In the mid 1950’s a man named Richard W. Feder started out his automotive career in the city of San Francisco. Richard had moved west from Ohio in the 1940’s and settled in California after spending time in the Navy.
Richard started out in 1955 working at a Mercedes / Alfa Romeo dealership in San Francisco called, Mille Miglia Motors, located at 898 Van Ness Avenue. Mille Miglia was owned by a former race car driver named, Charles Rezzaghi who had ties to car racing and high performance cars, and so he named his business after the famous Italian car race. Richard Feder once described Charlie Rezzaghi as, “…somewhat of a crook as well as slightly crazy…”. Feder went on to say that while everyone knew Charlie was a crook, he was a charming and likable crook.
Mille Miglia Motors sold Mercedes and Alfa Romeo cars as a sub-distributor for Max Hoffmann, the famous importer of European cars in the 1950’s. By 1957, Mille Miglia Motors had added Citroën, Panhard, Lancia, Studebaker, and Packard.
Richard Feder claimed responsibility for the addition of the Citroën marque to Rezzaghi’s Mille Miglia. Richard once related a story that he had gone on a test drive in a DS19 with a Citroën employee (Lew Sumpter) in mid-1957 and by the time he had driven 50 yards, he was hooked and wanted to represent the cars.
Mille Miglia did not last however, and disappeared by 1958.
San Francisco Examiner, Oct 1957
ONE OF THE FIRST CITROEN ADVERTISEMENTS BY MILLE MIGLIA
THE BIRTH OF EXECUTIVE MOTORS
In 1958, the ambitious Richard Feder stepped in and took control of what was left of Mille Miglia Motors and renamed the business Executive Motors. Charles Rezzaghi went on to try to sell Alfas from a different location at 2715 Hyde Street, but it didn’t last either. Nevertheless, Rezzaghi's name is forever associated with exotic cars, usually of Italian origin
We can presume that Richard Feder learned a lot about the car business from his short time with Charles Rezzaghi at Mille Miglia, as he went on to create a business that lasted 30 years.
San Francisco Examiner, Apr 1958
MILLE MIGLIA MOTORS MORPHED INTO EXECUTIVE MOTORS UNDER RICHARD FEDER’S LEADERSHIP
RICHARD FEDER, LATE 1950’s
From a 2007 New York Times article penned by Barnaby Feder.
When Richard Feder started Executive Motors, he initially adopted four of the Mille Miglia marques; Studebaker, Packard, Mercedes and Citroën. As noted earlier, Rezzaghi took Alfa with him when he left. It is unclear if Richard Feder brought Panhard into the new business, but if he did, he didn’t put much effort into it.
There is talk of Executive Motors offering Maserati and BMW in the early days, but we could find no information to support this. They did however offer Zündapp-Janus cars for a very brief period in the late 1950’s. Zündapp-Janus was a German car that only lasted a year or two, between 1957-1958.
STUDEBAKER AND PACKARD
Below is an early advertisement for Studebaker-Packard cars showing the Executive Motors name. Note that by this time, Studebaker and Packard had merged into a company called the Studebaker-Packard Corporation. But the Studebaker and Packard lines faded away from Executive Motors’ showroom pretty early, leaving Executive Motors as a foreign car only dealership.
Mercedes went off and chose a different dealer in San Francisco, so by 1959, Executive Motors was mostly centered on Citroëns. Dropping other marques and sticking with Citroën was a pattern that would repeat several more times at Executive Motors.
1958 EXECUTIVE MOTORS ADVERTISEMENT FOR STUDEBAKER-PACKARD
San Francisco Examiner, April 1958
Richard Feder wanted a competent service and repair department for his new business. But when he first took over Mille Miglia in 1958, these areas were lacking, if they existed at all. In an article in the June, 2000 edition of a San Francisco Region Citroën Car Club newsletter, Richard Feder describes how his service new department came into being:
“…What happened is that I didn’t have a service department when Charlie (Rezzaghi) and I went separate ways. I had the sales only. I don’t remember how I found those guys on Pacific (Avenue); there was Vern Wells and Sylvio. I thought they could service my cars. Billy (Pribanic) was working for them. I took them over and incorporated them into my business. That was in 1957 (or 1958?). Then Donn Garriott wandered in. Sylvio was so old that you couldn’t read his repair orders, so he had to retire. Donn (Garriott) had a Traction Legere and he came to me asking if he could work there on Saturdays so he could keep his car running. I liked him a lot! He was very shy, loved Citroën, and knew something about cars. He must have been 18 or 19 at the time. I hired him full time and made him the service guy. Billy (Pribanic) was our top mechanic and Donn learned from him. They maintained and enhanced our excellent service reputation…”
When Feder took over Mille Miglia and started Executive Motors, he located the service part of the business at a different location, just a few blocks away (1625 Pacific Avenue).
By 1960, Richard Feder moved Executive Motors again, this time to 1255 California Street in San Francisco; a location where they would stay for a number of years. This location was again only a few city blocks from the prior locations.
Oakland Tribune, Nov 1959
1959 CITROEN ADVERTISEMENT SHOWING EXECUTIVE MOTORS AT THE 1625 PACIFIC AVENUE LOCATION
From a 2007 New York Times article penned by Barnaby Feder.
RICHARD FEDER AND FAMILY (PHOTO DATE UNKNOWN, LIKELY EARLY 1960'S)
ROVER AND LAND ROVER
In 1960, Executive Motors brought on the Rover and Land Rover marques, but these were not successful for Richard and they clearly had trouble selling them. Once such indicator is that by the summer of 1963, they were still trying to sell a remaining 1960 model! The Rover and Land Rover marques faded from Executive Motors by about 1965 when another dealer in the same neighborhood took them over (Paul Felton Imports). Executive Motors soldiered on once again, mostly with Citroën.
ROVER AND LAND ROVER BROUGHT INTO EXECUTIVE MOTORS IN 1960
Oakland Tribune, June 1960
Provided by Richard Bonfond, circa 1960
TOYOTA AND SAAB
In the mid-1960’s, Executive Motors briefly offered Amphicars and Glas sports cars (with near zero success), but bigger change happened in 1965 when they decided to bring on Toyota, soon followed by SAAB. SAAB lasted at Executive Motors a while, but Toyota did not. It has been reported that Feder’s relationship with Toyota soured quickly and somehow resulted in a nasty lawsuit. Our research indicates that Feder’s relationship with Toyota both began and ended in 1965.
San Francisco Examiner, August 1965
ANNOUNCEMENT THAT EXECUTIVE MOTORS WOULD TAKE ON TOYOTA IN 1965
San Francisco Examiner, Dec 1966
1966 SAAB ADVERTISEMENT FOR EXECUTIVE MOTORS
San Francisco Examiner, Sept 1965
1965 TOYOTA AD SHOWING EXECUTIVE MOTORS AS A DEALER. IS THIS AD KIND OF RACIST?
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Executive Motors tried adding new locations that were primarily intended for new SAAB Sales, but were used for other functions as well, such as for repairs, used car sales, etc. They had one location in Santa Clara at 1389 El Camino which appears to have lasted only one year (1968). SAAB sales were then moved to 1859 West San Carlos Street in San Jose in the 1969-1971 time-frame.
Executive Motors relationship with SAAB ended in the early 1970’s, leaving them once again primarily focused on Citroën.
As with most Citroën dealers in North America, Executive offered the Mehari for a few years in the 1969-1970 time frame.
Executive did very little to promote the Mehari, but we believe that they did sell a few.
MEHARI ADVERTISEMENT SHOWING TWO OF EXECUTIVE MOTORS' LOCATIONS
San Francisco Examiner, Nov 1970
Executive Motors was selected by Citroën to handle the SM model, which was not the case for many of their other long-standing dealerships. Below is a full page Citroën-sponsored advertisement for the SM from June of 1973, showing Executive Motors as the sole San Francisco SM dealer. Notice that Executive Motors is now listed at yet another address, 1635 California Street in San Francisco.
Los Angeles Times, Jul 1973
HUGE FULL PAGE ADVERTISEMENT FOR THE SM IN THE L.A. TIMES
THE DECLINE AND THE RESURRECTION
After Citroën stopped selling the SM’s in North America at the end of 1973, Executive Motors’ advertising dropped off dramatically. This is not surprising since they no longer had any new cars to sell, thus starting the inevitable decline of the business. By 1974, repairs, parts, and used car sales were the name of the game in the Citroën world in North America. And Richard Feder knew that a change was necessary.
In 1975, several Executive Motors employees decided to take over parts of the business from Richard in a move that effectively split the existing company into two companies. The December 6, 1975 issue of the San Francisco Examiner newspaper had two new business applications on the legal notices page:
The first application was for a car repair facility located on the second floor of a building in San Francisco at 1650 Pacific Avenue. This application was filed by one of the stalwart early employees of Executive Motors (and a huge Citroën enthusiast) named Donn Garriott. Donn’s new repair business was to be called, Citroën and European Car Service. Billy Pribanic was another key player at Executive Motors’ service department and he became a partner in Citroën and European Car Service.
The second new business legal notice was filed by another long-term Executive Motors employee named Peter Watkins, who had been doing accounting work as well as working as a salesman for Executive Motors. Peter took over the first floor at 1650 Pacific Ave. and continued to sell used cars, still using the Executive Motors name.
RICHARD FEDER HANDS THE REIGNS OF EXECUTIVE MOTORS OVER TO DONN GARRIOTT AND PETER WATKINS IN THE MID-1970’s
San Francisco Examiner, Dec 1975
These legal announcements suggest that Richard Feder was out and Donn Garriott and Peter Watkins were in. But in actuality, we understand that Richard Feder was still involved in the business(es) after the 1975 split.
Another well-known name in Citroën circles emerged from the days of Executive Motors; Peter Koine. Peter had immigrated from Germany in the early 1960’s and ended up as a mechanic at Executive Motors in about 1970. Peter went on to join Donn Garriott and Billy Pribanic at Citroen and European Car Service after Executive split into two parts in the mid-1970’s. Another employee named in the operation of the new businesses was Brian Oldroyd.
Photo provided by Richard Bonfond, photo date unknown, but likely mid-1960's
June, 2000 issue of the San Francisco Region Citroën Car Club Newsletter. Date of photo unknown, but from the haircuts and mustaches, likely from the 1970’s
CORVETTES AND CAMAROS?
In the late 1970’s, the name "Executive Motors" was briefly associated with used Camaro and Corvette sales in Santa Clara (4101 Stevens Creek Boulevard, Santa Clara). We have been unable to link this company with Richard Feder or Peter Watkins, but it would seem somewhat odd for two dealerships to have the exact same name and be located within 40 miles from each other unless they were related. Whatever this operation was, it didn’t last. This Camaro/Corvette venture started and ended in 1978.
By the early 1980’s, Executive Motors picked-up advertising and ran ads for used cars, mostly DS’s, SM’s, and occasionally other marques. By the mid-1980’s, about the only thing they were advertising were used SM’s, now 10-15 years old. We noticed that it must have been very hard to sell an SM at this point. They ran ads for the same cars, over and over, sometimes for months. They were even offering a “warrantee” on these used SM’s that matched the factory warrantee. But it didn’t seem to help sell the cars. Clearly, the end was coming.
Executive Motors continued to sell used cars, often used SM’s, until 1987 or 1988 when the car sales branch came to an end, thus bringing an end to the Executive Motors name, after a 30-year run.
In the meantime, Don Garriott and Billy Pribanic’s repair service (Citroën and European Car Service) remained busy. Donn, Billy, and Peter soldiered on another dozen years with Citroën and European Car Service but they eventually retired and closed the business in 2001.
Donn has gone on to be an invaluable technical resource for many Citroën owners. Now well in his 80’s, Donn is still occasionally working on Citroëns from his home in Browns Valley, CA.
Provided by Richard Bonfond
After Citroën and European Car Service closed its doors, Peter Koine opened a repair shop of his own called, PWK Import - Export. Peter is still helping local owners with their Citroëns.
Peter Watkins retired to Florida (we have been unable to reach Peter for this article).
Billy (Zvonko) Pribanic passed away in 2008 at the age of 82.
Richard Feder retired to Boulder, Colorado and passed away in 2008.
Photo provided by Richard Bonfond from his book, “What a Ride - Growing up with Citroën in North America.” Photo circa 2001
EXECUTIVE MOTORS TEAM REUNITED
From left to right; Cecil Harper (Citroën Cars Corporation), Donn Garriott, Peter Watkins, Peter Koine, Richard Feder, Billy Pribanic, and Brian Oldroyd
EARLY EXECUTIVE MOTORS SURVIVOR?
Amazingly, there is a very early DS survivor that is thought to have been originally sold from Executive Motors in 1958. Greg Long of Kirkland, Washington is the owner of a 1956 DS19 with the unusually low serial number of 4086, making it one of the very first to reach the shores of North America. This car is in near perfect original and unrestored condition. This car is rumored to have been a demonstrator car for Executive Motors, which would explain the 2-year gap between its model year (1956) and its original sales date (1958).
Photo provided by Greg Long
EXECUTIVE MOTORS’ LOCATIONS
Executive Motors is associated numerous locations. Unfortunately, we were only able to find one photo from any of these locations. Most of the buildings are now gone.
San Francisco locations:
1465 Van Ness, San Francisco – Executive Motors (1958 - 1959)
1625 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco – Executive Motors Service Location (1959)
1255 California Street, San Francisco – Executive Motors (1960 - 1971)
1635 California Street, San Francisco – Executive Motors (1971 - 1973)
1650 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco – Executive Motors and Citroen and European (1973 – 1982)
411 Airport Boulevard, South San Francisco - Citroen and European Car Service (1982 – 1990’s)
128 Starlite Street, San Francisco - Citroen and European Car Service (1990’s - 2001)
1389 El Camino, Santa Clara (1968, primarily for SAAB)
1859 West San Carlos Avenue, San Jose (1969-71, primarily for SAAB)
Google Maps, 2021
Photo provided by Greg Long
CITROEN AND EUROPEAN CAR SERVICE’S LAST LOCATION -
PHOTO LIKELY FROM THE 1990’s
Most of the content of this article has been obtained from period newspapers and other media sources. The San Francisco Public Library has digitized City Directories which helped us understand Executive Motors’ locations and addresses. Some content was obtained from old issues of the California Citroën Car Club newsletters. The June, 2000 issue of the San Francisco Region Citroën Car Club Newsletter was particularly helpful.
An article written by one of Richard Feder’s sons (Barnaby Feder) published in the New York Times in 2007 helped us fill in some gaps.
We would like to offer a special thank you to a few individuals who helped us piece this story together (listed alphabetically); Richard Bonfond, Chris Dubuque, Donn Garriott, Peter Koine, and Greg Long.