Start Me Up: Classic Car Reboot
Using lessons from the millennial generation, a couple from Sarasota wants to rethink how people get into classic cars
It was the moment Justin Norwood met Tammy, one day in church, that he knew he wanted to marry her. He was 14.
But it was two years later, when she sat in the driver’s seat of his Mazda RX-7, that he was sure it was true love. “I knew it was serious from day one, but letting her drive my baby, that was a big deal,” he recalls of that afternoon driving around Bradenton.
They’ve been married for 20 years now. Earlier this year, they took a leap of faith. The couple left their successful corporate jobs to start Revvies Classics, a classic-car chauffeur service in Sarasota.
The idea behind the company actually came to Justin at a classic car show on St. Armands Circle in Sarasota, back when he was 10 or 12. “I remember walking around looking at these amazing cars and thinking it would be great if everyone had a chance to experience driving one of them,” he says.
Justin, 39, grew up in an entrepreneurial family—his parents own a boat trailer parts business in Sarasota, and, long before anybody used the word startup, they were always dreaming up ideas for new projects. This idea stuck with him.
He pondered it for decades, wondering if he could build a business on chauffeured classic cars. The idea stayed in the back of his mind as he climbed up the ranks of IBM management.
Justin really got serious about automotive entrepreneurship two years ago. It was about that time that the sharing economy was taking off. He had been closely tracking the quickly rising value of the peer-to-peer car rental service Turo, and he wondered how he could combine his idea with it. More and more, he realized, people have an aversion to owning things, eschewing car ownership for Uber and Lyft, renting a bicycle instead of keeping one in the garage, booking on Airbnb instead of owning a vacation home. At the same time, there’s also a longing for things from the past. “In the millennial generation, there’s this real draw for anything nostalgic,” Justin says. “But that said, they want vintage on their terms.”
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He started slowly, buying a 1964 Corvette convertible in May 2016. He believes his was the first classic listed on Turo. It was the first classic car he’d ever bought, and Norwood learned quickly what he needed to do to improve his idea. Every time he rented out the ’Vette, he’d give the renter a long, detailed lesson on how to drive it, especially on how to handle the brakes. Classics, he learned, typically have drum brakes that aren’t power-assisted, meaning something as mundane as stopping at a red light requires planning in advance and maybe also stomping the pedal to the floor.
So Justin scrapped the idea of having the renters drive. He instead hired chauffeurs, giving his customers the experience of riding in the back of a four-seater, with a driver at the wheel in a throwback black suit and white gloves.
Part of the thrill, according to Justin, is the hunt. He personally tracks down exceptional vintage cars from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, the golden age of automotive design. “Those decades are our sweet spot,” says Justin. “The design from that era is fantastic, and the cars are just modern enough so that we can add all the necessary technological advancements to make the experience enjoyable.”
The fleet now includes four chauffeured cars: a 1947 Cadillac Series 62 sedan; a 1965 Ford Mustang convertible; and two Rolls-Royce Silver Clouds, from 1959 and 1965. Revvies also has four cars available for commercial photo shoots, including a reproduction 1959 Porsche 356. Prices run from $799 per day for the Mustang to $1,499 a day for a Silver Cloud.
Then they name them something with meaning that’ll give the car a bit more personality. The Cadillac is called Mable, after the Sarasota socialite and wife of John Ringling. The Mustang is Sally, which seems to fit a classic convertible. The ’59 Rolls goes by Catherine, named for Kate Middleton, because they’re both royalty in their own right, Justin says.
As he expanded his fleet, he also realized the experience would need to be completely rethought. Instead of restoring his cars to showroom quality, he updated them with safety and performance upgrades: power disc brakes, fuel injection and improved suspensions. He also added tech, like Bluetooth connectivity for phones and modern sound systems.
Tammy, 40, has a background in hospitality—she worked as the guest services manager at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay—so the couple also knew they needed to create a better experience sitting in the cars. They did research and found that owners of ultra-luxury cars complain that the interiors smell no different than Toyotas. Tammy and Justin added scents including wood and tobacco, like what you would find in a stately sitting room of old, to the cars.
While they both gave up their careers to start Revvies, Tammy says it was Justin who really pushed it forward. “Justin’s courage inspires me,” she says. “It took a big leap of faith to go after this dream, and it continues to take courage to learn from each experience and make necessary changes.”
Justin says things have gone well in their first few months, with customers from Tampa to Naples renting out their rides for anniversaries, weddings, birthdays and commercial photo shoots. That quick growth has Justin and Tammy eyeing new markets for expansion. They plan to open a location in South Florida by 2020. Someday, they see Revvies rolling out nationally.
“You can bet I didn’t leave my job in IBM management just to have a local classic car rental company,” he says.
Tuned Up and Turned On: the backstories behind these classic beauties
Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible
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This creamsicle-colored, orange-and-ivory Chevy Bel Air is drenched in fifties-era nostalgia and instantly transports you to Havana, Cuba, where cars like this one still roam the streets. Sticking with the Cuban theme, this Bel Air was named Camilla, and she is most often found being used as a photo prop at Havana Nights–themed events around the Sarasota area.
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Rumor has it that this ’Vette has over 300,000 miles on her original, “numbers-matching” engine. But don’t let that stat fool you. Sadie still looks like she just rolled off the showroom floor. Earlier this year, this Corvette was featured alongside supermodel Georgia Fowler in Vince Camuto’s spring 2018 campaign.
Cadillac Series 62 Touring Sedan
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This gorgeous ’47 Cadillac is available for chauffeured trips and is named after Mable Ringling, wife to John Ringling of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. While John was intimately involved in the circus that bore his name, Mable’s fingerprints were left on the grounds and architecture of what we know today as The Ringling Art Museum and the Ca d’Zan. Since this Cadillac is the getaway car of choice at luxury weddings at The Ringling, it seemed appropriate to name the
Caddy after Mable.
Ford Mustang Convertible
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Mustang Sally is dressed in red exterior and black vinyl interior. This classic, red Mustang epitomizes Americana. Having spent many years in the Motor City before retiring to the Sunshine State, this ’Stang is powered by a 302-cubic-inch V8 motor that is sure to capture everyone’s attention.
—Kara Franker contributed to this piece