One of the very early Citroën dealerships in the USA was Campbell Motors in Pasadena, California. Their relationship with Citroën began in 1952 when they started selling Traction Avants. But before we get started with their relationship with Citroën, lets wind the clock back a bit.
CAMPBELL MOTORS – THE EARLY DAYS
In the mid-1930’s a business in Pasadena called Campbell Motors started advertising used cars. Over the next few years, they moved a bewildering number of times to different locations in Pasadena along West Colorado Street and Fair Oaks Avenue. In the late 1930’s, they were selling Hudson, Auburn, Cord, and Terraplane cars. They also advertised Rio trucks.
In 1940, Campbell Motors went silent, seemingly having changed their name to Aldon Motors. But by the fall of 1946, Campbell Motors advertising was back with a vengeance. For the next few years, they blitzed local newspapers with Hudson ads as well as ads seeking repair work on other marques. Curiously, the Campbell Motors name and Aldon Motors name were used simultaneously for a few years. We do not understand the relationship between the two business names but they were clearly related and sometimes operating out of the same address. By 1951, the Aldon name disappeared forever. The Campbell Motors name soldiered on, at least for a while….
ALDON MOTORS ADVERTISING FLYER
CAMPBELL MOTORS AND CITROEN
In 1952, a significant company change occurred; Campbell Motors became involved with Citroëns. There is a story that has been published in several North American Citroën newsletters over the years about Campbell Motors and their relationship to the other Citroën importer of the era, Challenger Motors of nearby Los Angeles.
Challenger had been importing Citroën Traction Avant models since 1938. They had gone to great lengths to import the cars, including having to take out a manufacturing license to sell cars since Citroën was not a formally recognized manufacturer in the state at that time. Then suddenly after 14 years of trying to sell Citroëns, the carpet was pulled out from under Challenger when Citroën agreed to sell cars to a competitor a mere 10 miles away.
The previously published story about Challenger and Campbell motors goes something like this:
In 1952, Campbell Motors snagged the exclusive rights to import Tractions from Citroën. Charlie Dirscherl (of Challenger Motors) immediately visited Paris to complain to the factory over this usurping of his business. Nothing could be done however because a contract with Campbell Motors had been signed. To help mend fences with Charlie, Citroën gave Challenger Motors the exclusive rights to all the spare parts for Tractions in the U.S.
According to the story, Campbell Motors never sold a single Traction because they ran out of money before they could pay import duty on the first shipload of cars. As a result, the cars sat on the docks for months accruing storage charges until Challenger Motors made an offer to buy them out. That is how Charlie Dirscherl and Challenger Motors were able to circumvent the contract Citroën had with Campbell Motors and thus Challenger Motors was able to remain a Traction importer throughout the Traction years.
However, based on our research, there seems to be a bit of a problem with this anecdote. If taken at face value, the story about Campbell Motors suggests that their relationship with Traction Avants started and ended with their failed 1952 attempt at importing the cars. But it turns out this is not true. They sold Traction Avants, not only in 1952, but also in 1953, 1954, 1955, and 1956. We have no idea how many cars they sold, but it is clear that they remained in the business of selling Citroëns.
Several advertising examples follow.
ADVERTISING FLYER, CAMPBELL MOTORS, YEAR UNKNOWN
South Pasadena Review, March 1956
ADVERTISING FLYER, CAMPBELL MOTORS, YEAR UNKNOWN
Road and Track Magazine, December 1953
We found an article in an October, 1952 issue of the Pasadena Independent that indicates that they had Tractions on display in their Pasadena showroom (below) as well as another 1952 article in the South Pasadena Review where Bill Campbell himself (the owner of Campbell Motors) took A reporter on a test drive in a new Traction.
Pasadena Independent, October 1952
In July of 1953, Campbell Motors displayed a famous 2CV that travelled from Montreal to the tip of South America (see below).
South Pasadena Review, July 1953
South Pasadena Review, May 1954
And it wasn’t just Tractions that Campbell Motors advertised. By 1956 they were listed by Citroën as an authorized distributor of DS19’s, right along with Challenger Motors.
Los Angeles Times, September 1956
In reality, Campbell Motors relationship with Citroën was much more immersive than the above story suggests. They sold new and used Tractions for four years (1952-1956) and then went on to be an authorized Citroën dealer for DS’s from 1956-1960.
As Hudson’s star faded in the late 50’s, Campbell Motors tried to boost their sales by selling other cars, such as Rambler and Nash (including the Nash Metropolitan imported from England). But it didn’t work out. They went out of business in 1960.
Los Angeles Times, January, 1960
1960 DS ADVERTYISEMENT, SHOWING CAMPBELL MOTORS IN THE DEALER LISTINGS
The Campbell Motors and Aldon Motors business names were associated with a bewildering number of locations in Pasadena, sometimes at several addresses simultaneously. These include:
180 West Colorado Street
267 West Colorado Street
1639 East Colorado Street
284 West Colorado Street
294 West Colorado Street
818 Fair Oaks Avenue
1000 Fair Oaks Avenue
600 Fair Oaks Avenue
1215 Fair Oaks Avenue
The best we can figure, they finally settled in on a new car showroom at 1215 Fair Oaks Avenue with service at 818 Fair Oaks Avenue until they went out of business in 1960. It looks like none of the buildings survive.