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. This makes Campbell Motors perhaps the second oldest Citroën-supported dealer in North America (after Challenger Motors). But before we get started with their relationship with Citroën, let's back up to the early days of Campbell.
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 fully 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. But their introduction to Citroëns came with controversy. 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 Avants since 1938. They had gone to great lengths to import the cars, initially by taking out a manufacturing license to sell cars, since Citroën was not a formally recognized manufacturer in the state in the 1930's and 1940's. By the early 1950's, Challenger motors thought they had secured exclusive rights from Citroën to be the official importer of Citroëns for Southern California. Then suddenly after 14 years working with Citroën, the carpet was pulled out from under Challenger in 1952 when Citroën agreed to sell cars directly to Campbell Motors, a mere 10 miles away.
The previously published story about Challenger and Campbell Motors is repeated here:
"...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..."
And there seems to be surviving evidence that supports this story! While digging through some old paperwork we received, we found a letter that was written by a lawyer for Challenger Motors that was addressed to a representative from Citroën, named Lucien Paradis. In the letter, the lawyer indicates that Citroën had declared Challenger Motors as exclusive Southern California distributor for Citroëns in June of 1952, but about 8 months later, Citroën reneged on the agreement and gave the distributorship to another company (Campbell Motors). This letter is provided below (click to enlarge).
Provided by Toni Werk
WHO WAS THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA CITROEN DISTRIBUTOR IN 1952 -
CAMPBELL MOTORS OR CHALLENGER MOTORS?
Whatever the outcome of the distributorship dispute, both companies went on to sell Traction Avants. In 1955, Citroën came into the USA themselves to handle importation, so the distributorship dispute became moot at this point.
Below is some of Campbell's advertising.
Provided by Ronald Kienhuis
Provided by Ronald Kienhuis
CAMPBELL MOTORS ADVERTISING FLYERS - ONE IS DATED MARCH 1953
South Pasadena Review, March 1956
Provided by Vlad Gladkov
Road and Track Magazine, December 1953
Campbell Motors sold Traction Avants, from 1952 to the end of Traction production in 1956. We have no idea how many cars they sold, but it is clear that they were a notable player in the sales of Traction Avants in the post-war era in Los Angeles.
We found a 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). On the far left of the photo is Lucien Paradis, the Citroën employee who allegedly reneged on his agreement with Challenger Motors and offered Citroens directly to Campbell Motors in 1952. Bill Campbell is second from the left.
South Pasadena Review, July 1953
South Pasadena Review, May 1954
1954 NEWSPAPER ARTICLE SHOWING A 6-CYLINDER TRACTION - BUT THE REPORTER GOT BILL CAMPBELL'S NAME WRONG!
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
CAMPBELL MOTORS' DEMISE
Campbell Motors 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.
But 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
After Campbell Motors, another dealer stepped up to be Pasadena's Citroën dealer, Peter Satori.
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.