Larry Reed Sports Cars
“For the sports car you need – See Larry Reed”
Larry Reed operated a sports car dealership in the Los Angeles area for a quarter of a century. He offered a variety of cars from England, Italy, Germany, Sweden, and France. He offered Citroëns briefly in the 1970’s.
One of the main reasons we are profiling Larry Reed was that he played a critical role in the launch Jerry Hathaway’s business, SM World. Read on to find out how.
We couldn’t find much about the personal life of Larry Reed - almost nothing in fact. I was however, able to find out that he was born on December 15, 1916 and from an early age he had an interest in cars. One article I found indicates that at the age of 13, he and a friend built a car out of junkyard parts.
Fast forward to 1950 when he got a job as a salesman at a British car dealership in Los Angeles called Williamson Motors, located at 3153 W. Pico Boulevard. He would have been about 33 years old. He was apparently successful as a salesman at Williamson Motors since he won a sales award from the Rootes group in 1952. A postcard of Williamson Motors is shown below.
LARRY REED (RIGHT) RECEIVING A SALES AWARD FROM THE ROOTES GROUP
LA Times, Apr 1952
LARRY REED SPORTS CARS, INC.
In mid-1953, Larry Reed decided to strike out on his own and announced that he would open his own dealership to sell English cars - in direct competition with his old employer, Williamson Motors.
Larry Reed’s new business was open by the summer of 1953, selling a variety of Rootes Group cars; Hillman, Sunbeam, Rover, Humber, Rover, and MG.
Larry Reed’s dealership went by the name of Larry Reed Sports Cars, Inc. The business was initially located at 5208 Centinela Avenue in Los Angeles, a few miles away from Williamson Motors.
LA Times, July 1953
Throughout the 1950’s, Larry Reed added many different cars to his offerings. These included Triumph in late 1953 (initially with the TR2) and various English Fords soon after. By the mid-1950’s, he had added the German Lloyd, the English Swallow Doretti, and the French Renault (although none of these marques were successful for him and faded away quickly).
LA Times, April 1955
By the late 1950’s he had added Volvo (initially with the rugged PV544), Alfa Romeo, and the German Borgward.
As new cars were being added, Larry Reed began to let the less successful marques fade away. Several went out of business, such as Swallow Doretti (which gave up after only making a few hundred cars), Borgward, and Lloyd (both of which went out of business in 1963).
West Coast Sports Journal, 1955
THE 1960's - LARRY REED’s DECADE OF EXPANSION
Throughout the 1950's, Larry Reed operated out of a single location on Centinela Avenue in L.A. The 1960’s however was a decade of expansion for Larry Reed as he added several locations; one in Torrance, California (1960), one on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles (1966), and a second location on Centinela Avenue (1969).
But problems soon arose with the Pico Boulevard location. Larry Reed wanted to sell and service his cars from this location, but the landlord of the property refused to upgrade the facility to comply with the latest city rules for auto maintenance. This forced Larry Reed to abandon the Pico location after just a year or so. He instead moved to 9022 Wilshire Boulevard in 1967.
In the 1960's, Larry Reed also continued to experiment with a variety of different imported cars. The early 1960’s brought the addition of BMW (Isetta), Fiat, Singer, and the French Simca. Fiat was the most successful of these additions and he stuck with Fiat until the end. The rest - not so much.
By the mid-1960’s, he had homed in on Fiat, Rover, Land Rover, Triumph, and Volvo. He was also still offering Sunbeam and Simca, which by now were both affiliated with Chrysler.
ONE OF LARRY REED'S LOCATIONS - BUT WHICH ONE?
In the mid-1960’s, he dabbled a bit selling campers on Ford, Chevrolet, and GMC platforms. But this seemed a short-lived endeavor and by the summer of 1965, he was advertising a close-out on all of his campers.
By the late 1960’s, he had added Saab with the charming and durable model 96.
In 1969 and 1970 he offered a shockingly homely Italian car called a Siata Spring, a low volume car based on Fiat 850 floorpan and mechanicals. The Siata Spring in the photo below was originally sold by Larry Reed and turned up on Bring a Trailer in 2016.
LARRY REED SOLD A FEW SIATA SPRINGS
Throughout much of the 1960’s, Larry Reed was a sponsor of local car racing, usually with Sunbeam cars. There are few photos floating around of his sponsored cars, such as the following.
Pacific Tiger Club Newsletter, 2017
I THINK THE DRIVER IS SUMBEAM GURU GORDON CHITTENDEN IN A SUMBEAM TIGER THAT WAS SPONSORED BY LARRY REED
LARRY REED AND CITROEN
Everyone associates Larry Reed with the SM model only, but in fact he started selling Meharis in the middle of 1970, a year before the first SM’s started trickling into North America. Some of these Mehari ads from 1970 also mentioned that he was selling DS models (look closely at this Mehari ad). But based on memories and everything we can find in-print, we do not think he ever was very devoted to the DS model and most likely sold very few. Furthermore, Citroën stopped importing the Mehari at the end of 1970, so his Mehari days were limited to a less than a year.
Larry Reed began offering the SM when they became available in North America, but with very little fanfare or advertising. In fact, he barely advertised Citroëns at all, except for a few large format ads in 1970 for the Mehari.
It should be noted that SM’s were being sold at other nearby dealers in Los Angeles, including Irv White Buick (a mere 3 miles away).
LA Times, June 1970
MEHARI - "THE CAR YOU COULDN'T CARE LESS ABOUT" - NO KIDDING
JERRY HATHAWAY AND LARRY REED SPORTS CARS
The last paragraph is a good segue to discuss Irv White’s Buick dealership. In the mid-1960’s, Irv White hired a young mechanic to work on Buicks - not just any mechanic - he hired Jerry Hathaway. As we all know, Jerry Hathaway took an instant liking to the SM when they started showing up at Irv White’s dealership in 1972, thus allowing Hathaway to start honing his SM skills. Hathaway worked for Irv White until 1974, but was then hired away by Larry Reed to come work at Larry Reed Sports Cars. Larry Reed allowed Jerry to focus entirely on SM's and in return, Jerry brought with him all of the SM customers who had been going to Irv White for service.
But Jerry’s employment with Larry Reed would be short. Jerry Hathaway once recounted a story about Larry Reed and Citroën. The story was that in 1976, while Larry Reed was trying to bring the Lancia marque into his dealership, Lancia officials thought that he was carrying too many different marques and insisted that he thin down his offerings. By then, Citroën had stopped selling new cars in North America, so the Citroën franchise was an easy target for Larry Reed to drop. Larry Reed turned to his SM mechanic, Jerry Hathaway, and the two concocted a deal whereby Larry would give his Citroën business to Jerry for free if Jerry would purchase the SM tooling and spare parts inventory. Jerry jumped at the opportunity and this of course was the start of Jerry’s own business, SM World, an institution that lasted over 40 years. You can read more about Irv White Buick and Jerry Hathaway HERE.
IRV WHITE BILLBOARD
The Citroën dealer directories only show Larry Reed in the 1972 edition, but in reality, he was in the mix longer. To be specific, he started his Citroën experience in 1970 (when he announced he was selling Meharis) and ended it in 1976 (when handed the Citroën part of his business over to Jerry Hathaway).
After Citroëns were gone from his dealership, he focused on a much smaller stable of cars and by the mid-1970’s, he was selling just Fiat and Lancia, with a few Maseratis sprinkled in to add some spice.
Larry Reed stuck with Fiat and Lancia until their sales dropped precipitously in the late 1970’s. (Wikipedia notes that Fiat’s sales in the USA dropped 85% between 1975 and 1982). Since Larry Reed had all his eggs in the Fiat/Lancia basket, his business was pretty much over with this sales decline.
In 1979, at the age of 62, he pulled the plug and closed his business.
Larry Reed died on February 12, 2011 at the age 94.
Redondo Reflex, Mar 1970
5208 Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles (1953 - 1974)
This was Larry Reed’s first location. He used it until 1974 when it became Bill Krause Honda. Today there is no trace of a car dealership at this address.
LA Times, Feb 1968
LARRY REED'S ORIGINAL LOCATION ON CENTINELA
19019 Hawthrone Street, Torrance (1960 - 1979)
In 1960, Larry Reed opened this facility in nearby Torrance. He kept this location until he closed in 1979. After Larry Reed, a company called Del Amo Fiat/Lancia continued from this address for a couple of years but Del Amo had to switch to AMC/Jeep/Renault after the collapse of Fiat/Lancia North America in 1983. The area has been completely redeveloped and so there is no trace of the original building.
LA Times, Feb 1968
LARRY REED'S DEALERSHIP IN TORRANCE
9830 Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles (1966 – 1968)
Larry Reed started using this location in February of 1966, but Larry Reed’s landlord refused to make some upgrades to the property to allow Larry Reed to perform auto maintenance. This forced Larry Reed to give up on the location after a year or two. Larry Reed instead moved to the Wilshire Boulevard property.
9022 – 9024 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles (1967 - 1979)
This location was first used by Larry Reed in 1967. He moved to this location after having a dispute with his landlord at the Pico Boulevard property that he wanted to use for Sunbeam sales and service.
Larry Reed had a bit of a dispute with the city on this location as well. It seems that the city of L.A. thought his proposed signage was too garish, so they forced him to install the small, conservative sign you see in the photo below.
The building has been used by a variety of occupants over the years, including Zipper BMW, Beverly Hills Lotus, and a McClaren dealer. It is currently a Lucid dealership. It looks like it is the building has survived to this day, but the Lucid people put a new facade on it.
This is the address that shows up in the Citroën dealer directory.
LA Times, Feb 1968
Google Street View, 2018
Google Street View, 2022
5288 Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles (~1969 - 1971)
This location was listed as a Larry Reed property for a few years. It is now a fast-food restaurant.
Google Maps, 2023