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Valenti Classics
Posted Aug 16 2001

He’s Still King of the Road

Don and Pat Valenti get up in the morning, roll out of bed, and walk out of the house in opposite directions.

Don walks north, across his front lawn and short parking lot, to Valenti Classics. Pat walks south, down the front lawn and to her own place of business, to Valenti Antiques.

This isn’t Don’s first career job. He took pictures for a living for 10 years. He sold pension plans for 14 years.

All along, he loved collector cars. It came from his youth. Back in the late 1950s he was king of the road, putting the pedal to the metal perhaps a little bit more than he should have.

“They made all kinds of movies about those days,” Don says. “That’s what it was really like.”

Don opened Valenti Classics in 1991 and moved it from Chicago to the edge of Interstate Hwy. 94 in 1994.

It’s where Valenti Classics, the Valenti home, and Valenti Antiques are still lined up. In the summer people pull off the highway to see the unusual collection of cars.

Sometimes a husband looks at the cars while a wife looks at the antiques, walking back and forth across the Valenti’s front lawn.

“Most of them don’t even know we live there,” Pat says.

Valenti Classics is essentially a car dealership that annually sells 250 to 300 classic cars, antique cars, muscle cars, and collector cars.

Twenty-five to 20 of these cars are sold to people who just happen to be driving by on I-94. Some buy cars over the internet or by phone, from as far as Europe and Latin America.

On the lot right now, you’ll find a 1933 Ford Hiboy with 1,341 miles, listed at $42,500. A 1999 Corvette with 8,460 miles is $37,900.

Valenti Antiques sells almost nothing. Instead, it rents out floor space to 20 antique dealers who seem to sell absolutely everything. Pat keeps the place open, the cash register jingling.

The antique shop got Pat out of the car business. She wanted nothing to do with the cars.

“It wasn’t her fist choice of careers,” says a smiling Steve Valenti, her adult son.

The Valenti’s adult children are even in on the adventure. Their daughter, Gia Nealon, worked in the antique shop until she moved to New York last year. She still keeps the shop books using the Internet.

The idea for Valenti Classics came after the sons, Steve Valenti, 27, and Craig Valenti, 28 bought a 1961 Corvette with their dad. They fixed it up together at their Chicago home, then moved onto other cars.

“Pretty soon our driveway was starting to look like a mass production shop,” Don Valenti says.

The entire staff at Valenti Classics consists of Don Valenti and his two sons. The three are equals in the business. Don is no longer king of the road, and he’s no king of the business, but he’s got to be some king of king, because in a sense, he’s living like royalty.

“You’re with a group of people you can speak your mind to,” Don says, “It’s not father and son anymore. It’s good friends. There aren’t too many people my age who get to spend this much time with their kids.”

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