One of the Citroën dealerships that popped up in the late 1950’s in California was a business called Shamrock Motors which took on the Citroën marque in 1958. Shamrock Motors was located at 375 Miller Avenue, in the beautiful city of Mill Valley, a few minutes north of San Francisco.
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But before we get to the relationship between Shamrock Motors and Citroën, let’s roll back the clock a bit.
A building at 375 Miller Avenue in Mill Valley was built in the late 1940’s and had a few short-lived tenants in the first few years. But in March of 1951, a company called Marin Auto Sales announced their grand opening in the building. Marin Auto Sales handled Chrysler/Plymouth products.
Daily Independent Journal of San Rafael, March 1951
GRAND OPENING OF MARIN AUTO SALES AT 375 MILLER AVENUE
But Marin Auto Sales only lasted in this location for about 4 years. By mid-1955, a new company called Hyde Motors was using the building. With Hyde Motors, the cars sold from 375 Miller Avenue started getting more interesting than the bland Plymouths offered there previously. Hyde Motors, run by a man named aptly named Rusty Hyde, sold Triumph, Hillman, Sunbeam, Rover, and one French make; Simca. Rusty also sold a something called a Doretti. A Doretti (also called a Swallow-Doretti) was a handsome two-seater British sports car built on custom chassis using Triumph TR2 mechanicals. They were only made in 1954 and 1955 and were intended solely for the US market. Only a few hundred were made, but surprisingly they were in popping up in certain showrooms across the USA in 1954/1955, including Hyde Motors. It looks like Hyde Motors actually sold a few.
Daily Independent Journal of San Rafael, November 1955
CITROEN AND SHAMROCK
In 1958 Hyde Motors moved out thus clearing the way for two brothers to start up a new business, Shamrock Motors. Jerry and his brother Richard Hannan had immigrated from Ireland in the 1950’s and settled in the Mill Valley area. Both men partnered in Shamrock Motors, but Jerry was the more media-visible brother, while Richard played a vital role in business operations.
Daily Independent Journal of San Rafael, April 1958
The best we can tell, Shamrock Motors started off with one make; Triumph. But the Hannans soon made a decision that would that would cement Shamrock Motors’ history as a French car dealership for the next 35 years; they took on the Citroën line. The newspaper article below shows that Citroën DS’s would be in his showroom as of June,1958.
Daily Independent Journal of San Rafael, May 1958
SHAMROCK MOTORS OFFICIALLY TAKES ON THE CITROEN MARQUE
The Hannan brothers advertised Triumph and Citroën cars prolifically for a few years. We suspect that advertising must have been vital for survival since there was plenty of competition at this time. Note that the Citroën dealership network in California had nearly doubled between 1959 and 1960, with three or four of them within 35 miles from Shamrock Motors.
Always looking for new opportunities, the Hannans took on the Volvo marque in 1960. Also in 1960, Jerry is seen in the local newspaper indicating that DS Convertibles would soon be available!
Daily Independent Journal of San Rafael, Nov 1960
CITROEN DS CONVERTIBLES TO BE SOLD FROM SHAMROCK IN 1961
Daily Independent Journal of San Rafael, Oct 1960
LARGE FORMAT NEWESPAPER AD FOR VOLVO AND CITROEN
In early 1962, The Hannans apparently decided that they needed a reliable-selling domestic marque in addition to foreign makes, so they picked up the Dodge line. If you look at the newspaper clipping below, Dodge pretty much took over the building at 375 Miller Avenue (notice the DODGE signage). But this arrangement didn’t seem to last very long. At some point not long after this photo was taken, Shamrock moved their Dodge line to a second location at 1560 - 4th street, in San Rafael, about 8 miles North of their Mill Valley address.
Daily Independent Journal of San Rafael, FEB 1962
After 4 years as a Dodge dealer, the Hannans reversed direction. In 1966, they severed ownership of the Dodge part of the business. A legal notice was published in March of that year indicating that the Hannans would sell the entire Dodge part of the business and shed the San Rafael location. This move returned Shamrock to be a foreign car dealership only, using the original building at 375 Miller Ave.
The year 1966 was another busy year for Shamrock. After they ditched Dodge, they took on Peugeot and Renault, again with aggressive advertising campaigns. About the same time that they were spooling up with French cars, they let other makes they had been selling (Volvo, Triumph, Morgan, etc) fade away.
Mill Valley Public Library, 1967
1966 SHAMROCK PHOTO AFTER FULLY ADOPTING FRENCH CARS
SHAMROCK AND THE SM
Despite what this article implies, it looks like that Shamrock never offered the SM model. It was common that Citroën headquarters would ignore the long-time dealerships in the USA when it came to the SM. The best-known example is how Los Angeles-based Challenger Motors, the longest running Citroën dealership in the USA, was ignored when the SM came out. Instead, headquarters gave the SM to a newbie in the Citroën world; Irv White Buick, a mere 2 miles away from Challenger. Was Shamrock snubbed by Citroën? Or did they decline to offer that model? We don’t know.
Daily Independent Journal of San Rafael, Nov 1972
JERRY HANNAN’S OTHER VENTURES
The Hannans seemed to be always thinking of something new. The Hannan name was linked to another dealership called, Imported Motor Sales in San Rafael and with Subaru and Alfa Romeo Sales in the mid-1970’s.
We stumbled across one of Jerry’s more oddball endeavors. He apparently developed a system that allowed conventionally sprung cars to lean into turns when cornering to counteract the natural tendency of a car to lean outward. Citroën flirted with this concept early in the DS days and then for real in the 1990’s with the Xantia Activa. If you want to see how his anti-roll device worked, do an Internet search for US Patent Number US3417985A.
Jerry’s suspension device got as far as having one of his new Peugeot 504’s equipped with his invention and displayed at the 1974 International Auto Show in San Francisco. See article (right). Other than receiving a Patent and a display at an auto show, the invention seems to have stalled.
Daily Independent Journal of San Rafael, Nov 1973
We even found a patent for an electric shaver mechanism in his name. We didn’t take the time to dig into all these ventures, but it is clear that Jerry Hannan and his brother kept themselves very busy.
Shamrock kept selling these three French marques until each, one by one, left the US market. Peugeot was the last to leave which kept Shamrock Motors in the business of selling new cars to the end of the 1980’s. By 1989, Shamrock was gone.
The business was purchased by Pierre Etcheverry and renamed Custom Auto Works. The Etcheverrys continued to service Peugeots for a while and were even owners of multiple Citroëns themselves. Pierre Etcheverry’s son, Marcel, is currently running the business which has been re-named Marin Auto Works. Coincidentally, this is almost the same name that was used for one of the building’s first occupants, more than 70 years ago.
As usual with these dealership histories, we have no idea how many Citroëns were ultimately sold at Shamrock as there does not appear to be any detailed records of sales figures by dealership.
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375 MILLER AVENUE AS SEEN TODAY