Personal Space

Story Birney Imes | Photographs Luisa Porter

Back when he was selling janitorial supplies to shopkeepers and maintenance supervisors, James “Killer” Thompson drove a new Thunderbird and wore Hong Kong tailored suits. His boss, who made calls in a 4-year-old Chevy, admonished his flashy salesman, saying, “Nobody is going to buy from you as long as you are driving that kind of car and dressing like that.”

Thompson ignored the advice of his boss.

“People want to do business where business is being done,” he said.

Thompson, 75, is no longer doing business — he is retired — but his love for flashy cars began early and has never abated.

You could say his love for flash has never abated, either. One can find ample evidence of this at a compound deep within a pine woods on Cal-Kolola Road near Caledonia. Here we find what Thompson calls his man cave. And, boy, is it. Part workshop, part museum, part trophy room and part fantasyland, the two 30-by-40-foot buildings across the yard from the house where Thompson and his wife of 59 years, Faye, live, offer a peek into the past exploits and psyche of James Bland “Killer” Thompson.

On display are rows of framed photographs chronicling Thompson’s lifelong love affair with cars. He has restored cars — or paid others to restore them — throughout his adult life; he drove drag racers. For company he has a bevy of stylish and seductive female mannequins in ’50s attire. The “girls” were restored by local artist Bob Nolan.

Thompson says he’s going to hang from the ceiling at least two of his restored classics in a museum he plans to build next door. His “last hurrah,” he calls it. One of these, his favorite, is the ruby red 1940 Ford coupe responsible for 15 trophies in Thompson’s sprawling collection of automotive memorabilia. Thompson says he has put about $125,000 into the car. “I don’t make a profit,” he says. “I lose my butt on them. It’s a work of art.”