At the end of a bumpy, dusty road near Archer Avenue in Lemont, hidden beauties are tucked away in a large, nondescript industrial building.
Restored antique cars fill the warehouse at AutoBahn Transportation Services, which transports vehicles to and from 48 states, and leases five 1930s limousines for weddings and special occasions.
Autobahn will pick up and deliver any vehicle, but much of its business involves exquisite antique models and famous cars from Hollywood movies, such as the Flintstone-Mobile, the DeLorean from the Back to the Future trilogy and a 1933 black Buick was used in the Johnny Depp film Public Enemies.
The owner of Autobahn, who prefers to remain anonymous, is a collector of antique cars and is an active member of vintage-car clubs.
Even non-car buffs would have to admire the long, sparkling red convertible Cadillac with white interior and enormous fins. An elegant cream-color coupe evokes an image of a classic Hollywood star arriving at a film premiere.
A forest green bus is a sentimental favorite of the company owner, who spotted it while he was in Switzerland and had it shipped back to the states.
"He used to drive one of those buses in Europe when he was young," said general manager Sam Krynski, the genial operator of the company.
Thomas, a collector who asked that his last name not be used, said he is unusual in the world of antique cars because he likes to drive his beauties and bring them out for the public to see at local cruise nights. At one show, a boy about 12 years old said to him, "I don't know what kind of car that is or what kind of make, but I think it is the nicest thing on wheels I have ever seen."
Thomas said his collection is small compared with the seven or eight in the Chicago area worth more than $1 million each.
A surprising development in the buying and selling of American antique cars was noted by Krynski and Thomas: irreplaceable and valuable vehicles are being sold off to wealthy buyers in European and Arab countries, China and Singapore. Thomas noted that European countries have heritage provisions that prohibit valuable native artifacts from being taken out of the country. The United States has no such protections.
Most of the cars at Autobahn are under wraps now, but the company continues to transport cars during winter. The cost ranges from $400 or less to thousands of dollars, depending on type of vehicle, distance and drop-off location. Cars can ride in open trailers or in "luxury" closed trucks.
Krynski, who drives a pickup truck, said the kind of cars he likes—a $300,000 Ferrari, for instance—he can't afford.
"That's more than my house cost," he said.
The most expensive car Autobahn has hauled is a restored 1930s Bugatti Royale owned by a well-known Hollywood actor. The car was valued at $7 million, and only six models were built, Krynski said.
About 80 percent of vintage cars are bought sight unseen on Internet sites, Krynski said. While the majority of sales are legitimate, he advises that buyers learn as much as possible about the seller before making any commitments.
"If someone is telling you that he is in a nasty divorce and has to get rid of the car, turn on the red light," Krynski said.
Limousines for lease can be seen at www.classicironlimo.com.