Clifford T. Nutt
CLIFFORD T. NUTT
Clifford Trickett Nutt was an eccentric multi-marque car dealer in southern California. He started out selling American cars in the 1930's. He transitioned to foreign cars, and finally to motor homes.
He was born in 1908 in Nebraska, one of six children, to parents Isaac Nutt and Francine Trickett. The family moved to the Los Angeles area when Clifford was still a teenager and as such, he finished school in sunny Southern California. In 1932, he announced he would marry a local woman named Alicia (sometimes referred to as Alice).
BUICK AND PONTIAC
Clifford went into the automotive business early and by the time he was 28 years old, he was listed as a dealer for Buick and Pontiac cars in 1936 in El Monte, California (El Monte is a city in Los Angeles County, a few miles east of downtown Los Angeles).
Pasadena Star News, May, 1949
Covina Argus, April 1936
THE VERY FIRST ADVERTISEMENTS WE CAN FIND FOR CLIFFORD T. NUTT’S BUSINESS
Throughout his long career, his business name was simply listed as his distinctive personal name; Clifford T. Nutt. During his time in El Monte, he operated his business out of various addresses (listed at the end of this article).
THE WAR YEARS
His career as a Buick / Pontiac dealer lasted from 1936 to 1941 but by 1942 he gave up his automotive career to support the WWII effort. Between 1942 and 1945, he became a test pilot for the Douglas Aircraft Company. An old article about Clifford T. Nutt noted that as he was test flying aircraft during the war years, he would look down on the various cities around Los Angeles and from the air, he decided he wanted to settle in Monrovia. Monrovia is in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains, not far from where he started in El Monte. Once settled in Monrovia, he resumed his automotive career and started pulling together the pieces needed to start up a new dealership.
To create public enthusiasm for his upcoming grand opening in Monrovia, he started posting a series of curiously nebulous gag ads in the local paper. These ads did not identify who he was or what his business would be. They were simply to drum-up curiosity and excitement surrounding his distinctive name. A few of these ads follow…
Monrovia News-Post, Dec 1945
Monrovia News-Post, Dec 1945
Monrovia News-Post, Dec 1945
In late December of 1945, his business was up-and-running in Monrovia, but now as a dealer for Packard cars, with no sign of the Buicks or Pontiacs he had sold before the war. He held a grand opening of his new dealership in January of 1946 (see right).
His dealership was located at 245 W. Foothill Boulevard in Monrovia in a building that was a car dealership before the war, but used as a factory as part of the war effort. It is reported that Clifford T. Nutt spent a lot of energy renovating it into a comfortable and stylish dealership. He even included a coffee bar, complete with fresh donuts, juice, and other goodies; something unusual at the time.
Monrovia News-Post, Jan 1946
Clifford T. Nutt was highly involved in local politics; among other things, in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s he was the president of the Monrovia City Chamber of Commerce and a member of the local Kiwanis club.
He had a prolific media presence that he used to full advantage in his Packard business. He offered Packard cars for local parades, events, contests, etc. He was a master at using the media. Every bit of news about Packard cars, no matter how small, somehow managed to get discussed in a local newspaper article with a plug for his dealership.
He seemed successful at selling Packards, but there was a storm on the horizon that had been gathering since 1945; Packard’s post-war cars were largely re-vamped versions of their pre-war cars and their age was definitely showing. According to the Wikipedia entry for Packard Automobiles, Packard's (post-war) cars were increasingly seen as old-fashioned and did not appeal to younger customers. Wikipedia goes on to say that compounding this problem was the fact that the company had geriatric leadership, which is said to have had an average age of 67 in this era.
In an effort to mitigate the underlying desirability problem with post-war Packards, Clifford T. Nutt was a prolific advertiser in the local papers. He also ramped-up buying and selling used cars of various marques as well as advertising for car repairs, tires, and paint work. Clifford even remodeled his showroom (again) in 1952 to try to appeal to customers.
Pasadena Star News, May, 1949
CLIFFORD T. NUTT, LOOKING A BIT LIKE CLARK GABLE
MORRIS AND MG
Finally in the early 1950’s, Clifford T. Nutt realized that something had to change. So, he added two English cars to his line-up; Morris and MG. It looks like he went full-in with these two marques in 1953, but there are indications that he was dabbling with them a year earlier. The Morris he initially offered was the venerable Morris Minor and the MG’s of the era were the charming but antiquated MG TD and TF series.
TYPICAL MORRIS MINOR AS MIGHT BE OFFERED BY CLIFFORD T. NUTT IN THE 1950’S
Monrovia Daily News-Post, May 1953
Monrovia Daily News-Post, Oct 1953
Right on the heels of adding MG and Morris to his showrooms, Clifford T. Nutt announced in late 1953 that he would take on a variety of Rootes group cars from England; Sunbeam, Humber, Rover, and Land Rover. A year later he added Hillman and Riley.
Monrovia Daily News-Post, Dec 1953
By 1954 he was no longer billing himself just as a Packard dealer and instead as a “Packard and Import Dealer.” So, after sticking with just Packards between 1945 and 1953, he was suddenly selling a wide variety of English cars in addition to Packard. Clifford T. Nutt was clearly changing his image from the dashing Clarke Gable look-alike offering stately, elegant Packards to a gentlemanly adventurer offering imported sports cars to drive on the winding roads in the hills above sunny Los Angeles.
NUTT’S FIRST FLIRTATION WITH CITROEN
In the midst of Clifford T. Nutt’s expansion into English cars, the following curious advertisement showed up for Citroën Traction Avant cars.
TYPICAL POST-WAR TRACTION AVANT
Monrovia Daily News-Post, April 1953
As far as we can ascertain, this ad was run a grand total of twice; April 1 and April 3, of 1953. None before, none after. What was this? Was he tied in with Citroën France? Was he importing Traction Avants independently? We don’t know for sure, but we suspect that he was likely importing them with the help of a third party, not directly with Citroën. It is also possible that he had some sort of a deal with nearby Campbell Motors or Challenger Motors who were importing Tractions themselves in this time period (see the Campbell Motors and Challenger Motors links on this website). But this 1953 attempt at selling Citroëns was brief. There was no more mention of Citroëns at Clifford T. Nutt…..at least for the next four years.
Nutt added Austin Healey to his bewilderingly large line-up of English cars in 1955. We separated out Austin Healey from the remainder of the British cars he was representing since he actually stuck with this one for a while.
Monrovia Daily News-Post, Jan 1955
Later in 1955, he suddenly he started advertising Mercedes Benz cars. He started out with the 190SL with a heavy advertising blitz, but within a few years was selling other models such as 180D’s, 300SL’s, etc.
Bring a Trailer Website, 2019
A TYPICAL MERCEDES 190SL FROM 1955, NUTT’S FIRST MERCEDES OFFERING
Pasadena Independent, November 1955
Packard merged with Studebaker in 1954 and formed a new company named the Studebaker-Packard Corporation. After the merger, Clifford T. Nutt soldiered on trying to sell the increasingly unpopular cars from Packard and now also from Studebaker (although he clearly didn’t seem to have his heart in the Studebaker world).
Monrovia Daily News-Post, Oct 1956
Monrovia Daily News-Post, Oct 1956
CLIFFORD T. NUTT (SEATED) SIGNING DEAL FOR STUDEBAKER
I guess it was common in the 1950’s and 1960’s to represent a handful of different cars if you were a dealer. But in the mid-to-late-1950’s, Clifford T. Nutt took this to an extreme. He seemed to attach his name to almost every foreign car imaginable. In addition to the domestic makes of Packard and Studebaker, he offered the foreign makes of MG, Morris, Sunbeam, Humber, Rover, Land Rover, Hillman, Riley, Mercedes, Triumph, Austin Healey, Borgward, Citroën, Jaguar, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Volvo, Renault, Peugeot, AC Bristol, Facel Vega, and last and most definitely least, BMW Isetta. His name was also associated with Tempo trucks and Maserati.
Monrovia Daily News-Post, Oct 1956
Of all of the dealers we have studied on this website, Clifford T. Nutt undoubtedly handled more marques than any of the others – by a large margin! We counted about 20 different marques he was handling simultaneously! Were all these marques making him money? Or were they a desperation maneuver since his Packard mainstay for the last 10 years was faltering? He is reported to have had 14 mechanics from 6 different countries to maintain all these cars in the late-1950’s. A newspaper article indicates that he had $2,000,000 sales in 1957! So maybe his strategy in the 1950’s to take on multiple foreign marques was working?
Remember that Clifford T. Nutt had a grand total of two advertisements we could find for Citroën Traction Avants in 1953. After that, there was not a single shred of evidence that Clifford T. Nutt remained involved with Citroëns….that is until December 27, 1956 when a reporter from the Monrovia Daily News-Post Newspaper indicated that he was loaned a 1957 Citroën DS19 by Clifford T. Nutt’s dealership. The car was used by the newspaper for a long test drive to a monument called the “Desert View Tower,” east of San Diego. The below photo shows the loaner car in front of Clifford T. Nutt’s dealership at 245 W. Foothill Boulevard, just before the journey.
Monrovia Daily News-Post, Dec 1956
DS19 LOANER PARKED IN FRONT OF CLIFFORD T. NUTT’S DEALERSHIP
Remember we said that Clifford T. Nutt was a master at getting media attention? Well, here is another example. He loaned a car to the local newspaper for a test drive and somehow, he got a full page of publicity out of it. Below is the entire page from which the above photo was extracted.
Monrovia Daily News-Post, Dec 1956
So, it looks like it was in late 1956 when Clifford T. Nutt started handling Citroëns. In 1957, Citroën’s own advertisements started listing Clifford T. Nutt as an authorized dealer. A newspaper article from May of 1957 indicated that he had US$300,000 stock of new cars on his lots! If true, this means that he had something like 100 cars in stock in mid-1957? Seems hard to believe, doesn't it? But maybe.
Below is a typical advertising example dating from October, 1957. Our research shows Clifford T. Nutt was a formal Citroën dealer in 1957, 1958, and 1959.
Los Angeles Times, Oct 1957
Pasadena Independent, June 1959
TYPICAL ADVERTISEMENT SHOWING MANY OF THE MARQUES OFFERED BY CLIFFORD T. NUTT
But something curious happened in 1960. By the time the 1960 Dealer Directory was published by Citroën, Clifford T. Nutt was listed as a “service only” dealer. Clifford T. Nutt had lost interest in Citroën, or Citroën had lost interest in Clifford T. Nutt….
1960 DEALER DIRECTORY SHOWS CLIFFORD T. NUTT AS A SERVICE DEALER ONLY
Despite a lot of digging, we were unable to figure out exactly what happened between Citroën and Clifford T. Nutt. Most likely, Clifford T. Nutt just wasn’t selling many DS19’s. Keep in mind that by the time Clifford T. Nutt tried to become a Citroën dealer in the late 1950’s, the number of California Citroën dealers had ballooned to several dozen, most located in Southern California, not far from Monrovia. These other dealerships undoubtedly provided plenty of competition for Clifford T. Nutt and perhaps it just wasn’t worth it. After his brief encounter with Citroën between 1957 and 1960, there was no more mention of Citroën at Clifford T. Nutt’s dealership.
ONE OF THE LAST ADS CLIFFORD T. NUTT LISTED SHOWING CITROEN
Pasadena Independent, Jan 1961
From 1945 to the mid-1950’s, Clifford T. Nutt was staunchly behind Packard. But in response to market conditions, he gave up on Packard (and Studebaker) in the late 1950’s. By 1960, Packard and Studebaker were completely gone from his showrooms and his advertising. For the 1960’s, he fully transformed himself into a foreign car dealership.
In the early 1960’s, he had started to give up on some of his less successful foreign marques that he had represented in the late 1950’s such as; Citroën, Tempo Trucks, BMW Isetta, and Facel Vega. But at the same time, he tried adding Triumph, Fiat, and Daimler.
It must have been chaos at Clifford T. Nutt’s dealership as he was adding all these different car and truck manufacturers to his showrooms and car lots. Even more chaos when you consider that he dropped many of them after just a few years. But finally, by the mid-1960’s, he was starting to settle in on a few marques that he would ultimately stick with for a while; Jaguar, Austin Healey, Volvo, and Alfa Romeo.
CLIFFORD T. NUTT’S SHOWROOM IN THE 1960'S WITH A JAGUAR E-TYPE ON DISPLAY
This means that he had tried but had given up on; Citroën, Peugeot, Renault, Lancia, Hillman, Humber, Rover, Land Rover, Riley, Tempo Trucks, Facel Vega, Sunbeam, Triumph, Maserati, Borgward, Fiat, BMW Isetta and Daimler.
Somehow, he let Mercedes slip through his fingers in the early 1960’s as well. We are unclear if he dumped Mercedes or if Mercedes dumped him, but in hindsight it seems perhaps a mistake to have lost out on this marque.
In the mid-to-late 1960’s he started something new; he became interested in selling motorhomes such as the Wanderlodge, Pace Arrow, and the Condor. Just like he did with his foreign cars, he took the shotgun blast approach; represent almost every marque available. Below is a 1969 add showing the many motorhomes he was offering.
Monrovia Daily News-Post, Nov 1969
Monrovia Daily News-Post, Nov 1966
The 1960’s seemed to be professionally successful for Clifford T. Nutt. He had figured out how to use foreign cars as a way to move his business away from the failing Packard marque that once was his bread-and-butter. Later on, he was starting to move into a new and potentially profitable area; motorhomes. He was also living in a house on the beach in Corona Del Mar, a swanky part of Newport beach.
But the 1960’s also held turmoil and sadness for Clifford T. Nutt. In 1967 at the age of 59, Clifford T. Nutt had a heart attack. While recuperating at home, he was severely injured when he inadvertently triggered a military explosive device that he had found on the beach and had stored in his garage. In the accident, he lost one complete hand and the other hand was severely mangled. He also had burns on his face and arms. A nearby teenager heard the blast and ran to his aid. The teenager possibly saved Clifford’s life by applying a torniquet to his arm. Clifford was off work recovering for 7 months, but eventually he came back to the office in September of 1967. The business remained open during all this, being run by his staff and by a son-in-law.
Another bit of bad luck was befalling Clifford T. Nutt in the 1960’s. We found a lengthy list of crimes that affected his business. We found reports of vandalism, break-ins, and thefts at his dealership locations. The cars on his lots were frequently broken into to steal radios, seats, wheels, etc. There were two separate and curious incidents where young boys (both under the age of 13) had somehow managed to steal cars from his car lot. We even found a case where a home-made bomb was placed or tossed onto the roof of one of his buildings, causing notable damage.
The 1960’s must have not been easy for Clifford T. Nutt.
1970’s – THE END OF THE ROAD
By 1970, Clifford T. Nutt was well into another transformation of his business; sales of large, expensive motorhomes. He was still selling MG, Austin, Volvo, Jaguar, and Alfa Romeo cars, but a bigger and bigger part of his business was being devoted to motorhomes. By now, he not only had his original showroom at 245 W. Foothill Boulevard, but he also had several large lots in Monrovia for his used cars and motorhomes.
CLIFFORD T. NUTT SELLING A MOTORHOME TO ACTOR JAMES BROLIN
(CLIFFORD WEARING THE GLASSES)
Monrovia Daily News-Post, August 1973
The year 1973 saw Clifford T. Nutt’s business enter a precipitous decline. And it wasn’t his fault. A geopolitical event appears to be one of the nails in the coffin for Clifford T. Nutt’s business. He had somehow managed to keep his business thriving from the early days of Buicks and Pontiacs before war, then to Packards after the war. A decade later in the late 1950’s when Packard was in decline, he transformed himself into an import car king, focusing largely on English cars. When English car sales started to go into decline in the late 1960’s, he successfully transformed his business again, this time with motorhomes. He even managed to overcome severe personal issues; a heart attack and the devastating explosion.
But in 1973, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) slowed the delivery of oil and gas to certain countries as a political maneuver (a.k.a. the 1973 Arab oil embargo). This caused immediate and severe repercussions in the automotive world. Suddenly, exotic cars and gas-thirsty motorhomes were not selling. At the age of 65, Clifford T. Nutt either did not have any more tricks up his sleeve, or he didn’t have the energy to transform his business one more time. So, by the end of 1974, Clifford T. Nutt retired and closed his business.
Clifford T. Nutt retired to Hawaii and died in 1981 at the age of 73.
Unfortunately, we have been unsuccessful finding any period photos of his pre-war dealerships. Also, the street addresses have changed over the years so it is difficult to find the current views of the pre-war locations. But here are what were listed as his pre-war locations:
200 W. Main, El Monte.
This was his first location, when he was selling Buick and Pontiacs. Used in 1936 and 1937.
116 W. Main, El Monte.
This address is briefly listed for 1938 and 1939.
120 E. Valley Blvd, El Monte.
This address is listed for 1939 and 1940 and appears to have been operating at the same time as 120 E. Main (below).
120 E. Main, El Monte.
This address is listed for 1939 and 1940.
245 W. Foothill Boulevard, Monrovia.
This was Clifford T. Nutt’s main headquarters from 1945 to 1973. This property was sold to the city in 1973 and was bulldozed. Once this lot was sold, he moved his headquarters to his other location(s) for the remaining months he stayed in business
Monrovia Daily News-Post, October 1948
CLIFFORD T. NUTT’S DEALERSHIP IN THE PACKARD DAYS (1948))
Monrovia Daily News-Post, January 1974
CLIFFORD T. NUTT’S MAIN LOCATION GOES UNDER THE BULLDOZER IN 1974
732 W Huntington Drive, Monrovia.
Clifford T. Nutt used this location as a used car lot from 1955 to the very end in 1974. It was also used heavily during his motor home days in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
2200 West Coast Highway, Newport Beach.
This location was used from 1968 to 1974 for motor home sales. It is now a lot for boat sales.
Google Street View, 2021
CLIFFORD T NUTT’S MOTOR HOME LOT AS SEEN IN 2021, NOW A BOAT LOT
6296 Sepulvada Boulevard, Van Nuys.
It looks like he used this address briefly, perhaps only in 1972/1973, for motor home sales.