Frank Millard

NEW 7/2022

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Los Angeles Public Library

Of all of the personalities we have profiled on this website, Frank Millard has to be one of the more eccentric. Frank Millard ran a sports car dealership in Encino, California from 1957 to 1969. And yes, he offered Citroëns for a while!

 

Frank cozied up to Hollywood movie stars, and eventually went into business with one! Read on to find more about the eccentric Frank Millard, his association with Citroën, and what movie star he went into business with. 

 

 

FRANK MILLARD

 

Frank Millard was born in about 1918 and grew up on the east coast of the USA. Per an old article in the Van Nuys News, a young Frank Millard, at the age of 14, snuck out of an orphanage in Rhode Island and made his way west. He lied about his age and got a job as a cook on a ship. After a few years on the seas, he ended up in Los Angeles and got into the restaurant business. He is said to have stayed in the restaurant business for about 14 years, but then became interested in selling cars. 

JOHN C. MEHAN

 

Before we go any deeper into Frank Millard’s history, let’s for a minute go back to the 1930’s, when a man named John Collier Mehan was running a car dealership in North Hollywood operating under his own name, John C. Mehan. He initially sold Pontiacs, followed by Hudsons. But by the late 1940’s, he had started dabbling with English cars, including MG, Hillman, Morris, and Alvis. He was operating from 12001 Ventura Boulevard in North Hollywood, but he had a few earlier addresses.

 

Sometime around 1950*, the John C. Mehan company hired Frank Millard to be a salesman, thus marking the start of Frank Millard’s career in the automotive world. Frank would have been in his early 30's.

 

*We were unable to find the exact date Mehan hired Frank Millard, but it has to be between about 1949 and early 1951. 

 

Tragedy hit the company in May of 1951 when at the age of 43, John C. Mehan unexpectedly died of a heart attack. After his untimely death, the business fell into the hands of his widow, Chloe Mehan, perhaps with some assistance from his sister, Grace Mehan. 

 

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LA Daily News, Oct 1952

CHLOE MEHAN RUNS THE BUSINESS AFTER JOHN C. DIED

Chloe Mehan kept the business open after her husband died, still selling a handful of British cars such as MG, Morris, Austin, Hillman, Sunbeam, Humber, and Rover. By about 1952, Frank Millard had been promoted to a manager.

 

In late 1953, for unknown reasons, she closed the business down. So, by the end of 1953, the building they had been using at 12001 Ventura Boulevard was now something called, Gene Klein Automobiles, still selling British cars. The Frank C. Mehan reign was over.

CLEM ATWATER

 

When Frank C. Mehan’s dealership was closing down in late 1953, Frank Millard found himself out of a job. He then went to work for a newly formed auto dealer in nearby Encino, called Clem Atwater Sport Cars. Frank was again appointed a general manager. 

Clem Atwater operated his new business from 15531 Ventura Boulevard in Encino, a few miles west of John C. Mehan’s old location on Ventura Boulevard. 

 

We can presume that Frank Millard was becoming very familiar with the car business by now, and in particular, British cars. 

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Valley Times, June 1953

FIRST CAR SOLD FROM CLEM ATWATER SPORT CARS, FRANK MILLARD ON THE LEFT

LA public LIbrary 1953.jpeg

Los Angeles Public Library

FRANK MILLARD (LEFT) WHILE AT CLEM ATWATER - 1953

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Valley Times, Dec 1954

Clem Atwater initially offered a variety of English cars, including Austin, Austin Healey, Morris, and Jaguar. Later on, he added Porsche, Mercedes, Borgward, Alfa Romeo, and others.

 

Clem Atwater’s business soldiered on in various incarnations for several decades (into the 1980’s), but something interesting happened in 1957. Read on to find out what it was.

FRANK MILLARD SETS OUT ON HIS OWN

 

With several years of experience at these two dealerships, Frank Millard decided to strike out on his own. By early 1957, he had his own sport car dealership up-and-running under the name Frank Millard Sport Cars. His grand opening was in February, 1957. He was initially selling British sport cars, something he clearly knew about, having spent the previous few years selling them for Mehan and then Atwater. 

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Valley Times, Feb 1957

Frank Millard’s business was operated out of the same address that Clem Atwater had used (15531 Ventura Boulevard, Encino). Oddly, Clem Atwater still advertised using this address for about another year, even though Frank Millard was clearly running his business out of this building. Perhaps there had been a gradual transition as Clem Atwater phased out and Frank Millard phased in? Or a temporary shared use of the property? Either way, by 1959, Clem Atwater disappeared altogether for a few years (only to return in 1961 with a new location in Canoga Park). 

 

The business at 15531 Ventura Boulevard was now fully Frank Millard’s.…Or was it?

THE ROY ROGERS CONNECTION

 

Roy Rogers was an American singer and actor. He starred in numerous movies of the “Western” genre and had his own TV show in the 1950’s. 

Its seems that Frank Millard and Roy Rogers were friends. For one thing, an article we found indicated that Frank Millard and his wife Pauline were bowling buddies with Roy Rogers, well before he started his dealership. Also, in 1955, when Frank Millard was working at Clem Atwater’s dealership, he sold Roy Rogers a specially equipped 1956 Jaguar XK140. And this Jaguar still exists! Here it is in a recent photo. 

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Country Music Hall of Fame

ROY ROGERS IN THE 1940's

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carandclassic.com

ROY ROGER’S JAGUAR, AS SEEN TODAY

It turns out that Roy Rogers partnered with Frank Millard when he started his business in 1957. Being a popular movie star at this time, we suspect that Roy Rogers was funding much of the operation as well as lending his star-power to attract customers. Frank Millard’s contribution was that he knew the car business well, and by all accounts, was quite a salesman. 

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Valley Times, Apr 1958

ONE OF THE MANY FRANK MILLARD ADVERTISEMENTS THAT CAPITALIZED ON ROY ROGERS' STAR POWER

"WHERE THE STARS BUY THEIR CARS"

Slogan widely used in Frank Millard’s advertising

The relationship between Frank Millard and Roy Rogers lasted from 1957 to 1963. But it was in the summer of 1963 when Frank Millard bought out Roy Rogers’ portion of the business. Frank was now on his own. 

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Valley Times, Jul 1963

FRANK MILLARD AND ROY ROGERS SEVER THEIR BUSINES RELATIONSHIP IN 1963

THE MAN IN RED

 

When Frank Millard started his dealership in 1957, he knew that he somehow needed to stand out from the rest of the pack, recognizing that there were dozens of sport car dealerships all over the Los Angeles area in this time period selling the same type of cars that he was. But what could he do to really make an impression on potential car buyers? He was a prolific advertiser in local papers. He initially had Roy Rogers’ star power. But was this enough? Apparently not for Frank. 

 

Frank and his wife, Pauline, decided to come up with a “shtick” and they landed on the “Man in Red” theme. They decided that he would dress, head-to-toe, in red. He is reported to have gone to various tailors and ordered full wardrobes, all in red. Coats, pants, shoes, tuxedos, even undergarments…all red. Even his dealership was decorated floor-to-ceiling in red; wallpaper, furniture, even carpet. 

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ffcompendium.com

MATCHBOOK FROM FRANK MILLARD’S DEALERSHIP

We read that he bought a new 1957 Cadillac 75 Limousine and had Frank Millard Sport Cars painted on the side in gold and paraded it around Los Angeles to promote his business. What color do you think this Cadillac was? You guessed it… bright red. (Too bad we couldn’t find a photo of it.) 

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LOS ANGELES PUBLIC LIBRARY

NO MONKEY BUSINESS AT FRANK MILLARD’S SPORT CARS – 1959 PHOTO

[ADRIENNE THE MONKEY (LEFT) AND FRANK MILLARD (RIGHT)]

CITROEN

 

By the end of his first year of business (1957), Frank Millard was an authorized dealer for a variety of cars including; MG, Jaguar, Austin Healey, AC Ace, Alfa Romeo, Borgward, Hillman, Sunbeam, Facel Vega, Mercedes, Morris, and maybe a few others.

 

One of the "other" marques he started selling in the fall of 1957 was Citroën! In October of this year, Frank Millard was suddenly listed as one of the ten authorized dealers in the Los Angeles area for Citroën DS19’s. The other nine were; Citroën themselves on Wilshire Boulevard, Crenshaw Sports Cars, Moench-Davis Imports, Williamson Motors, Clifford T. Nutt, Ranchero Motors, Hamer Motors, Nick Pastor, and Campbell Motors. 

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Excerpt from the 1960 Citroën dealer directory

Frank Millard only handled Citroën for a few years and by 1961 he had given up. As such, Frank Millard was not one of the important Citroën dealers in the USA. But since he is listed in the old dealer directories, we wanted to look into his business. 

 

It looks like by July of 1961, he was trying to unload the very last new Citroën he had in stock; a 1961 ID19 Comfort model. 

We were unable to find any more details about Frank Millard’s association with Citroën. No brochures, no known surviving cars, or no photos connecting him to Citroën. Frank Millard was mostly a British car guy. 

FRANK MILLARD’S LAST NEW CITROEN FOR SALE?

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Van Nuys News, Jul 1961

FRANK MILLARD MIXES IT UP

 

During the 1960’s, Frank Millard tried to expand his offerings (somewhat unsuccessfully it seems) to include; Fiat, Alfa, BMW, SAAB, Volvo, all in addition to his British cars. Maybe a few lesser marques here-and-there as well, such as a short flirtation with the German Amphicar. 

GET A FREE GOGOMOBILE WITH YOUR NEW FACEL AT FRANK MILLARD SPORT CARS

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Valley Times, Jan 1960

By the early 1960’s, had also given up on a handful of his unsuccessful 1950’s offerings, including; Borgward, Citroën, Berkeley, Hillman, Gogomobile, Dual-Ghia, and a few others. Mercedes was gone from Frank Millard’s business by the early 1960’s as well (probably a Mercedes’ decision, not Frank Millard’s). 

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Los Angeles Public Library

FRANK MILLARD SHOWING OFF A NEW BMC PRINCESS IN 1965

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Los Angeles Public Library

FRANK MILLARD (RIGHT) HANDS THE KEYS OF A NEW MG (WON IN A CONTEST) TO THE NEW OWNER IN 1962

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Los Angeles Public Library

FRANK MILLARD (LEFT) SIGNING UP FOR THE VOLVO MARQUE IN AUGUST OF 1961

APOLLO GT

 

We had to look this one up, but the Apollo was a hand-built car that used Italian bodywork and American-sourced running gear, including various Buick V8 engines. The final assembly of the cars was in California. There were several body styles of the Apollo, including a convertible and the more common coupe. In 1964, Frank Millard became interested in this low-volume sports car. 

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Source: Unknown

FRANK MILLARD INVITATION TO VIEW THE APOLLO GT

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silodrome.com

SURVIVING 1963 APOLLO 3500 GT

As you could probably guess, the Apollo did not succeed. Only a 42 cars were made before they ceased operations in 1964 due to financing issues. A handful of additional cars were made by various enthusiasts who had tried to revive production in the mid and late-1960's. A commercial failure perhaps, but a really, really beautiful car. 

Frank Millard was apparently smitten with this car and planned to offer them at his dealership. It is not clear how many (if any) he actually sold. 

ASTON MARTIN

 

In the early 1960’s, Frank Millard took on the Aston Martin marque and even managed to get one of the James Bond DB5 cars displayed on his car lot (see photo below). Notice the “Man in Red” wording on the sign in the background. 

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Los Angeles Public Library

MAY 1965 PHOTO OF AN ASTON MARTIN DB5 FITTED WITH JAMES BOND GADGETS 

We became interested in this car, and in particular why it was in the USA in 1965. After a bit of research, we believe that the MI6community.com and Hagerty.com websites might have the answer. This car was either chassis number DB5/2008/R or DB5/2017/R, both built for the James Bond Goldfinger movie (two others were used in filming, for a total of four similarly-equipped movie cars). These two cars were shipped to the USA for promotional purposes in 1964 and 1965. They were fitted with the usual James Bond gadgets, including machine guns behind the turn signals, rotating license plate holder, bullet shield in the rear, etc. 

 

The car was displayed at Frank Millard's on May 22 and 23, of 1965. The man on the left in the photo is of course Frank Millard, but on the right is Michael Ashley, Aston Martin’s sales manager at the time. Michael Ashley narrated a short video about these cars and their various promotional appearances and it is a great watch. Find it here

JEEP AND DATSUN

 

By 1964, Frank Millard had taken on the Jeep marque, now billing himself as a 4 wheel-drive truck dealer in addition to his sport cars. 

 

Frank used a different location for this new truck venture (15611 Ventura Boulevard), but it was located adjacent to his main location, where he was still selling the sport cars. 

 

Amazingly, a nice photo exists of his truck sales location. 

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Los Angeles Public Library

FRANK MILLARD SPORT CARS WAS SHIFITING FOCUS AWAY FROM BRITISH CARS (1964 PHOTO)

According to the caption associated with the above photo, the man on the left was assistant manager of the truck sales lot, Val “B.B.” West and on the right, his boss, Calvin Strong. Both men worked for Frank Millard.

 

Notice that the Datsun name shows up on the billboard in the background of the photo. Apparently, he was briefly selling Datsun trucks at his 4-WD center, but Datsun did not seem to be a big part of his offerings and faded away. Jeep apparently worked for him however, and lasted until the end. He initially offered the CJ-series but later on Jeepsters and Wagoneers were on his lots. 

THE COOT

 

In 1967 or 1968, Frank got involved in selling a really odd 4-WD vehicle, the amphibious COOT. The COOT was built for about 20 years (~1964-1985) and had a memorable chassis design whereby the aft part of hull can rotate (or twist) relative to the front hull as the vehicle goes over rough terrain. 

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riverdavesplace.com

COOT OFF-ROAD VEHICLE

VOLVO LAPLANDER

 

Frank Millard is said to have purchased a Volvo Laplander after a trip to Sweden. It was reported that it was the only one in the USA at the time. One can get a glimpse of one of his dealership buildings in the background. 

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motortrend.com

VOLVO LAPLANDER AT FRANK MILLARD’S IN 1966

THE END

 

Frank Millard, The Man in Red, died in January of 1968 at the age of 50. Prophetically, Frank Millard suffered the same fate as his first employer, John C. Mehan; a heart attack at an early age. 

 

Without Frank at the helm, the business did not last. On January 11, 1970, Millard’s remaining cars, business fixtures, and tools were auctioned off by court order. An auction notice we found indicated that there were 74 new and used cars remaining, including a smattering of Jaguars, MG’s, Jeeps, Lotus, Mercedes, etc. 

 

The Frank Millard empire was gone. 

 

It is unclear who operated the business for the nearly 2 years it lingered on after Frank’s Death. 

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Van Nuys News, Jan 1968.

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Los Angeles Times, Jan 1970

Frank’s legacy seems to have endured time a bit better than some other sport car dealers in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and we attribute this to three things:

 

  • Frank seemed to have a keen sense of promotional tactics. As examples, he associated his business with a very popular movie star, he adopted the attention getting “Man in Red” theme, and he even resorted to a number of smaller things, such as using animals at his dealership (remember Adrienne the monkey? We think there was a bulldog as well). 

  • He was a prolific advertiser. Every year he placed hundreds, if not thousands, of ads in the local newspapers. 

  • By luck, some really wonderful photos happen to still exist of Frank Millard and his business, which helps keep his memory from fading away.

LOCATIONS

 

Frank Millard had three locations we found during his reign from 1957-1969. 

 

15531 Ventura Boulevard, Encino, CA (1957-1969)

This main dealership location had been used by Clem Atwater before Frank Millard took it over. It was then used by Frank Millard Sport Cars from when he first opened in 1957 until when their doors closed in late 1969. 

 

After Frank Millard, Gabriel and Olsen Porsche/Audi moved into this location. The entire area has subsequently been redeveloped so there is no trace of the original building(s). 

 

We were unable to find any photos of the original building used by Clem Atwater, Frank Millard, or by Gabriel and Olsen Porsche/Audi. But at least there are glimpses in a few of the above photos. 

 

 

15611 Ventura Boulevard (about 1964 to 1968)

This was the location Frank Millard used for his truck center. We first picked up the trail for Frank Millard’s truck center in 1964. This location shut down in October of 1969. 

 

This lot still looks somewhat similar, with the same International House of Pancakes restaurant in the background. 

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Los Angeles Public Library

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Google Street View 2021

15601 Ventura Boulevard (1967-1969)

This was a third location used by Millard, and it was very close to the first two. This address was only used for the last few years of operation, in addition to his main location at 15531 Ventura Boulevard. We cannot find any photos of this location.