Inside a restored brick building on Cherokee Lane, Mark Lange has created a shrine for classic cars.
The showroom of Vintage Reserve Garage features his immaculate collection of foreign and domestic vehicles. Rubber and leather aromas permeate the air while vivid yellows and electric blues from refurbished neon signs adorning the walls rapidly flash away.
The garage is a labor of love for Lange, who officially opened for business about a month ago after purchasing the building in February 2010. Lange operated Santa Barbara Classics in Southern California before relocating to Lodi. He moved to the area because he recently purchased a vineyard in the area and has friends in town, including car buff and City Council member Phil Katzakian. But the vineyards and the city’s car culture aren’t the reasons Lodi is appealing, Lange said.
“I have friends here, and I don’t like traffic,” he said.
Ever mindful of the small details, Lange is still in the process of getting the business looking exactly as he envisions it.
“It’s just like restoring a car,” he said. “As soon as you finish one part, you start fixing something else.”
Lange pointed to the walls and talked about how signs had been relocated several times in the past few months as he made his point about always making tweaks and adjustments.
Located inside the building that was home to Jim Bonham Motors from 1949 to 1965, Vintage Reserve Garage serves as both a classic car sales lot and auto history museum. The one-time Studebaker and Packard dealership is now home to a jet-black Bentley, some speedy Porsches and a Ferrari Testarossa. But the cars and trucks aren’t the only attraction. A restored neon sign from the Ford dealership Lange’s father operated in Downey is one of roughly 30 vibrant mementos of vintage Americana. While it is a place for enthusiasts to add to their collections, Lange said it could also serve as a host location for small gatherings or fundraisers.
The shop oozes history. Even the door to the owner’s office has a story to it. While cleaning through the rafters in the building shortly after buying it, Lange found the original front door to the dealership. Seeing that it still had life left in it, Lange had it painted royal blue and installed it. On the door’s glass is a vintage logo from the National Automobile Dealers Association.
The door was a great find in helping design the look of his office, Lange said. With a restored gas pump outside and service signs glowing away above, Lange’s office is designed like a gas station from the 1950s.
A significant portion of the showroom’s visual appeal is due to the efforts of Roger Daniells, a Stockton-based neon technician with C.R. Glow Custom Neon. Daniells started repairing the signs for Lange back in August, and even made his own for the shop.
Mimicking a style popular in the 1920s and staying true to the gas station theme of the owner’s office, Daniells fabricated a sign reading “Mechanic On Duty” that hangs in Lange’s office window. The letters glow in colors that would’ve been commonly used during the Roaring ’20s, Daniells said.
“Give me a picture and I can copy it,” Daniells said.
Daniells worked with his son, Garrett, to restore many of the signs. The common repairs were for broken tubes, faulty power supplies or refilling drained signs. His son also came up with a nickname for the garage, Roger Daniells said.
“He calls it ‘Mark’s man cave,’" he said.
Vintage Reserve Garage already has a Packard sign hanging outside, but Lange said he wants to find a Studebaker one for the other side of the building. Lange also wants local artist Tony Segale to paint retro advertisements on the garage’s brick exterior.
Segale confirmed that the two have discussed the concept informally and are in the process of narrowing down ideas, but nothing is set in stone.
“Right now we’re talking about a vintage-looking name across the building or something on the sides, but we haven’t narrowed it down,” Segale said.
Since the building is more than 50 years old, a mural intentionally designed to look slightly faded and weathered could be appropriate.
He added that even if the two came to an agreement for a design, no work on a mural would begin until the weather cleared up.
Lange obsesses over the garage’s seemingly smallest details. Antique Coca-Cola machines are scattered throughout the shop. They will be stocked with glass bottles that will be available for a dime once the machines are repaired, he said. Signs advertising cars for sale are kept toward the front of the shop, while ones focused on repairs and service are toward the back.
While Lange has not yet set a firm schedule for what time and days of the week the garage will be open, he has another car buff to lean on. Next to Lange’s office will be Katzakian’s, who plans to meet clients from his real estate business there.
Lange owns all the vehicles on display and for sale in the garage, and still makes time to drive them. He likes to start them on a weekly basis to make sure the fluids don’t settle and the cars remain in top condition. While he enjoys the car culture in Lodi’s community, the area’s winters are something to which the Southern California native isn’t fully accustomed yet. Consistent rain and puddles in the street aren’t a desirable sight for a classic car collector, he said.
“I don’t like it damp,” Lange said. “I don’t want these cars dirty.”
Although he has a story for every vehicle inside the dealership, Lange said he knows when it’s time to pull the trigger on a sale and part with one.
“I’d like to keep them all, but I only have so much space,” Lange said. “Plus, it’s foolish to pass up good deals.”