Don Runnalls

NEW 1/2022

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blog.lefigaro.fr

Don Runnalls, a native Californian, was born on March 24, 1925 and became interested in cars at an early age. He once was quoted as saying that while he was in grade school, he saw a black, low-slung 4-door sedan with no runningboards on his walk home from school. It had red wheels and Citroën Challenger nameplates on the sides of hood. This was in the late 1930’s and he would have been about 13 years old. 

 

He had seen a late 1930’s Citroën Traction Avant that had been imported by Challenger Motors - and he was smitten. 

 

 

DON’S FIRST CITROEN

 

Fast forward to 1954 and Don Runnalls was now just shy of 30 years old and out of the military (he served in the Korean War). By now, he was finally in a position to buy himself a Citroën; a brand new 1953* 11CV Traction Avant Legere from Challenger Motors in Los Angeles; the very same dealer who had imported the 1930’s Traction that he had seen when he was in grade school many years earlier! 

 

*Some sources indicate that the car was a 1954, but we believe that the car was probably a 1953 and he purchased it in 1954.

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DON’S FIRST CITROEN – A 1953 (OR 1954?) CITROEN TRACTION AVANT LEGERE

You can see Don’s second French wife, Lisette, standing next to a male model in the above photo. 

DON STARTS WORKING FOR CITROEN

 

A couple of years after Don bought his Traction Avant, the Citroën factory finally came into the USA themselves and set up their west coast headquarters, located on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills (Citroën Cars Corporation). The year was 1955.

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Photo provided by Richard Bonfond (Bonfond family archives)

CITROEN FACILITY AT 8423 WILSHIRE BOULEVARD, 1956

In 1959, Don Runnalls was hired by Citroën Cars Corporation to work on Citroëns at this brand-new factory-run facility. He stayed there one year, but then quit and went to work for Hart Fullerton Citroën in Santa Monica. But Don Runnalls did not stay at Hart Fullerton long either, likely because Don could see that Hart Fullerton was not going to be successful with the Citroën marque (they gave up on Citroën in 1961, after just a year or so). 

DON STRIKES OUT ON HIS OWN

 

If you look through the newspaper classified advertisements for automotive garage / shop space in Los Angeles, you will find a series of ads that ran throughout the fall of 1960. The space in question was described as: 

 

“…a 3000 square foot, 2 story structure designed to be an automotive garage / repair business with office space….”.

 

The building was located at the corner of Wilshire and Amherst in Santa Monica. The street address was 12131 ½ Wilshire Boulevard. Eventually the space was rented. Guess who rented it? Yes, it was Don Runnalls! 

 

It turns out that Don purchased the Citroën spare parts inventory and tools from Hart Fullerton and started working on Citroëns for himself! We are fortunate to have a photo of his new shop. You have probably seen the photo before, but here it is:

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Photo provided by Richard Bonfond 

DON’S CITROEN SERVICE AT 12131 ½ WILSHIRE BOULEVARD

YEAR OF PHOTO IS MOST LIKELY THE SUMMER OF 1961

By early 1961, Don Runnalls had his business up and running under the business name, Don’s Citroën Service. He serviced Citroëns, but also bought and sold an occasional used car (he had a license issued by the state of California to sell cars). At this point, he was not an authorized dealer but was instead an independent shop. 

CITROEN CLAR CLUB MEETING

 

It was the summer of 1961 when Don started advertising his new business in the local newspapers. A month after his first advertisements ran in the L.A. Times, Don Runnalls hosted a club meeting for the Los Angeles-based Citroën Car Club (CCC). The club meeting was held on August 20,1961. Note that Don Runnalls was one of the twelve charter members of the CCC, which was founded by a man named, Joe Bruman. 

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Los Angeles Times, August 1961

ADVERTISING FOR A CITROEN CLUB MEETING

Not much is known about the above photo of Don’s repair shop, but there are several things to point out. First, we verified that this is indeed the Wilshire boulevard location of his business. Second, the photo date almost has to be from 1961 since he moved into this location in late 1960 and moved to another location by 1962. Since the photo was probably taken in 1961, all of the DS’s are of course of the first-generation nose. But note that the green DS on the left of the photo (Vert Printemps, AC 505) is likely a very early car from 1956 since it had yet to receive the USA front turn signals that arrived for 1957 models. 

 

One more thing we would like to say about this photo. It seems like there are a surprising number of cars parked here-and-there and also a number of people standing around. This doesn’t seem quite what I would expect a standard day at Don’s Citroën Service to look like. Could this be a photo of the Citroën Car Club meeting that was advertised to take place on August 20, 1961? We do not know for sure. But it seems possible, even likely, doesn’t it? 

DON RUNNALLS BECOMES AN AUTHORIZED REPAIR FACILITY

 

The next career turning point occurred for Don Runnalls’ in 1962 when he was declared a “service” provider by Citroën Cars Corporation. He was not a full dealership at this point, but he was now officially recognized as a factory-authorized service location. A snippet from the 1962 factory dealer directory is shown below. Also, we have a copy of the certificate that Citroën gave Don when he completed the factory training course. 

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CITROEN DEALER DIRECTORY, 1962

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Provided by Tim Broers

DON'S TRAINING CERTIFICATE, 1965

PICO BOULEVARD

 

By 1962, shortly after he had been declared an official service provider, Don Runnalls moved his shop from Wilshire Boulevard to 3003 Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, where he stayed for over 20 years (his stay at the first building on Wilshire lasted only about a year). 

 

Before Don moved into this building in 1962, it had been an automotive facility and a furniture store, but Don found that it met his needs. Don purchased the building and his wife Lisette continued to lease it after Don’s death to the Morgan dealership who is currently there. In 2019, Lisette finally sold the property to an investor who still leases it out to the Morgan dealership.

 

Amazingly, a period photo exists of this Pico Boulevard location as well! This photo is less well known than the photo above, but it is every bit as amazing. 

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Photo provided by Richard Bonfond 

DON’S CITROEN SERVICE, PICO BOULEVARD LOCATION, YEAR UNKNOWN BUT LIKELY 1962 OR 1963

As with the photo of his first building, very little is known about this photo. However, we have several observations. First, all of the DS’s again seem to have the first-generation nose, so this means that they are 1962 or earlier. The American car on the right is a 1955 Ford Fairline. These facts, plus a few memories about the photo, lead us to believe that the photo was most likely taken not long after he opened this location, so perhaps 1962 or 1963? 

 

A year after the first one, Don Runnalls again hosted a Citroën Car Club meeting, this time in this new building. The meeting date was August 12, 1962.

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Van Nuys News, August 1962

ANOTHER CCC MEETING AT RUNNALLS

FULL DEALERSHIP STATUS

 

Don soldiered on for the next half a dozen years fixing the local Citroëns and occasionally selling used cars when finally in 1969, he was awarded full dealership status. So now he could finally sell new Citroëns! As such, the factory dealer directories removed the “Service Only” tag from his entry. 

 

He renamed his business when he became a full dealer from Don’s Citroën Service to Don Runnalls’ Citroën Sales and Service

 

When Don became a full-fledged dealer, he remodeled the building at 3003 Pico to more resemble a proper dealership with larger windows to suit the (small) showroom. 

THE SM

 

When the SM came to our shores, Citroën gave him the SM model to sell - something that Citroën did not do for all of their USA dealers. And we will find in the next section that he sold quite a few SM’s! 

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LISETTE RUNNALLS STANDING IN FRONT OF A NEW SM IN 1973

THE LEDGER

 

Once he became a full-fledged Citroën dealership in 1969, Don kept a hand-written ledger of all of the cars he sold (new and used). And we have a copy of it! For all of the dealerships we have profiled on this website, this is the only time we have a count of how many cars the dealer ultimately sold. 

 

California Citroën enthusiast Tim Broers is the custodian of the ledger. (There will be more about Tim Broers later.) Besides the number of cars sold, the ledger also shows that a number of movie stars and celebrities had bought Citroëns from him, including Lorne Greene, Jeff Bridges, Tommy Chong, and Martin Sheen. 

 

A few example pages are below:

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Provided by Tim Broers

DON RUNNALLS CAR SALES LOGBOOK

By counting cars in this ledger, it looks like Don Runnalls sold approximately 49 new DS sedans, 16 new DS wagons, 10 new Mehari, and 43 new SM’s between 1969 and 1973. Wow, 43 SM’s? Seems like a pretty big number, doesn’t it? 

 

The ledger shows that the very first new Citroën Don sold was a white 1970 ID19 (D-Special) that was sold in December of 1969. The last new car he sold was a brown 1973 SM that was sold in October of 1974. 

THE HEYDAYS

 

Throughout the 2 1/2 decades that Don Runnalls ran his business, there never seemed to be a shortage of cars to fix. And fortunately, lots of photos exist of Runnalls' operation. Below are a few random photos of the 3003 Pico Boulevard location over the years. 

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1976

Bibliopticus Alanski 1976

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Bibliopticus Alanski 1976

1976

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1981

Peter Lawrence 1981

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1982

Bibliopticus Alanski 1982

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1984

Cyril Sars 1984

DUMPSTER DIVING

 

One of Don Runnall’s employees recalls that as Citroën was pulling out of North America in the late 1970's, they were throwing their stock of new spare parts in the dumpster behind their L.A. facility. The Runnalls employee recalls dumpster-diving to retrieve the parts for use at Don’s business! We have heard of this happening other places, such as when Citroën left Vancouver BC in the 1970’s and employees from Parthenon Motors would retrieve spare parts from that dumpster as well. (You can read about Parthenon Motors in the "1971" tab of the Canadian section of this website.) 

CUSTOMER SERVICE

 

Don was very committed to the Citroen brand as well as committed to helping his customers - no matter when and where they had a break down. Tom Broers was told a story from Lisette that Don had an SM customer with a breakdown somewhere on the way to Las Vegas. Don, instead of driving to help his customer, flew his Cessna to his client's location, repaired the SM, and got his customer on the way. Suitably impressed by Don flying out to fix his SM, the customer wrote a letter of commendation for Don and sent it to Citroen.

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Photo provided by Cyril Sars 1984

ONE OF RUNNALL'S AIRPLANES IN 1984

LISETTE RUNNALLS

 

Don divorced his first wife and married Lisette in about 1970. Lisette was not perhaps quite as enamored with Citroëns as was Don and was once quoted as saying,

 

“The Citroëns; I hate them. For nearly forty years, they have rotted my life!"

 

Apparently, Lisette liked Jaguars. In many photos of the Runnalls, you can often see one of Lisette’s Jaguars in the background. 

LISETTE RUNNALLS IN THE LATE 1980’S

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Los Angeles Times, March 1988

But in spite what she said in the above quote about Citroëns, she did help Don in the Citroën business for the remainder of his career. She had her own job working in a bank as bookkeeper, but she agreed to maintain the books for Don’s shop and also run the spare parts department. 

 

Eventually, Lisette gave up the job at the bank and in the late 1970's, decided to become a real estate agent. But she continued to help Don at his dealership. She was an active real estate agent up until 2017 or so when she finally retired. 

HOLLYWOOD

 

Tim Broers notes that in the 1970's and 1980's, Don also had a side business renting out his Citroen cars to the TV and Movie industry in Southern California. Tim provided a lengthy list, but among the movies using Don’s cars are the following: Gremlins, Romancing the Stone, Exorcist II: The Heretic, and The Stunt Man. 

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IMCDB.org

A RUNNALLS MEHARI MAKING AN APPEARANCE IN THE EXORCIST II

AUTOMOBILE QUARTERLY

 

Two of Don Runnalls’ cars (a 1962 2CV and a 1972 DS21) were famously profiled in issue 13-2 of Automobile Quarterly from 1975. 

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Automobile Quarterly, 1975

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Automobile Quarterly, 1975

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Automobile Quarterly, 1975

The yellow Runnalls’ 2CV that is shown above had a bit of a brush with fame. Besides being photographed for the Automobile Quarterly book, two other events are noteworthy:

 

  • It was once owned by the actor F. Murray Abraham in the mid-1960’s (see photo).

  • It was it was featured in an episode of the 1960’s TV show, Get Smart; season 4, episode 8, from 1968 (see photo). 

RUNNALL’S 1962 2CV

F. MURRAY ABRAHAM (LEFT)

DON RUNNALLS (RIGHT)

PHOTO WAS TAKEN AT THE 3003 PICO BOULEVARD LOCATION

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Photo Provided by Tim Broers

RUNNALL’S 1962 2CV ON GET SMART TV SHOW

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IMCDB.org

This 2CV still exists and is owned by Tim Broers, a contributor to this article! 

THE SAME 2CV TODAY!

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Photo Provided by Tim Broers

JACQUES LAUDE

 

At least two people who had worked for Don Runnalls went on to be important personalities in the Citroën world. 

 

The first was Jaques Laude, a Frenchman living in So-Cal. He had worked at Citroën Cars Corporation in Los Angeles in the early 1970’s, but by the mid-1970’s he had left his job at Citroën and struck out on his own.

 

He began establishing a name for himself in the world of Italian cars and received factory training by Maserati. He heavily advertised his new business in L.A. called, Performance Auto Imports, for Maserati repair.

 

But these ads only lasted for a brief period of time in 1978. By 1979, Jacques Laude was working at Don Runnalls’s dealership, apparently as service manager.

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Los Angeles Times, December 1979

By the time Jacques Laude joined Don Runnalls, the last new Citroën sold in the USA had happened a several years earlier, so service and parts were now the mainstay. Jacques stayed at Don Runnalls’ for a few years but in 1981, Jacques Laude left Runnalls in order to take over Challenger Motors in L.A. for Charlie Dirscherl, who was retiring. (See the article on Challenger Motors on this website). 

CYRIL SARS

 

Another personality who worked for Don Runnalls was a Dutchman named Cyril Sars. Cyril worked for Runnalls only for about a year in 1984/1985 when he was only 18 years old. Cyril recalls it being quite an adventure to leave his home in Holland at this young age and fly all the way to sunny Southern California with no real plan. 

 

Cyril related a great story about how he didn’t know anything about needing a Green Card when he arrived, so he had trouble getting a job. But on the advice of his aunt, he showed up on the step of Don Runnalls’ shop asking for an “apprenticeship.” Don agreed! 

 

Cyril notes that in the 1980’s, it was tough for Runnalls to pay the bills since he no longer had new cars to sell. Gradually, all of the employees faded away, leaving Don and Lisette to run the business themselves. So, it was a welcome change when Cyril showed up and was able to help. 

 

Cyril returned to Holland to pursue a career in aviation. But in the early 2000’s, he resumed his passion and started-up a Citroën parts, repair, and restoration business, named Cyril Sars Citroën Cars. Cyril’s business specializes in SM, DS, and Maserati Merak. Cyril has become a valuable asset for the SM model. (Check-out: citrosars.nl)

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cyrilsars.nl

CYRIL SARS WORKSHOP IN HOLLAND

WINDING DOWN THE BUSINESS

 

There was one last move for Don Runnalls’ business. His last address is 3017 Pico boulevard, on the opposite end of the block from his prior location. We believe that he moved to this location in the 1985 time-frame and vacated the 3003 Pico location. One source we consulted believes that Runnalls may have used both Pico Boulevard locations for these last few years, but we believe this is not likely the case. 

 

Don Runnalls decided to close the business entirely and retire in very late 1986 or early 1987 (his last advertisement appeared in the L.A. Times in November of 1986).

DON RUNNALS IN HIS RETIREMENT YEARS

(PHOTO EARLY 2000's)

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THE RANCH

 

Lisette once told Tim Broers that in the early 1980’s, she gave Don an ultimatum and told him to get rid of all the junky cars and parts at their house in Santa Monica or she would divorce him. She wanted her home to look like a home! So, in 1981 they bought a 13-acre desert ranch property off of Old Route 66, 12 miles east of Amboy, CA. It was basically in the middle of nowhere (90 miles east of Barstow, CA). This was a place that he could keep all his stuff!

 

Don and Lisette had a second passion and that was flying. Don had a pilot's license in the 1970’s and 1980’s and flew a single engine Cessna. Lisette learned to fly as well and they both became avid pilots. Initially, they would park their planes at Santa Monica Airport which was several blocks from their Santa Monica residence, before they moved to the ranch. The ranch had a groomed gravel airstrip and that would allow Don and Lisette to fly out there and park their Cessna in their 50x50 foot hangar. The address of the Ranch was 17259 Mac Tul Road, near Amboy, California. 

 

In his retirement years, Don stored a large number of derelict (and a few non-derelict) Citroëns there, as well as his 30-year accumulation of new and used Citroën parts. Estimates indicate that he had something like 50-60 cars parked there. 

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Google Earth, 2019

THE RANCH IN 2019, AFTER REMOVAL OF ALL THE CARS

Cyril Sars provided us with a list of cars that Don moved to the Ranch, during the initial move (see below). This list shows 40 cars. More came later. 

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Provided by Cyril Sars

INVENTORY OF CARS MOVED TO THE RANCH

But sadly, as the years passed, most of these cars sat outside, baking away in the hot sun and becoming infiltrated by the desert dust. Day-by-day, the cars became less-and-less restorable and some were simply scrapped. Tim Broers reports however that a number of the better or more interesting ones were saved, including a 1937 Challenger Citroën (see the Challenger article on this website). 

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Photo provided by  Tim Broers

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Photo provided by Cyril Sars

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Photo provided by  Tim Broers

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Photo provided by  Tim Broers

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Provided by Cyril Sars (YouTube screen grab)

If you want to see more of what this ranch looked like, here are two videos that have posted on YouTube (one taken by Cyril Sars):

 

THE RANCH 1

 

THE RANCH 2

 

END OF THE ROAD FOR DON RUNNALLS

 

Don tinkered with cars during his retirement years, but he passed away on February 11, 2009 at the age of 84. 

TIM BROERS

 

After Don died, a Citroën enthusiast from the L.A.-area named Tim Broers made contact with Lisette and in 2014, started buying the remaining stock of new parts (plus a few used parts) and meticulously catalogued them. (Tim, thanks for helping us out by saving these parts!)

 

Tim still talks to Lisette often, and visits her maybe once or twice a year.

DON’S TRACTION AVANT

 

Remember at the beginning of this story we mentioned that Don Runnalls bought his first Citroën; a 1953 (or perhaps 1954) Traction Avant Legere from Challenger Motors in L.A.? Well, he kept it his entire life and it was stored on the Ranch when he passed away.

 

After Don died, Lisette gave it to a relative on the East Coast, so it is still in the family. 

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Auto Expo 73

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Screengrab from a YouTube video by webhenkie, 2013

LOCATIONS – THEN AND NOW

 

There were 4 addresses associated with Don Runnalls’ business: 

 

1) 12131 ½ Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles (1961). This was his first business location, used only for about a year. The views below are from the side street, Amherst Avenue. The entire block has been redeveloped so there is no trace at all of the original building or neighborhood.

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Photo provided by Richard Bonfond

1961

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Google Street View 2021

2021

2) 3003 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica (1962 to 1985). This was Don Runnalls’ main location that he used for over 20 years. Other than some improved cosmetics, the building is largely intact. As noted earlier, the building is now a Morgan dealership, hidden by a row of trees. (See photos below).

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Photo provided by Richard Bonfond

1962 OR 1963?

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Google Street View 2021

2021

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Google Street View 2021

2021 (ALTERNATE VIEW)

3) 11061 West Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles (1966?). There evidence that Don Runnalls used this address for a brief time in the mid-1960’s. One such example is the following 1966 newspaper advertisement where he quoted this address. A second example showed up in a DS19 maintenance booklet. The maintenance entry is not dated, but based on the prior maintenance stamps, it would have to been about 1966. We believe that this was a second location that he only used briefly, probably only a year, in 1966. The building is still there, now a carpet business.

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Los Angeles Times, May 1966

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Provided by Tim Broers

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Google Street View 2021

4) 3017 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica (~1985 to 1987). Don Runnalls used this building in the mid-1980’s, until he retired and closed up the business completely. Tim Broers indicates that this building was mainly used for parts sales and that Lisette managed this location. Note that this building is at the other end of the block from his main 3003 Pico location. The building at this address is still there. From the front, it doesn’t look much like an automotive facility, but from the back side, it looks more auto-appropriate. 

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Google Street View 2021

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Google Maps 2021

SOURCES

 

Much of the content of this article came from period newspapers and other period literature. 

 

Issue 039 Pacific Citroën News from 2009 contained a memorial for Don Runnalls (written by Richard Bonfond) that provided excellent background. 

 

Richard Bonfond’s book, “What A Ride – Growing Up With Citroën in North America” provided valuable background information and the period photo of the 3003 Pico Boulevard location. 

 

The French website lefigaro.fr contained the great quote from Lisette Runnalls about her relationship with Citroëns. 

 

We would like to thank the following people who helped with the materials / preparation / review of this article (listed alphabetically):

 

Richard Bonfond

Tim Broers

Greg Long

Allan Meyer

Cyril Sars

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Photo provided by Cyril Sars