now," he said.

The Swope Auto Group serves the Elizabethtown area, including strong ties to the Fort Knox military community, less than 12 miles from the museum in Elizabethtown. Bill Swope's brother, Sam, is in the same business; his Sam Swope Auto Group has 17 dealerships in and around Louisville, about an hour to the north.

Edmunds says: What better way to showcase the long tenure of a major dealer group than by putting classic cars out there that date back to the founding, and beyond.

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