Your particular answer may depend upon where you fit best in “Batman” fandom: Comic books, TV, Movies or Gaming. In reality, if the BRAKE light is on in the Batmobile, either Mike or Al are getting tapped for the job. Probably Mike. Al would rather avoid the whole Al/Alfred sarcasm that’s bound to flutter around the shop…

During most months of its editorial calendar, Undercar Digest tries to highlight a repair shop that has an interesting or unique story to tell. Usually, it’s a professionally run shop with some sort of “wow” factor and/or a good story to tell. The shop featured in this month’s magazine may be a little different, but it hits all those high points.

The sign on the front of the shop reads Grams Bros. Service Station. But that’s just a façade. Literally. Look closely and you’ll realize that the old-timey looking, wooden front masks one of many, more modern steel buildings on the site. Just beyond the five service bays in this building lies a multi-million-dollar collection of Antique, Classic, Muscle, Pony, TV and Movie Cars.

Volo, Explained

This is the small shop that handles the more than two thousand collector cars per year that are purchased, displayed, maintained and sold through Volo Auto Museum and Sales in Volo, Ill.

Car guys in the know just call the place “Volo.” Hundreds of people visit Volo every day of the week, and many drive home with a newly-purchased, classic muscle car to call their own. Five days a week, the shop is a busy production facility. Every year, the shop test-drives, inspects, repairs and maintains the over one thousand cars that Volo purchases from private-sellers and at auctions. Volo strives hard to purchase only vehicles that are in top-notch condition. Batteries, bulbs, fluids and tires are usually all that’s mechanically required for a vehicle to make it from the shop’s bays to being on display in the showroom. Replacement brakes and throw out bearings are also typical repairs handled right in the shop.

Details, Details

And, what if some Joker scratches the Batmobile with his belt buckle?

Well, two of the five bays in the shop are dedicated to detailing the paint and interiors of all the cars that get processed through Volo. Everything that comes in gets buffed, polished and waxed before it goes out the door or onto the showroom floor. Remember, most of what Volo buys to either keep or sell is usually in great shape to begin with, so rarely does a vehicle require any paint or bodywork.

While in the shop and up on the lift, each car gets its undercarriage photographed from front to rear and several detailed photos are taken of the engine compartment. Most cars get more than seventy-five photos taken of the exterior, interior, under the hood and under the vehicle.

Because so many classic car buyers from all over the country (and world) purchase cars from Volo online, the shop does not wait for individual requests for photos of the vehicle’s underside from potential buyers. All areas of concern, from potential fluid leaks, rust-prone areas, exhaust system, driveline and suspension, are photographed and cataloged on every vehicle.

This shop stays busy. It is truly a production, not restoration process. Think of it in terms of a major, national chain, used-car sales operation – not unlike CARMAX or Auto Nation. Cars come in – cars go out, every day. It takes maybe a day for needed repairs and a day or two to wash the engine, clean the interior, buff, wax and photograph an incoming vehicle. On a rare occasion, wet sanding is part of the process. Because more than eighty cars a month are being sold at Volo, the shop is constantly busy preparing fresh inventory. Even if you visited sometime in the last several weeks, today everything looks different and new.

According to George, one of the detailers at Volo, “Yes, sometimes when a semi load of cars comes in, the work gets both hectic and boring, but then you step back and realize that you are working on what might be one of only ten left in the whole world of a particular vehicle, and it’s just – wow.”

Demographics, And Why

Today, the village of Volo, Ill. is growing rapidly due to the construction of new, single-family and multi-family residences on reclaimed farmland. In 2000, this family community held only 52 households, 39 families and 180 people. Today, Volo has 1,279 households, and a population of over 3,500, with more than half of its households being families with kids under 18.

Why is this important? Because the Volo Auto Museum has transformed itself into a family destination, with more than thirty-three unique, museum exhibits. Perhaps most popular of all exhibits are the more than forty TV and movie cars on display. Volo even has three different Batmobiles. It has the 1989, Tim Burton directed movie-era Batmobile, the “Tumbler” from the Christopher Nolan-directed “Batma movies and the TV-series Batmobile designed by Kustom Kar designer George Barris. The museum even has a Barris TV-era Batcycle with sidecar.

So, bleeding brakes on the Batmobile is just another routine Volo work order; similar to sharpening the buzz saws on “Speed Racer’s” Mach 5, decarbonizing the carburetor on the “Ghostbusters” Ecto-1, polishing the chrome on “Christine” or adjusting the E-brake on “Eleanor.” Unique, fun and famous vehicles become routine work for the shop.

Beginnings

From Barbie cars to Muscle cars to antique pedal cars, Volo has attractions for kids of all ages. But, it certainly didn’t start out that way…

Brothers Jay and Brian Grams want everyone to know the storied roots of their family tree and the humble beginnings of operations at Volo. It all began with Grandpa Bill back around 1960.

William Sr. and Gertrude Grams purchased the property with a vision of starting a business to provide for themselves and their five children. They would go to garage sales looking for anything they could put into their resale shop, from furniture, to lamps and other knickknacks. Grandpa was handy and liked to re-wire old lamps. The resale “shops” were just old buildings on the property with gravel floors and without any heat or tools.

Their sons, Greg and Bill, Jr. liked cars and also liked to tinker. When the boys were about 12 and 14 years old, they found a rusty old Model A Ford in a nearby field. Naturally, they dragged it back to the property and spent their evenings fixing it up until it ran. Next, they found and purchased (for $75) an old Chrysler Model B. As it turned out, that Chrysler was a fairly desirable car. The boys easily found a buyer for that particular (or peculiar) car and earned a healthy $500 profit. Grandpa was none too pleased about the boys playing around with rusty cars while there was work to be done in the resale shops – but, when the boys pointed out that they made $500 on one car while Grandpa might make $2 selling a nice, decorative plate, the Grams’ Auto sales business was off to the races.

Back then most all of the cars the family sold were rusty hunks of junk, purchased cheaply and required a lot of work to turn a profit. But, they were making good money doing so. The family kept the resale shops going (and growing) as well, and everyone in the family worked in the businesses to help them prosper. Brothers Greg and Bill noticed that as they started inventorying better and better old cars, people would stop by just to look at all the old cars on the property. So, they began charging admission to view the cars while enticing those customers to stick around for lunch or a snack and visit the resale shops on the property.

Today

Greg became and still is the founder and CEO of Volo Auto Museum and Auto Sales; and Bill, Jr. is owner of Volo Antique Malls I, II, III and Volo Classic Cars (pre-1950s car sales division). Their wives, Myra and Carolyn (respectively) share in the ownership and operation of the businesses, while the boys’ sister Georgie acts as secretary and bookkeeper for the museum.

Bill, Jr. and his wife Carolyn’s daughter, (third generation) Lisa manages Volo Antique Malls I, II, III and the Mercantile Mall. Greg and Myra have two sons, Jay and Brian Grams, who are partners in Volo Auto Museum and Auto Sales; and Brian is Manager of the Volo Auto Museum.

Brian Grams has become the face of the museum as you will find him in YouTube videos and other video advertisements promoting the cars and other attractions at the museum. Brian is the driving force behind the museum’s connection to Hollywood and the growing collection of TV and movie vehicles and memorabilia.

Fourth generation family members Brenda and Ryan are daughter and son of Greg and Myra and they both work managing the museum and the showroom. Jay is also the shop manager. Together, there are more than a dozen Grams family members running the family business that Grandpa William started almost 50 years ago.

Family Business; Family Attractions

Alongside Dodge Chargers from both the “Dukes of Hazzard” and the “Fast and Furious,” to Mad Max’s Ford Falcon, the Bluesmobile, “Herbie the Love Bug” and even the blood-spattered life boat from Captain Phillips, the museum now boasts attractions such as “Cars of the Rich and Famous,” “Antique Snowmobiles,” “Motorcycles,” “Campers,” “Boat motors,” “Electric bicycles,” “Scooters” and “Antique Tractors.” There is even an entire marble-floored room filled with elegant Duesenbergs and chandeliers.

For youngsters and the young at heart, there are “Classic Kiddie Rides,” “Vintage Arcade Games,” and an entire Disney gallery. There are outdoor attractions, a separate Military museum and a new “Crime and Punishment’ display. Visitors might want to steer the kiddies away from that one. And of course, there is still a pizza restaurant and seven miles of aisles in the four antique malls on the property.

The Best Deal

All in all, the Volo Museum has come a long way since the brothers started charging admission to view a few rusty, old Model T and Model A Fords in unheated barns with gravel floors.

For my money, the price of admission is well spent just viewing the three buildings full of muscle and pony cars. It seems that the market trend has begun moving away from 100% original equipment, survivor cars to resto-mods – old cars with new technology like fuel injected engines, so you can now get a classic car with modern performance and reliability. Virtually all of the cars on display are for sale. Maybe I’ll pick out my top three and stop by the shop to ask the crew what they know about my choices. Wait, there’s on-the-spot financing available on that 1970 Chevelle SS with the 4-speed, 4.11 gear, cowl-induction and a posi? Hang on Mr. Grams, “can we talk?”