When auto collectors look for inspiration to design a cool, custom storage environment for their four-wheeled treasures, they usually think glowing neon lights, checkerboard patterns and the old-time nostalgia of yesteryear diners and drive-ins.
Yet when Francis Wisniewski of Chicago considered how he wanted to showcase his fleet of unique vehicles, he looked to a dazzling location known the world over for being one of a kind: Las Vegas.
In 2007, Wisniewski acquired a warehouse in Chicago that had been a machine tool factory. Presented with a blank concrete canvas, he let his imagination run wild.
"Initially I didn't think of a garage but instead had plans to install a swimming pool or basketball court as the main attraction," he said. "Neither really worked quite right in the planning." That's when Wisniewski considered his ever-growing auto collection and, in 2009, set about building the ultimate four-wheeled palace.
Arizona-based luxury garage design company Garage Mahals was called on to assist in the process and layout. To get the creative juices flowing, Wisniewski spent time scouting out his favorite vacation destinations in Vegas.
"I spent many trips driving around the town settling on themes drawn from the Venetian, Bellagio and Caesar's Palace casinos, which were all incorporated together." The project took two years to complete with a final product delivering the dazzling sensation of being right on the sun-soaked Las Vegas Strip.
"We went with bold, bright colors, sleek lines and modern materials to achieve the specific look," Wisniewski said.
A few spectacular Vegas touches that greet visitors are a replica of the iconic, diamond-shaped "Welcome" sign, an Italian-themed alcove complete with Greek statues and a private casino room. All of the décor and unique construction is to show off the main attraction, Wisniewski's fleet of special vehicles.
"My uncle was a Chevrolet dealer and I grew up remembering him driving all these cool cars. When I got my first decent paycheck I went out and purchased a 1968 Camaro," said Wisniewski, who owns a trading company.
That first muscle car led to another and another, eventually leading up to the large collection it is today. Some of the many horsepower highlights include a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda convertible that has a Dodge Viper ACR V-10 engine and interior, a 1965 Chevrolet Malibu SS packing a 540-cubic-inch V-8 with 650 horsepower and 700 foot-pounds of torque, and a 1978 Pontiac Trans Am "Smoky and the Bandit" tribute that instead of a T-top roof, features an ultraslick roadster design.
Some of the autos are sourced from national auctions while others are scratch-built from the ground up. "I work with Performance Restorations in Mundelein and a designer in Detroit, and together we'll design a couple cars a year, turning daily drivers into show cars."
The final rolling products make a bold statement whether they're rolling down streets in the Windy City or Sin City, as Wisniewski occasionally takes his creations out West. "Vegas has a lot of expensive and high-end vehicles, but when you pull up in a custom muscle car, it blows people away," he said.
It's not just the vehicles that attract attention as Wisniewski and his garage were recently featured on HGTV's "Million Dollar Rooms" television show. "I don't collect art; it's hard to price and evaluate. With cars, you can have your own taste. I'm never going to collect Picasso paintings, which are just hung and looked at. With these, I can drive them and take them with me wherever I go."
Wisniewski has several new vehicles in the works, but the next additions to his personalized space will be 1/64th-size versions of Detroit's finest.
"I've collected Hot Wheels cars ever since I was a kid and almost have one of every one made since 1968, their first year. The next phase for the garage would be displaying the hundreds of toy cars in plastic cases around the walls."
With the jaw-dropping craftsmanship and unique design, it's a safe bet that whatever changes come next, they'll still be one of a kind.