The muscle cars in Matthew Winters’ showroom may have been built in Detroit, but his obsession with them started in Hollywood. Like a lot of kids of his generation, he was mostly aware of the Hondas and Toyotas featured in action racing video games like “Need for Speed”—“the imports,” says Winters, “the four-cylinder, turbocharged stuff.”
Then, he says, “in 2001 or 2002, I was watching a movie, ‘Dazed and Confused,’ in which Matthew McConaughey drives around in a 1970 Chevelle SS—actually,” he says, pointing to a gleaming chrome monster on his showroom floor, “that car right there. Same exact car. So he’s driving around in that, and I’m looking at the car, and I’m like, geez! And I’m with my dad, and I say, ‘What is that car?’ And he says, ‘That’s a ’70 Chevelle,’ And it was the most beautiful car I had ever seen in my life. And they [his parents] had really cool cars, they had a ’70 GTO, they had a C-10 short bed, they had Dusters. But Matthew McConaughey’s Chevelle is what stuck in my head.”
Cut to 2014: Winters is in his 30s, and has been buying cars for a couple of years now, fixing them up and selling them. But he finds it’s not enough to just pick up a car here or there. A lot of great cars are found at auto auctions, and this inspires him to get his auto auction license. And his business, Barn Fresh Classics, was born. His showroom is located at 2 Main St. in Biddeford, Suite 37, and is not so much a museum of muscle cars as an example of what is possible when you know what you love and what you want to do for a living.
“Basically, we just buy, sell and service classics,” he says. “I own all these cars, I don’t do consignments, so that’s sort of what sets me apart a little bit. I’m kind of reluctant to deal with consignment dealers. They kind of know they’re just selling the car, they collect their 10 percent, you know, and then they move on. Whereas I actually go out and spend a few hours looking over the cars myself, buy them with my own money, bring them back. We go through them totally. It takes us about a month to tear them apart and make sure they’re mechanically safe … change them back to how I like it, you know, how they were originally. And then we just put them back up for sale.”
Winters says that he does all the mechanical stuff with some select help, and does a certain amount of body work on his own. But he generally starts with rust-free cars, for the most part, and is not a stickler for “numbers matching,” the practice of keeping everything stock, with the original size/type engine and transmission. Let the museums do that stuff, says Winters. Barn Fresh Classics is about a real driving experience based on historical interest.
“The coolest car I ever bought,” he says, “was a ’56 Corvette. I found it locally here in Kennebunk. It was a California car, un-hit body, original frame, uncut, unpatched. It didn’t have the original motor. It had a 283 dual quad, which at the time in ’56 was a 265 [engine size measured in cubic inches]. So it had a 283 in it, and it had a Tremec 5 speed [transmission] in it, so it was really, really driveable. So it was a car in which you could actually putt around town, but then you could actually get on the turnpike and do 80 mph on the turnpike no problem. Whereas if it had the original 3-speed or 2-speed automatic with a 265 in it, you would have had some trouble going down the turnpike. The car was beautiful and done right.”
Getting the car right is a lot of work and very important in itself, says Winters, but the hardest part is finding the car in the first place.
“I probably look at five, six, seven cars before I end up buying,” he says. “That’s the toughest part, finding inventory. The easy part’s selling them. They sell very easily. It’s the finding, the countless hours that I spend scavenging the internet. I probably spend six to eight hours a day on just that. That’s not including the time going out to look at them.”
Then, having found the car, Winters has to go get them.
“I find them anywhere I can,” he says. “I usually drive up to 500 miles. I’ll drive out to Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, northern Maine, Canada. If it’s too far, I’ll send an inspector to look at it, then I’ll ship it back. In the wintertime, I’ll do that myself and have them shipped up here. But I find them anywhere I can possibly find them. I’ve driven to Chicago. I went out there to pick up a ’69 Road Runner V Code 440 six-pack four speed. It was well worth it.
“At the end of the day,” says Winters, “it’s a business. I’ve got to pay bills and stuff like that. But it really is a passion, and I love when people come here and talk about the cars. You don’t have to buy a car, just bring your car in, and we can talk about that. In this type of business, I’m learning stuff every day.”
Matthew Winters is all about the drive, about traveling, hopefully in a car with a story behind it and a beefy engine that blows away the miles.
“The wintertime kills me,” he says, “because I buy these cars and I want to drive it so bad, but I can’t. But when springtime and summertime comes, I’m in a different car almost every week. Today, I drove the ’70 Chevelle. Last week, I was in the ‘56 [Chevy pickup]. The cool part of the job is definitely that.”
New Hampshire routes and those in Down East are among his favorites.
“My favorite ride is pretty simple: It’s going down to Portsmouth. I live in Wells, so I’ll just take Route 1 straight to Portsmouth, grab dinner or do something around there. I also like going out toward North Conway, that area.
“A couple years ago, I drove up to Franklin, up to Boothbay and Down East. Very, very beautiful drive, took Route 1 all the way. But that’s as far as I’ve gone that way. Usually, I like to go south to New Hampshire or up to the White Mountains, places like that.
“I think we’re really blessed here in Maine. There are some places you can just go and drive. You can’t beat the scenery. And if you drive the coast, you’ve got the ocean. If you want to get up into the mountains, you can get up into the mountains. We’re pretty spoiled on that aspect.”
Will Cutlip drives a 2001 Honda Civic to and from his home in Bath, Maine.