Marty's Foreign Motors
Pierre Marty (1950's)
Marty’s Foreign Motors was a dealership that sold imported motorcycles and small imported cars in southern California from the early 1950’s to the early 2000’s. Marty’s also was an authorized Citroën dealer for over a dozen years, between 1959 and 1972.
Marty’s managed to stay in business a long time (about 50 years if you include the subsequent owner’s reign). But for a business that was around this long, they went way under the media radar and so it was really hard to find much information about Pierre Marty and his early days in business. As a result, we would love to have your help! Do you know anything about Marty’s Foreign Motors or its founder, Pierre Marty? If so, please contact us.
Here is what we did find….
Pierre Paul Marty was a Frenchman, born in 1912. He married a German woman named Else Frick, and the couple started a business called Marty’s Foreign Motors, in Culver City, a suburb of Los Angles in 1952. Pierre Marty would have been about 40 years old.
The first advertisements that we can find for their business were in September of 1952 and were for Zundapp motorcycles. Less than a year later they were advertising several German motorcycles including; Zundapp, NSU, BMW, and DKW. German Heinkel scooters showed up at Marty’s in the 1950’s as well.
Evening Vanguard (Venice) Aug 1953
Below are two wonderful 1950’s photos of Pierre Marty standing in front of his dealership with new motorcycles.
PHOTOS OF PIERRE MARTY IN FRONT OF HIS SHOP WITH A BARTALI AND A DKW MOTORCYCLE - PHOTOS ARE LIKELY MID-1950’s
YAMAHA AND HONDA
In the late 1950’s, Marty added Yamaha and Honda motorcycles, his first ventures into Japanese products. Pierre seemed to gravitate to German or European marques and it was a bit rare for him to offer Japanese products. But he was not dismissive of Japanese motorcycles.
The Catalina Grand Prix was a motorcycle race held annually between 1950 and 1958 on the island of Santa Catalina, off the coast of Los Angeles. Pierre Marty was involved with these races, and it is our understanding that he sponsored (or at least facilitated) Yamaha’s participation in the 1950’s. There are a few videos of the Catalina Grand Prix floating around and you can catch a glimpse of Pierre Marty in the following 1958 Catalina Grand Prix video when Yamaha motorcycles were being offloaded from a freighter and readied for the race. You can spot him at 3:10 with his characteristic smile. He is seeming to be showing his Japanese visitors the wonders of an American parking lot....
CATALINA GRAND PRIX
MARTY’S ADDS CARS TO HIS OFFERINGS
Pierre Marty wasn’t content with just offering motorcycles and scooters and so by the summer of 1953, Marty’s Foreign Motors expanded their offerings. A 1953 newspaper article indicates that Marty’s intended to start handling German DKW cars and the French Panhard. This newspaper article was pretty much the only time Marty’s Foreign Motors and Panhard were mentioned in the same sentence, so we suspect his foray into the world of Panhards was pretty minimal, if it happened at all.
MARTY’S TO EXPAND AND SELL CARS
Evening Vanguard (Venice, CA) Aug 1953
The DKW car that Marty’s offered was the model with the strange name of 3=6. We found that the 3=6 name was a gimmick name suggesting that its 3-cylinder (2-cycle) engine had equivalent power to a conventional 6-cylinder (4-cycle) engine. Thus 3=6.
For some inexplicable reason, there were many dealers in the L.A.-area trying to sell the DKW 3=6 in the mid-1950’s. In fact, we counted something like 19 DKW 3=6 dealers, all within just a few of miles from each other. This photo is Peter Satori's DKW dealership in nearby Pasadena, operating at the same time as Marty's. Did they really think there was a big market for this car?
westcoastbritish.com, photo date estimated to be 1958-1962
NEARBY PETER SATORI'S DEALERSHIP, ALSO SELLING DKW 3=6 CARS
MAICO, LOYD, WARTBURG, AND BMW
By 1956, Pierre Marty added the Maico 500, a small German car that looks a bit like the DKW.
Lane Motor Museum
In 1958, Marty’s added the Lloyd 600 to their line-up. The Lloyd was a small German car produced by the Borgward Group and was made between 1955 and 1961.
Evening Vanguard (Venice, CA) Oct 1958
The year 1958 was also when Marty’s moved to a new location, just across the street, to 4235 Sepulveda Boulevard in Culver City.
At about the same time, Pierre Marty added two more German cars:
The Wartburg, a small German car that again looked a bit like the DKW 3=6.
BMW microcars; the Isetta and the 700.
Evening Vanguard (Venice, CA) June 1960
Did Marty's Foreign Motors sell many DKW's, Maicos, Lloyds, or BMW Isettas? We have no idea. But considering that almost nobody today knows what a DKW, Maico, or Lloyd is probably answers the question...
MARTY’S TAKES ON CITROEN
In addition to his (mostly) German line-up, Marty’s is suddenly listed as a Citroën dealership in 1959, offering DS’s. The first advertisement we can find that lists Marty’s as a Citroën dealer is shown here, dating from April of 1959.
Los Angeles Times, April 1959
And indeed, Marty’s Foreign Motors shows up in the 1960 factory dealer directory as a full-fledged Citroën dealer.
EXTRACT FROM THE 1960 CITROEN DEALER DIRECTORY
It is worth keeping in mind that in this era, there were literally dozens of Citroën dealers popping up in California, many within a few miles of each other. Competition would have been fierce. So fierce that most failed rather quickly.
By 1963, he was trying to sell Citroën AMI 6’s in addition to DS’s and ID’s. We suspect not many AMI’s were sold, but he did advertise them for a bit.
SIMCA AND DATSUN
In 1963, it is announced in the local newspapers that Marty’s would add two more cars; The French Simca and the Japanese Datsun. Did these last long for Pierre Marty? You guess...
Evening Vanguard (Venice) May 1963
Evening Vanguard (Venice) January 1963
MARTY’S ADDS SIMCA AND DATSUN
Pierre Marty started heavily advertising new R8, R10, and Caravelle models in 1966. But this marque seemed short-lived for Pierre Marty, as were so many of the others. Not long after a brief advertising blitz in 1966, he stopped advertising Renaults altogether. In 1967, Renault sales for Culver City moved to another local dealership called, Culver Car Co.
Independent (Los Angeles) August 1966
Also in 1966, he became a dealer for Rover cars. Specifically, he offered the under-appreciated TC2000 sedan. But to the best of our ability to understand the history, this marque (yet again) only lasted perhaps a year at Marty’s Foreign Motors.
Los Angeles Times, October 1966
MARTY TRIES AND FAILS AT SELLING ROVER SEDANS
Excerpt from a Rover Brochure
Sometime around 1967, Pierre Marty added FIAT to the list of cars he was selling. Specifically, he advertised the FIAT 850 spider, 850 coupe, and 124 models. But FIAT didn’t really seem to last very long either. Maybe for a year.
1968 FIAT AD SHOWING PIERRE MARTY AS A DEALERSHIP
Los Angeles Times, January 1968
In 1970, advertisements starting showing up for the Citroën Mehari showing Marty’s as an authorized dealer. These ads only ran for a short time in L.A.-area newspapers, and we are quite sure that he didn’t sell many.
Los Angeles Times, October 1970
PIERRE MARTY AND THE SM MODEL
Marty’s did not offer the SM model when it came to the USA in 1971. We think that this was probably Citroën’s choice, not Pierre Marty’s. Citroën wanted upscale dealerships for the SM to match the car’s image, something Pierre Marty did not have. SM Sales were left to other L.A.-area dealers, such as nearby Irv White Buick. (See write-up on this website).
We understand that Pierre Marty also refused to work on SM’s, in part due his reluctance to buy all of the special tools that were needed. We heard from two sources that Pierre Marty was a very thrifty man; some might say, “cheap.”
Photo provided by Toni Dirscherl
TONI DIRSCHERL SHOWING OFF AN SM AT THE 1971 LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL AUTO SHOW
PIERRE MARTY RETURNS TO HIS ROOTS
In 1968, Pierre Marty moved his business from Culver City to Torrance, about 20 miles south. After the move, the “car” phase of his career would wind down - way down. Most of the cars he had handled over the last 20+ years had failed to thrive and had faded away from his business, most only after a year or two. These included DKW, Panhard, Maico, Lloyd, Wartburg, BMW (cars), Datsun, Simca, Renault, FIAT, and Rover. And maybe a few more that we did not find.
The Citroën DS’s were the only one that lasted. The DS was the longest-lasting and most successful car that Pierre Marty had ever offered, lasting for him about a dozen years (1959-1972). DS's were sold for a few years from his Torrance location, but after Citroën pulled the DS out of North America in 1972, Pierre Marty was left with no new cars to sell. At this point, he decided to go back to his roots and stick with just motorcycles.
Today, Marty’s is not remembered as being one of the important Citroën dealerships, despite the fact that he stuck with the marque a long time – longer than most. For whatever reason, Pierre Marty had a lower profile than some of the other So-Cal Citroën dealers of the era (e.g. Challenger Motors, Don Runnalls, etc). He did however create a bit of a name for himself with motorcycles.
Redondo Reflex, December 1976
By the mid-1970’s, Pierre Marty was full-in with motorcycles, mostly expensive BMW’s, with a smattering of other marques here-and-there, such as the Italian Moto Guzzi. They also offered a myriad of mopeds and scooters such as the German Puch and the French Motobecane, but others too. The iconic Vespa also showed up in his showroom for a while.
After the first release of this article, we came into contact with a former employee of Marty’s Foreign Motors named Ron Haller. Ron worked at Marty’s for about 5 years in the early 1970’s. Ron indicates that at that time, he was the only mechanic, and he alone, had to work on all of the various cars and motorcycles that made their way to Pierre Marty’s shop.
By the early 1970’s, all of the really oddball stuff was gone, but Ron was there when new Citroën DS’s were still on sale. Ron indicated that Pierre Marty tried to keep one new Citroën in stock, and he guesses that they sold perhaps one new car every month or so. Pretty small numbers.
Ron remembers working on new (or nearly new) Citroën DS’s and he indicated that at that the time, the work was pretty light, such as replacing spheres, adjusting valves, tune-ups, etc. Since the cars were quite new, he does not remember having to do major work, such as pulling engines, etc. Ron does remember that steering rack leakage was a bit of an issue, even on relatively new cars, and recalls getting overhauled racks from Citroën.
Ron was a bit intrigued with the Citroëns and briefly owned one himself.
We understand that Ron repaired Citroëns for a few years at the Torrance location after Citroën pulled out in 1972, but eventually the Citroëns faded away.
THE ISETTA LADY
In 1972, a woman named Marilyn Felling (a.k.a. the Isetta Lady) is said to have bought out Pierre Marty’s remaining stock of BMW Isetta parts for $300. She continued to buy out dead stock from other defunct microcar dealerships around the country and went on to be the biggest microcar parts supplier in the country.
Marilyn Felling, Facebook
MARILYN FELLING, THE ISETTA LADY, LOOKING A BIT CREEPY
RETIREMENT FOR PIERRE MARTY
In 1976, a couple named Anne and Jerry Berger bought out Pierre Marty, thus allowing him a chance to retire. He would have been about 64.
The Bergers continued to use Pierre Marty’s name for the business, presumably due to the many years the business had run under that name and whatever reputation benefits that brings with it.
There was however a minor name change that occurred in the late 1970’s when the business name changed from Marty’s Foreign Motors to Marty’s BMW, a move that even further separated the business from the strange collection of oddball cars, mopeds, and scooters that Pierre had been selling.
MARTY’S, UNDER BERGER’S OWNERSHIP
We understand that the Bergers continued to repair a handful of Citroëns for a short time in the late-1970’s, but Citroëns faded away from Marty’s pretty fast with Pierre Marty out of the picture.
By the mid-1980’s, BMW motorcycles were selling well for the Bergers and all of the weirder stuff, including the mopeds and scooters, had mostly faded into the background or disappeared completely from the business. In fact, after all those years of trying to achieve some level of success, it seems that the late-1980’s were perhaps the era where Marty’s thrived the most, largely due to Berger’s focus on BMW motorcycles. Marty’s was apparently America’s #1 best-selling BMW motorcycle dealer for a while in the late-1980’s.
In 1985, a split occurred between Jerry and Anne Berger, the result being that Anne would run the business herself. She continued to focus on BMW motorcycles, until about 2004, at which time she decided to retire.
A posting on the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America (BMWMOA) blogsite explains what Anne Berger was facing when she was trying to retire:
“…BMW's dealer policy made it impossible for my local mom & pop BMW shop to sell their franchise when the owner wanted to retire. No reasonable buyer could justify the upgrade costs in a high value area such as Los Angeles. The shop closed and the franchise was transferred to an existing BMW car dealer (who didn't know an R69S from a 325i) !...”
Another comment from the BMWMOA site:
“…Marty's Foreign Motors (aka Marty's BMW) in Torrance was a combination of issues hitting at once. The owner wanted to retire, Mothership (BMW) wanted them to expand and sell more clothing & accessories, there was no room to expand and the cost of the lease had become prohibitive over time, and the city fathers had even voiced grief and anguish over having a motorcycle shop on their main street….”
All this led to the complete closure of the business in 2004.
It is noted that Anne Berger’s son Mitch opened his own motorcycle repair business after Marty’s had shut down, originally from southern California, then later on from Boise, Idaho. Mitch helped us prepare this article.
Pierre Marty passed away on July 9, 1992, at age 79, about 16 years after he had left the business to the Bergers. Anne Berger passed away in 2017.
Marty’s had three locations that are well documented for the ~50 years that Marty’s was operating (about half of those years were under Pierre’s ownership, the other half under the Berger’s ownership).
But before we get to the three established locations, there is one mystery that we have been unable to unravel. Mitch Berger (son of the second owner of the business) uncovered an old letterhead from Marty’s that has a fourth address; 2100 Westwood Boulevard in Los Angeles, only a few minutes away from his Culver City location(s). We were unable to confirm when, or if, Marty’s Foreign Motors actually used this address. But one thing is sure - if they did use this address, it wasn’t well publicized. Even more perplexing is that the letterhead has an Eiffel tower. Pierre Marty almost exclusively sold German products and his French offerings were extremely meager, except of course for Citroën. Does the word “service” on the letterhead suggest it may have been used as a service only location?
LETTERHEAD SHOWING THE MYSTERIOUS ADDRESS FOR MARTY’S FOREIGN MOTORS
The three established locations are as follows:
4228 Sepulveda Boulevard, Culver City. (1952 to about 1958)
This is most probably Pierre Marty’s first business location. It looks like he moved in in September of 1952 and remained in this building until mid-1958. The building is still there, now a beauty shop.
Google Street View 2022
4228 SEPULVEDA BOULEVARD, THEN AND NOW
4235 Sepulveda Boulevard, Culver City (1958 throuh 1968)
In 1958, Marty’s Foreign Motors moved across the street to 4235 Sepulveda Boulevard and he remained in this building until 1968. When he moved out, he relinquished his FIAT sales to the dealership that moved into this address, a company called Lindqvist Motors who sold Saab and FIAT. The building no longer exists and we were unable to find a period photo.
1730 W. Carson Street, Torrance (1968-2004)
By late 1968, Pierre Marty had moved 20 miles south to Torrance, California. We understand that this was, in part, a down-sizing effort since he was no longer selling or repairing very many cars (motorcycles take less room than cars!). He remained in this location until he retired. The subsequent owner, still using the Marty’s business name, stayed in this location to about 2004. The building is still there, now a business specializing in vinyl housing products.
Google Street View 2022
1730 W. CARSON STREET IN TORRANCE, THEN AND NOW
Google Maps 2022
CITROEN BROCHURE FROM MARTY'S