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Thursday, July 22, 2004 03:23 pm

The love bug

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Mario Ingoglia’s auto museum is located at a former Shell station on Peoria Road
PHOTO BY JOB CONGER

The love affair began at age 12, when his father let him take the family's 1959 Chevy Impala up and down the driveway.

Since then, Mario Ingoglia has been captivated by vintage cars -- the ones with the heavy chrome grills, strange fins, and unique body styles.

He picked up his first, a 1960 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, in San Diego in 1986. Then, in Nashville, he scored a 1960 Nash Metropolitan and a 1960 Cadillac Sedan de Ville.

But when he moved back to central Illinois about 10 years ago, Ingoglia had to cut them loose; he just didn't have room. "I had to sell them," he says.

Old passions die hard, though.

After Ingoglia got his Springfield business, Metro Tailoring, off the ground, he went back to acquiring old cars.

The collection would eventually become a Springfield attraction, the recently opened Route 66 Info Auto Museum.

Since 1999, Ingoglia has acquired a Nash Metropolitan sedan, a 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, a 1950 Chevrolet convertible, a 1961 Chevrolet 500-gallon water-pumper fire truck, a 1960 Pontiac Bonneville, a 1960 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, and a 1964 Cadillac convertible.

Two years ago, Ingoglia bought a former Shell service station on Peoria Road to house the cars. There, he slowly works to restore the vehicles and shares his growing mechanical expertise with others.

"I specialize in General Motors products, 1955-65, and Nash Metropolitans between 1954 and '62."

Most weekends after noon, Ingoglia and a small cadre of car-enthusiast friends are at the museum, working on the cars and chatting with visitors, including Route 66 tourists.

A Michigan couple recently saw the museum's 1950 Chevy convertible and stopped in. "They were driving a 1950 Chevy sedan, too," Ingoglia says. "It was like they were long-lost cousins meeting face to face again. He and his wife also stopped at Jungle Jim's Cafe next door and parked in the museum lot."

The Route 66 Festival and Valco Cruise for Charity have padded the museum's visitor log in recent years. "A lot of the cruise business seems to focus south and west of us, even though we're on the original route," he says, "but word is getting around."

Ingoglia also credits Bill Shea's Gas Station Museum, a few blocks north of his own museum, with drawing tourist traffic to the neighborhood: "This area used to be a nexus of north-side commerce, and to spend any time along this part of Peoria Road is to sense that resurgence is in the air, primarily because of the concentrated effort to make it happen and because of the easy access."

Ingoglia invites the owners of vintage cars to join him at the museum on Thursday, Aug. 12, before the start of the Illinois State Fair Parade.

"We hope to have a large group of old cars for participants to see as they go by," Ingoglia says. "We'll have hot dogs and soft drinks for all who join us, and we'll all be sitting on the fire engine and the tops of cars."

The Route 66 Info Auto Museum is located at 1921 Peoria Rd. Visits may be arranged by calling 744-6969 for an appointment. Admission is free.

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