LIMA – With his five children out of the house, Lou Varrato knew it was past time for he and his wife Jean to downsize.
So four years ago they sold their two-story, five-bedroom home in Lima and purchased a single-story, three-bedroom house on the outskirts of the city.
Nothing unusual about that. People downsize all the time.
In Varrato’s case, however, “downsizing” meant “right sizing” for what has become his second family, a family of cars. He connected a 60-foot by 60-foot building that now serves as a showroom for Varrato’s collection of seven high-performance vehicles and automobile-related memorabilia.
Muscle, luxury and more speed is what you will find inside.
A hopped-up 1967 Chevelle Super Sport Pro Street “goes nine seconds between gas stations,” Varrato likes to joke. Its candy apple red paint job, done by Ben Burden of Lima, was one of the reasons it was voted The Lima News Real Wheels Car of the Year in 2017.
Then there is the 2021 Mustang Mach I.
“I didn’t have time to buy my wife flowers for Valentine’s Day, so I got her the Mustang,” Varatto says.
It came with a free offer by Ford to attend a race-car driving school at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina and the opportunity to drive the car on the speedway’s track.
A 1955 hardtop Chevrolet is what he calls a nice cruising car. Its unique “switch-blade gray and Porsche orange” color attracts a crowd when he takes it to area cars shows. That color scheme also sets off the car’s interior.
A 1972 cranberry red Chevelle serves as a reminder of the period between 1964 and 1977 when the Chevelle was Chevrolet’s answer to the Ford Fairlane. And to keep up with current times, Varatto has a 2012 Camaro Lincolnfelte SS and a 2015 Dodge Challenger Hell Cat that joins the Mach I Mustang. There’s also a 1989 Pontiac Firebird sitting on a hoist.
As for the memorabilia, the signage on the wall serves as a history lesson of days gone by, as do a row of old gas pumps. They include names such as Sinclair gas, Sunoco, Hires root beer and one of Varrato’s favorites, Candy Cane Corner, a once-popular Lima hangout on the corner of Grand and Main streets.
There’s also a tribute to the military. It includes a picture of an uncle who was killed during D-Day when his plane was shot down. Varrato is also pictured with aviation legend Chuck Yeager, who he met many times while Varrato served in the Air Force special forces.
Varrato, 73, says investments and jobs at the Lima Ford Engine Plant and the refinery helped him build his collection.
“I once held full-time jobs at the same time at Ford and the refinery. I’d work a full shift at one, go home and get a few hours of sleep, then go to work at the other,” he said.
He retired at age 49. He says there are car collections bigger than his in Lima. Some of the best times he’s had have been “talking cars” with car guys over breakfast at local restaurants and then taking the wives out for dinner.
Those days are especially important to him now that Jean is recovering from COVID-19, having spent two months on a ventilator. During that time he feared losing his wife of 52 years.
“The cars are nice and everything, but having her in my life is more important,” he said.