The year 1999 might have marked the end of one millennium, but it marked the earliest beginnings of one of the world’s widest-reaching classic car marketplaces in history. In the 25 years since that time, Gateway Classic Cars has served as just that – a gateway to classic cars – for over 70,000 buyers around the globe. Gateway’s reach and influence have brought buyers and sellers together in over 20 locations. As the organization celebrates its quarter-century of existence, I connected with some of the key players to find out more about the past, present, and future of this classic-car powerhouse.
On a personal level, the Gateway enterprise has caught my eye over the years for a few reasons. Gateway sold a 1968 Chevrolet Chevy II Nova that my brother used to own, and I recently saw my old 1982 Honda Prelude show up in the Dallas showroom. The car-collector community sure is small sometimes. And my story is not unique; the statistics speak for themselves: Over $800 million in cars have changed hands via Gateway’s showrooms, and there are 4,100 vehicles for sale currently. How did the company grow to this scale?
As the world was gearing up for Y2K with anxious anticipation, the founding pioneers of Gateway were putting the wheels in motion on a new concept in classic car buying and selling. Gateway’s launch took place on February 8, 1999, with a single location in Fairmont City, Illinois. I caught up with Ken Dusman, Gateway’s Marketing Director, for a conversation about how things evolved from there.
The company’s reach now covers 21 showrooms. All are indoors and climate-controlled, and though footprints and layouts may vary, the experience is largely the same across the board. Some stores have 360-degree tours available online. This sort of presentation, and the consistent experience that goes along with it, have kept repeat customers coming back over the years. The brick-and-mortar approach gives a personal touch to people who want to see, feel, and drive. Since 2014, the main office has been located in O’Fallon, Illinois.
Frequently, the hunt is challenging for the perfect classic car, and sometimes the right car is in another region of the country entirely. One of the things that Gateway demonstrated early on was accommodating buyers and sellers who weren’t geographically convenient to one another. In fact, about 70% of Gateway’s sales have been for “out of market” scenarios. Gateway assembles hundreds of photos as well as video documentation for each vehicle, and representatives frequently do live video chats with potential buyers. It is important for people to feel comfortable with any sight-unseen transaction.
Now that the momentum is consistent, Gateway has car-selling down to a science. At any given time, you are likely to find over 4,000 vehicles in inventory. Some months, Gateway brings in more vehicles than it sells, and other months it’s the reverse. As with many industries, the market and other factors can determine the variations in volume.
One of the guiding principles that have led to Gateway’s success it a focus on community engagement. The company hosts monthly events called “Caffeine and Chrome” between January and October. These free, family-friendly, and pet-friendly events give an opportunity for people to come out and enjoy not just the cars themselves, but also the community of enthusiasts that make the hobby so rewarding. Events are held the last Saturday of each month from 9:00 a.m. to noon.
The collector car marketplace shows no signs of slowing down, and Gateway is a big part of the movement. The company is considering about a dozen additional markets for expansion. There are a lot of factors that determine where the company decides to operate. At the top of the list, of course, is the presence of a collector car community, since Gateway is as much about the community as it is about selling cars. Concurrent efforts are also underway to move existing showrooms into upgraded facilities.
One exciting strategic move for Gateway is to expand its online presence to include timed auctions. This platform recently launched in 2023 and shows how Gateway adapts to the evolving new technologies available to make buying and selling easier. Look for innovations like this to continue.
It’s no mystery that many classic cars are solid investments. As the saying goes, “The difference between a classic car and a treasury bond is that you can enjoy the classic car while you own it.”
I love being part of the classic car journalist world. For eight years, I have written for The Journal and I’ve had about 600 stories published featuring everything from Acura to Zimmer. In talking with the people at Gateway, they share the same sense of passion for the collector car hobby that I have.
The only feeling better than driving your own dream car is seeing the smile on someone else’s face when they’re driving theirs. Thanks to our friends at Gateway for creating that magical match for so many people. Here’s to another 25 years.