In 1971, there were two Citroën dealerships remaining in Vancouver; Citroën Canada Ltd. and one we have not discussed yet - Parthenon Motors. But one would soon be gone! Read on to see what was happening in 1971.
FIRST SM SIGHTING!
It was in March of 1971 when Western Canadians got a first-hand look at the SM. The Calgary Herald stated the following:
“…The new Maserati-powered Citroën SM will be on view here at Falconer Motors (in Calgary). It will just be a one-day stand as the car is on an official tour across the country….”
This demonstrator SM toured west from Calgary and was shown in Vancouver at Citroën’s facility on Burrard Street in 1971. Luckily, a photo exists of this traveling SM! Note that the car is a European model (e.g. no side marker lights, European rear license plate light bar, etc).
NEW SM’S FOR SALE
About a year after Citroën displayed their demonstrator SM at the 1290 Burrard Street showroom, new SM’s showed up there for sale!
This amazing photo was snapped by Gary Cullen, most likely in the spring of 1972 (exact date has been lost to time).
Note that these cars are now set-up for the Canadian market; still with Euro headlights, but with North American side marker lights. Later on, the Euro headlights would give way to the fixed seal beam lights that the American cars received.
QUINTUPLET OF NEW SM’S IN CITROEN BC’S SHOWROOM AT 1290 BURRARD STREET
Gary Cullen has been a shutterbug from an early age, thankfully just when he was discovering Citroëns. Here are some more amazing photos Gary took in 1971 at Citroën Canada Ltd. at their 1290 Burrard facility in Vancouver. These photos show both the showroom and the used car lot behind the showroom.
Citroën brought a few GS’s into BC to gauge customer interest (we think two came in). Below is a 1971 Gary Cullen photo of one of these GS’s cordoned off in the Citroën Burrard Street showroom. We understand that Citroën received decent interest in the cars, but ultimately Citroën chose not to import them, perhaps due to the problems getting GS's approved by the Canadian authorities. When it came time to figure out what to do with these two GS's, Citroën did not want them sold to the public for obvious reasons, but they did allow employees to purchase them. Those employees in turn promptly re-sold them. It is likely that these cars are the same cars that showed up for sale in Vancouver newspaper classified ads in 1972 (see ads, below).
We said earlier that of the two Citroën dealerships left in Vancouver in 1971, one would soon be gone. It turns out that Citroen Canada Ltd. would start to ramp down their operations in 1971, and by 1974, their flagship facility on Burrard Street was a Toyota dealership. Parthenon Motors then took over as the sole Vancouver dealer. We wonder why Citroen Canada Ltd. was ceding operation of their Vancouver dealership back to an independent business? Was it a cost-cutting measure? Or did top brass know that the end of operations in North America was near?
Parthenon Motors was started in the 1960’s and for a while had three locations; Vancouver, Kelowna, and Edmonton. The Vancouver location was by far the most active of the three locations. Since Edmonton is not in BC, we will not discuss the Edmonton location in this article. The Kelowna location of Parthenon was 735 Baillie Avenue, in a small bland building in an industrial park, a few blocks east of downtown Kelowna. It seems inconceivable that tiny and remote Kelowna would have been a good location for a Citroën dealer, and this impression is apparently correct. We can find almost nothing about the Kelowna location. But we did discover that at least one SM was sold there, to a man from Kamloops. See the data sheet (right).
Parthenon Motors handled Rolls-Royce and Peugeot, but added Citroën in 1971. The name, “Parthenon” came from the Rolls Royce grille which resembled the Parthenon in Greece.
In June of 1970, a Dutchman named Hank Heilig moved his family to Vancouver BC from Holland. At this time, Citroën was attempting one last push to sell cars in North America with the newly developed SM. In one of those rare being in the right place at the right time moments, Hank Heilig, who had experience working on Citroëns in Holland, was at the front of the line when Citroen Canada Ltd. needed experienced people to help launch the SM. As such, Hank was quickly hired as a service manager. Hank indicated that his first day working for Citroën was March 1, 1971. He was one of the first in Canada to be trained on the SM and he went on to train other dealerships in Canada.
OWNERS MANUAL PAGE FORM A 1972 SM SOLD FROM PARTHENON KELOWNA
Hank's son Paul recalls:
"...Citroen Canada Ltd had provided (Hank) with a Fiat 124 wagon as a company car. Overnight, there was a substantial snow storm and the Fiat had trouble to leave our new neighborhood on North Road. There was a long steep hill before getting onto the main road and it had not been plowed. After a couple of attempts to get up the hill, dad came back to the house to pick up Rudy and I so that we could sit in the back of the wagon to provide traction weight. He then proceeded up the hill in reverse to get to the main road - we got to walk home. Hank was to start at 9:00 AM but it took until noon to finally arrive downtown on Burrard Street. General manager LaCour and technical manager Andre Biederman were the only ones that were able to make it into work and were quite surprised to see my dad. They fully expected that no one would show up that day. To make sure that he would not get stuck again in snow, they gave Hank a brand new DS Break. Dad got to drive that beautiful DS wagon for an entire week before someone ran a red light coming off the Burrard Street bridge and plowed right into the left front wheel of the car. With the new DS a total loss, dad was back to driving the Fiat..."
But it wasn't to last. In just a few years, Citroën Canada Ltd. started winding down, and had to let their staff go. As a result, Hank Heilig was forced to leave his service manager job and went to work at the Vancouver Parthenon, along with a few other Citroën Canada employees, including Mark Palay (whom we will discuss later).
Hank's son Paul also remembers that as they were closing down, Citroën Canada was throwing much of their spare parts supply in the dumpster, and that Hank would later fish it out for use at Parthenon!
Hank's next step was when he bought Parthenon Motors (Vancouver location) in 1974. It is said that Hank purchased the business for $1.00, but as part of the deal, he had to absorb the dealership’s debt of $100,000. Paul indicated that within 2 years, Hank had managed to burn-off the debt and was able to make the business profitable.
Once Hank took the reins of Parthenon, he chose to focus on Citroën and dropped Rolls-Royce and Peugeot. But his purchase turned out to have awkward timing since about the same time he bought the business and focused on the Citroën marque, Citroën announced that they were pulling out of North America completely. Citroën Canada Ltd. promised Hank that if he would be patient, new Citroën cars would again be sold in Canada. As we all know, this never happened and so Parthenon had to permanently adapt from a new car dealership to a parts and service business.
In the early 1970’s, Parthenon briefly had three locations in different parts of Canada running simultaneously; Vancouver, Kelowna, and Edmonton. It looks like the Kelowna location shut down before Hank bought the business and the Edmonton location had a different owner.
Under Heilig’s ownership, Parthenon Motors of Vancouver operated from four different locations. Some of the moves were due to lease issues with the buildings and others were caused by the declining number of Citroëns in the Vancouver area, once new Citroëns were no longer being sold.
The original location of Parthenon motors was 1616 West 4th Avenue in Vancouver. There are a few newspaper advertisements that show an address of 1010 West 4th Avenue, but this appears to be erroneous. The owners of this West 4th Avenue property offered Hank the chance to buy the property, but he declined and decided to move his business. The original building is gone and this location is now a new Tesla Dealership.
PARTHENON’S FIRST LOCATION AT 1616 WEST 4TH AS SEEN IN 2009, BEFORE BEING REPLACED WITH A NEW TESLA DEALERSHIP
The second location was 290 West 3rd Avenue (this move occurred in 1975). This location lasted a couple of years but the owners again chose to sell the property causing Parthenon to move literally across the street to their third location; 243 West 2nd Avenue.
Their fourth location was not in downtown Vancouver and was instead in Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver. The address in Richmond was 103 - 5651 Number 3 Road. Photo below.
Hank’s son Rudy remembers that for the first time, Parthenon started to have cash flow problems (in the early 1980’s) as the cars were not being driven as much or were out of commission due to rust or accidents. It became apparent that the business was unlikely to survive as an exclusive Citroën repair facility. As a result, Hank closed the business in late 1983 / early 1984.
In 1984, Hank moved to sunny (and rust free) San Diego and took over what was left of the Citroën dealership there, Riveria Motors. In San Diego, the Heiligs (Hank along with sons Paul and Rudy) continued the tradition of Citroën parts, service, and restoration, initially with a business named Citroën Concours. The business has morphed over the years, but Paul and Rudy are still there and are still involved in Citroëns.
Rudy is currently operating one of the largest sources of new Citroën parts in the USA (www.citroenpieces.com).
Paul is running a business called Citroen Classics of America (also in San Diego) and is restoring and repairing cars. Paul also sells new parts (repro as well as New-Old-Stock) and also has a large supply of used parts. Paul can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hank Heilig continued to work on Citroën components in San Diego into his early 80’s, but finally retired at the age of 85. Hank, at age 88, moved back to Holland in early 2019.
Parthenon had its share of controversial customers and unusual events occur over the years. Two such events were related to us by the Heiligs:
DRUG RUNNING SM: Canadian law enforcement authorities once approached Parthenon Motors about a guy who was running drugs across the US/Canada border in his SM. Apparently, he was hiding drugs in the spring-loaded bins in the front and rear door panels. These bins are not obvious and many owners don’t even know they exist! Once, when the SM was being serviced by Parthenon, the authorities showed up and sent the mechanics home. They hid inside Parthenon waiting for the owner to return to pick up his car. The drug runner was apprehended and taken away. But in a week or so, he casually showed up at Parthenon to pick up his car….
THE MURDER OF BETTY BELSHAW: Betty Belshaw was an English professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Betty and her doctor husband, Cyril, had their 1972 SM shipped from Vancouver to Europe for a leave of absence for the 1978-1979 school year. While in Paris in January of 1979, Cyril reported to Parisian police that his wife Betty disappeared from a Metro station. Later that year in October, Betty Belshaw’s badly decomposed body was found on the side of the road by Swiss road workers. A trial was held in Switzerland against Cyril for the murder of his wife, but there was not enough evidence to convict him. Eventually Cyril and the SM returned to Vancouver. International authorities were still interested in the case and approached Parthenon motors about the SM. They questioned if there was anything ‘unusual’ about the trunk of the car. Parthenon was also asked if there was dirt or vegetation on the bottom of the car that perhaps could be traced back to the murder scene. But Parthenon found that the entire bottom of the car had been carefully steam-cleaned!
BACK LOT OF PARTHENON MOTORS AT THEIR 2nd AVE LOCATION (290 W. 3rd STREET)
MOHAWK OAK STREET SERVICE
If you were paying attention, the name Andre Milaire should ring a bell. In 1962, he started a Citroën repair service at the building that had previously been occupied by the Docksteaders dealership and then by the Broadway Motors at 2030 W. Broadway. You may also remember that a few years later in 1965, Citroën hired Andre Milaire to be the service manager at the new Citroën facility at 1290 Burrard Street.
In 1971, Andre parted ways with Citroën Canada Ltd. and started a repair shop with his son, Roland. They ran several service bays and a gas station, called Mohawk Oak St. Service located at 1010 King Edward Avenue. The Milaires worked on many of the Citroëns running around Vancouver during the 1970’s and into the 1980’s.
The facility is a Husky gas station today. Andre passed away in 2017. Son Roland Milaire still lives in BC and is still interested in Citroëns.
We came across an interesting column in the Calgary Herald on October 8, 1971 by Pete Matthews in his Driver’s Seat column:
“… the United States has banned quartz-iodine headlamps, steering headlamps, and other similar night safety aids. This provoked a correspondent to upbraid me for not mentioning the Canadian government’s action in following the US example, specifically naming Citroën cars which have down-graded lighting here. So I mentioned it. But Ottawa did not follow blindly along and these systems are legal in Canada following prolonged negotiations between the Canadian distributors for Cibie headlights and federal safety officials.
A letter from GL Snider, president of British and Overseas Imports Ltd points out where all the confusion arose.
“Our company is the Canadian agent for Projecteurs Cibie SA of France, one of the largest international manufacturers to Citroën of quartz-iodine (Halogen) headlamps and self-leveling headlamp controls.”
In January the Canadian Vehicle Safety legislation became law and under Section 108A of this act European automotive lighting… was made legal in Canada. This is not the case in the US.
I am afraid that in this case Citroën is the culprit not the Canadian government. I don’t understand why Citroën decided to remove the very excellent lighting system from Canadian vehicles, for there was no legal reason for it. The answer, I suspect, is that the huge American market so dominates us, that rules made in Washington are taken applying to all of North America. It just isn’t worth foreign manufacturers putting out a “Canadian-rules” model and so we get cars which are less safe than they should be…”
We believe Canada received USA export DS’s as of January 1st 1971 so some early model year ’71s had European lights but most 1971’s and all 1972 D models had USA lights. Does anyone have any documentation to support this? Also, were Canadian D’s and American D’s exactly the same during the period they both had US lighting? And were there separate French and English Canadian-market versions? We are also interested in understanding when SM’s switched to USA export lighting. Initially, cars sold in Canada were equipped with the European six front lights under glass and USA rear license plate lights and side markers; but changed to USA lighting at some point. Anyone know?
Sebastion Cabot, the British actor with the amazing voice, perhaps best known as Mr. French in the popular TV series Family Affair, which ran from ’66-’71, was also a highly successful voice actor in many Disney animated films. He brought life to Bagheera in The Jungle Book (1967) and his longest-standing role came through narrating the Winnie the Pooh series. He was in Vancouver in December of 1971 to narrate a ‘seasonal concert,’ with a story in the Vancouver Sun. The column ended with, “… (Cabot’s) favourite pastime is repairing antique automobile engines. He also collects them—his garage houses a classic Jaguar SS 100, a ’56 Bentley, a two-cylinder Citroën, and a Lagonda.”
Sebastion Cabot lived his final years in the Victoria suburb of Deep Cove North Saanich, British Columbia. After several strokes, Cabot died in 1977. Since NWCOC member Greg Long grew up in Victoria, he has a story about Mr. Cabot’s 2CV. Greg's parents frequently ate at their favorite Chinese restaurant called The Chinese Village. One day they came home and said there was a photo on the wall there with Mr. Cabot standing beside a 2CV. Greg was intrigued to say the least. He went down there and could not find the photo. Greg asked the manager and he said for some reason it had disappeared but that Mr. Cabot use to come to the restaurant quite often driving this 2CV. It was around then, after Mr. Cabot’s death in the early 1980’s, when he tracked down where they’d lived in Deep Cove. Greg knocked on the door of their little cottage. No one was home but there was a black Jaguar E-Type coupe in the carport with California black plates. There was a large garage in the back of the property but he didn’t want to trespass.
Not long after, a classified ad appeared in the local paper: "’65 Citroën 2CV, 6,000 original miles, Owned by a famous person." Darn, Greg had missed it! Greg went and saw it at a cool old craftsman home on Dallas Road in Victoria where the owner also had a gorgeous, low mileage DS21 sedan in blue. Both cars were for sale as they were moving back to Ireland (or was it Scotland?). The 2CV wasn’t cheap and Greg didn’t have much money but he couldn’t let it get through his fingers once again. It was, in fact, an extremely original low mileage 2CV with the features he loved best: no third window, suicide doors, and was even the fancy AZAM model.
The car came with a file of assorted paperwork and it confirmed Mr. Cabot drove the 18 horsepower 2CV all the way up to Victoria from Los Angeles. Mr. Cabot was a large man so the trip must have been a wonderfully slow adventure. Greg found a receipt for Andersen’s Pea Soup in Buellton, California and always think of him driving his 2CV when eating pea soup. Mr.Cabot bought the 2CV brand new from Citroën Car Corp. in Beverly Hills, California.
Greg somehow scraped enough money to buy it and eventually sold it to his buddy Gary Cullen in Tsawwassen who painted it red to match his Chapron convertible (which I ended up buying 15 years later, and still have in Seattle). Greg bought the 2CV back from Gary in the 1990’s sometime and sold it to Toronto Citroën collector and founder of citroenvie.com, George Dyke, when we moved to California in 1997.