Warehouse offers hard-to-find parts auto lovers need to complete their dream car project


National Parts Depot employee Jason Wilson uses a tricycle to collect items and fill orders Tuesday morning in Ocala. The warehouse is almost 9 acres and ships car and truck parts all over the world.

Doug Engle/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 12:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 12:07 p.m.

When Jerry Gallery completes his four-year 1967 Camaro restoration project around June, he’ll be able to take his wife, Nancy, and their 8-year-old granddaughter, Megan Merritt, cruising in the iconic muscle sports car he admired nearly 50 years ago.

“I always liked the Camaro, but in 1966 and 1967 I was serving in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War,” Gallery said as he worked on the blue Chevrolet at his home garage last weekend.

Gallery, 68, like many car collectors and enthusiasts, has had a love affair with automobiles that conjure up youthful memories.

“In th late 1960s, Nancy and I would’ve been making the rounds in our car here at the Big D hamburger restaurant, the Chick Inn and Elliot’s Restaurant,” he said.

“I still remember the strawberry pie at Jerry’s Drive-In on Pine Avenue,” Nancy Gallery said. “We listened to Jan and Dean, The Monkees and the Royal Guardsmen when we rode around.”

Gallery purchased the rolling chassis car in need of a makeover from a car enthusiast in Alabama.

After hauling the Camaro here, Gallery began a complete-down-to-the-frame restoration using as much original equipment from manufacturer (OEM) parts as possible in the resurrection of Detroit iron.

“The car has the original 327 cubic-inch engine and two-barrel carb,” Gallery said.

To complete the dream car and add the Camaro to his collection, which includes a 1966 Chevy Nova, 1941 Chevy coupe and 1928 Ford Model A hot rod, Gallery needed something shared with all car buffs. He needed parts.

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Parts are typically found by car restorers and mechanics through word of mouth, the Internet, car clubs, salvage yards or purchased as reproductions from companies like National Parts Depot (NPD).

The NPD 360,000-square-foot warehouse opened in 1999 in northwest Ocala adjacent to I-75. It is a nine-acre slice of automotive heaven for many enthusiasts.

NPD was founded in 1976 in Gainesville by Jim Schmidt, who began selling replacement hardware kits for early model Ford cars in Ohio around 1957, according to the company’s website.

NPD has massive warehouses in Charlotte, N.C., Canton, Mich., and Ventura, Calif., and is overseen by Jim Schmidt’s son, chief operations officer, Rick Schmidt, 45, who resides with his family in Ocala.

The local warehouse has more than 100,000 reproduction parts and a small amount of new old stock (NOS) parts available. Schmidt said the Ocala branch employs 65 people between the warehouse, counter and corporate employees. The company’s motto is “Restoring American History.”

“We publish 11 catalogs. The 1965 through 1973 Mustangs are our single-most popular model for replacement parts,” Rick Schmidt said. “NPD does a brisk local counter trade in Ocala and we ship worldwide.”

NPD supplies primarily reproduction parts for 1964 to 1983 Chevelle or Malibu, 1964 to 1987 El Camino, 1967 to 1981 Firebird, 1955 to 1957 Thunderbird, models of Ford F-100 trucks from 1948 to 1996, Ford Bronco and Ford Mustang models from 1979 to 1993.

Parts for many of the 1960s through 1970s Pontiac GTO, Tempest, Lemans and Trans Am models also are included in the NPD inventory.

“I got the wiring, exhaust system, upholstery, rubber stripping, gas tank, chrome accessories and emblems from NPD,” Galley said as he pointed to an invoice with more than 200 line items.

Two entries at a recent car show held at the Ocala Shriner’s Club included two Camaros with NPD parts.

John Welfel, 55, of Ocala restored a 1967 Camaro using some NPD parts.

“This car reminds me of when I was growing up,” he said.

Gary Julianna, 49, used parts from NPD to complete his 1974 Camaro Z-28.

Warehouse manager Roland Van Horn oversees about 26 employees in the Ocala NPD branch, which uses a fleet of 12 tricycles with large buckets to traverse the rows and pull parts from the racks.

Rick Schmidt explained some parts sold by NPD are made from original manufacturer tooling equipment sold to aftermarket companies such as Artiflex, an American company which markets Ford parts under license from Ford.

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The NPD warehouse is also home to the nearly 200-vehicle Schmidt family collection — a tribute to American automotive history.

The collection includes a 1903 Boston Carriage, 1911 White “brass era” with Prestolite gas lights and current cars with less than 1,000 miles or dealer roll off mileage only, Rick Schmidt said.

The collection has unique cars like a documented 1978 Pontiac “Smokey and the Bandit” style Trans Am, which was first given to Burt Reynolds by Pontiac in gratitude for his success with the first Smokey and the Bandit movie, the 50 millionth Ford, the 150 millionth Ford, a 1959 Galaxie and a 1979 Fox body Mustang signed by Henry Ford II.

Another unique car is a 1974 Mercury Cougar signed by a host of celebrities like Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore and Valarie Harper as a contemporary traveling promotion for a wildlife fund. The car was named “Chauncey’s cougar,” after the live Mercury cougar mascot, Chauncey, Rick Schmidt said.

The private collection is only opened by Schmidt for private group tours and events.

“My personal favorite in the collection is the 1969 Mustang Boss 429,” said Rick Schmidt, who occasionally drives cars from the collection.

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