Peter Satori

NEW
2
/2022

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tcmotoringguild.org

Peter Satori was a multi-marque dealer that operated in both Northern and Southern California. He was most famous for his exotic car sales such as Rolls Royce, Alfa Romeo, and Jaguar, but he offered many marques over the years, including for a short time, Citroën.

 

PETER SATORI

 

A lengthy obituary written for Peter Satori has a good framework of his life and career and gives us our start on creating this story. 

 

The obituary indicates that Satori was born on July 28, 1913 in Europe. While living in England, he developed a passion for cars, but not just any cars; he acquired a taste for high-end cars. The obituary goes on to say that he got a job working for Ford of England. This would been in the 1930’s. 

 

He later served in the British Army during World War II. And yes, he was placed in the Motor Corps, undoubtedly due to his experience with automobiles. At the end of the war, he emigrated to Montreal, Canada. He then worked his way westward, and ended up in California. 

We found that at the age of 41, Peter Satori married a French woman named Claudia Bergada who had grown up in Tahiti. The obituary states, “…They made a handsome couple - Peter as the ever-distinguished European gentleman and Claudia, with her movie star beauty, French accent, and exotic Tahitian flair. They were social darlings wherever they went….”

 

They lived in Flintridge for a while (a city in the foothills of Los Angeles) and later moved to Pasadena. 

 

A highlight of his career was when Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, presented him with an award “In Recognition of his Outstanding Contribution to the British Automobile Manufacturers Association in the United States of America”. 

 

He was fluent in English, French, German, and spoke a bit of Russian.

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Pasadena Independent, January 1954

PETER SATORI AND NEW BRIDE CLAUDIA

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

 

It has been written that he opened his first dealership in the city of Berkeley in 1947. Apparently true, but the first evidence that we were able to find is from two years later, in 1949, when he is listed with two Bay-area locations; one in Berkeley and one in Oakland:

 

In June of that year, he was running large-format advertisements for new British cars, mostly for the Hillman Minx and the Morris. 

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San Francisco Examiner, June, 1949

SATORI ADVERTISEMENT FROM JUNE 1949

He soon added Austin, Aston Martin, Bentley, Bristol, Hillman, Jaguar, Morris, MG, Rover, Land Rover, Sumbeam, and even Rolls Royce! Throughout the early 1950’s he was specializing in British cars only, and was advertising himself as Peter Satori - British Motor Cars.

 

In these first few years, he expanded his dealerships into a number of buildings in Oakland and Berkeley, as well as a migration into southern California. 

 

In January of 1952, he sold his Northern California locations to an organization called, British Motor Car Distributors, LTD. under the direction of a famous Norwegian-American auto magnate named Kjell Qvale. But despite shedding some of his locations, he still had a slightly bewildering and definitely confusing number of buildings bearing his name. At the end of this article, we have tried to list all of his locations. 

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Oakland Tribune, January 1952

SATORI SELLS OFF HIS SAN FRANCISCO DEALERSHIPS

THE C.J. FELT CONNECTION

 

Peter Satori hired a young 28 year old auto enthusiast to be service manager in the Berkeley location in early 1949. Who was this enthusiast? It was none other than C.J. Felt, who of course went on to run his own British car and Citroën dealership in Berkeley from 1954 to 1969. See the C.J. Felt article on this website for more information on C.J. 

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Provided by Pam Felt, circa early 1960's

EXPANSION INTO THE SOUTH

 

It looks like Peter Satori’s first expansion into Southern California was in 1949. But the details of how he spent his first two years in L.A. were a bit hard to uncover. 

 

One of his earliest locations in SoCal (perhaps his first) was 338 N. Canon Drive in Beverly Hills in the handsome building shown below. 

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Pinterest, photo date likely between 1949 and 1953

THIS IS PROBABLY SATORI'S FIRST SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA LOCATION

By 1951, he had three So-Cal locations up and running under his name; Beverly Hills, Glendale, and Pasadena. 

 

He soon added a handful of other L.A.-area buildings bearing his name. Frankly, we started losing count of his locations between 1947 and 1952; we think he had about a dozen locations in this time frame, about half in Northern California and half in the L.A.-area.

 

One of his Pasadena locations is shown in the amazing photo below. 

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tcmotoringguild.org, photo likely from the early 1950’s

PETER SATORI IN FRONT OF HIS PASADENA DEALERSHIP AT 297 W. COLORADO STREET

SATORI TRIES A FEW NON-ENGLISH MARQUES

 

Even though Satori initially had an all-British line-up, he started offering marques from other countries as the years passed. The first non-British additions we could find happened in the mid-1950’s with the German marques of Mercedes and DKW (a.k.a. Auto Union, later Audi). Mercedes faded out of his line-up quickly, but he worked hard to sell DKW’s. He even had several large neon signs for DKW made and installed on some of his buildings. Note, that by the time he started offering non-English cars, he had shed all of his Northern California locations and was only operating in the Los Angeles area. 

 

The first DKW he offered was the model with the very unusual name of 3=6. I tried to find the origin of the 3=6 name and it seems that it 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. 

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Pasadena Independent, Oct 1955

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Pasadena Independent, January 1958

PETER SATORI TAKES ON DKW

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westcoastbritish.com, photo date estimated to be 1958-1962

SATORI’S DEALERSHIP ON W. COLORADO STREET IN PASADENA

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Audi-mediacenter.com, Photo is identified as 1957

A SATORI DEALERSHIP, "DKW WITH HORSE"

WE HAVE BEEN UNABLE TO ASCERTAIN WHICH LOCATION THIS IS

FACEL VEGA

 

In the late 1950’s Satori added the French luxury car Facel Vega, initially with the HK500 and the Excellence, and later with the Facellia. Satori must have really liked the Facel marque since he heavily advertised them for a number of years. And he actually sold a few! If you spend some time Googling Facel Vega, it seems like quite a few of the surviving cars were originally sold by Satori. 

SATORI BROCHURE FLYER FOR A FACEL HK500

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STUDEBAKER

 

In December of 1962, Peter Satori also took on the Studebaker marque. But Studebaker quit US production in late 1963, so his Studebaker stint was brief. 

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Los Angeles Evening Citizen, December 1962

SATORI HAD A SHORT RELATIONSHIP WITH STUDEBAKER

CITROEN

 

In the 1950’s, the city of Pasadena had a Citroën dealership called Campbell Motors. Campbell started selling Traction Avants in 1952 and then became a full-fledged Citroën dealer in 1956 when the DS model came along. But Campbell went out of business in 1960.

 

In 1960, Peter Satori stepped in to be Pasadena’s Citroën dealership, to fill the void that Campbell created when they failed. (More information on Campbell Motors can be found on this website.) 

We found a few Satori large-format ads for Citroën, starting in the summer of 1960, but not many (an example follows). Most of his advertising for Citroën was pretty meager. He clearly didn’t have his heart in the Citroën marque, probably because he didn’t see much of a future in it. This may have been a bit of a miscalculation on his part since he put tremendous effort into DKW which failed in the USA much earlier and much more spectacularly than Citroën did. 

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Independent Star News, July 1960

ONE OF THE FEW LARGE-FORMAT ADS SATORI HAD FOR CITROENS

SATORI ANNOUNCED AS CITROEN DEALER

Star News Pasadena, August 1960

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Star News Pasadena, August 1960

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Star News Pasadena, August 1960

SATORI SHOWING OFF A NEW FACEL EXCELLENCE, BUT NOTICE THE CITROEN SIGN IN THE WINDOW!

Satori showed up in the 1960 Citroën dealer directory, so this means that he must have had wheels in motion with Citroën a bit earlier, perhaps in late 1959. 

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1960 FACTORY DEALER DIRECTORY

Satori held the Citroën torch for a couple of years but by 1962 he gave up. He was still listed in the 1962 dealer directory but by the time the next directory was published, he was absent. His advertising for Citroën, while never extensive, was over in 1962.

 

As usual for these articles, we have no idea how many Citroëns he ultimately sold. But in the case of Peter Satori, we suspect it was very few. Very few. It seems he had better luck with his English cars. 

THE 1970’s

 

As the 1960’s were pulling to a close, Satori had shed most of his locations and concentrated on a string of buildings along West Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. At this time, he was selling Austin, MG, Jaguar, Rolls Royce, Rover, and perhaps a few others. In 1970, he briefly added Jensen to his line-up. 

 

The 1970’s marched on somewhat uneventfully, and as the 1970’s came to a close, he had become pretty heavily invested in the Italian marques of Alfa Romeo, Fiat, and Lancia in addition to the British marques. Alfa Romeo seemed to be one of his mainstays after British car sales started their decline in the 1970’s. 

 

In 1977, he celebrated his 30th anniversary and a 1982 newspaper article discusses his citation of honor from Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh. 

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Monrovia News-Post, November 1977

SATORI HITS THE 30 YEAR MARK IN 1977

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Los Angeles Times, July 1982

PRINCE PHILLIP HONORS PETER SATORI

WINDING DOWN

 

It looks like he started winding down his business in early 1983 and by the middle of 1983, the Satori automotive empire was over. He handed the string of buildings along Colorado Street in Pasadena over to the Rusnak group who are still on this block, in most of the same buildings, selling expensive cars such as Porsche and Rolls Royce. 

 

Peter Satori died at home in California on April 25, 2003 at the age of 89. 

PETER SATORI

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tcmotoringguild.org

LOCATIONS - NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

 

Satori operated in Northern California between 1947 and 1952. Below is our best effort at listing his Northern California locations. 

 

It has been widely reported that Peter Satori's first dealership in Northern California was in 1947, but we were unable to figure out which was his first location. The trail picks up more clearly in 1949. As such, the dates listed below are approximate. 

 

2611 Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley (~1947 - 1951)

 

This building is possibly Satori’s first dealership location, although as we noted, we were unable to positively nail down his first year or two. The building burnt to the ground in May of 1979. At the time of the fire, the building housed McKevitt Volvo. The following photo shows the fire and the Satori/McKevitt building is the second one in from the corner (now a parking lot.) The white building on the corner still exists.  

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Berkeley Gazette, May 1979

1979 FIRE DESTROYS ONE OF SATORI’S ORIGINAL BULDINGS 

2567 Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley (~1951 - 1952)

 

This handsome building still stands, but is no longer in the automotive trade. It is called the Shuman Block building and was originally built in 1906 as a market. 

 

We think Satori moved into this building in 1951, but he left in January of 1952 in a deal where he transferred this building and several other of his Northern California properties to a businessman named Kjell Qvale. 

 

After Satori left, British cars were still sold from this building under the business names of Norwitt British Cars and then Oliver Imported Cars. Later on, the building contained Johnnie Lee Volkswagen and Jim Doten AMC/Honda

 

If you find old photos of this building when it was in the automotive trade, it won’t look like it does today. It had unsightly false cladding installed over the brick and terracotta front. It was restored to its original glory in 1999. 

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Google Street View, 2021

SHUMAM BLOCK - BEFORE AND AFTER RESTORATION

2500 Broadway in Oakland (~1949 - 1950)

 

Satori had his grand opening of this location on May 8, 1949, but he didn’t stay here long, perhaps only a year or so. The original building appears to still stand, but is no longer in the automotive trade.

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Google Street View, 2021

3068 Broadway in Oakland (~1950 - 1952)

 

Peter Satori’s grand opening of the showroom at this address was in November of 1950. But about a year later (in early 1952), Satori had left this building in a deal where he sold this building and several others to a businessman named Kjell Qvale. The original building stands, and is still an automotive facility.

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Google Street View, 2021

24th and Webster in Oakland (~1951 - 1952)

 

A January 1952 newspaper article indicates that this location was Peter Satori’s “extensive new service department”. However, this building was sold in a 1952 deal with a businessman named Kjell Qvale, where Satori sold off several of his Northern California locations. As a result, we believe that this location was only used by Satori in 1951 and early 1952. 

 

Note, the address for the building in this photo is 2350 Webster and we believe that this is the building that Satori was using. However, since the address for this Satori facility was always only listed as 24th and Webster, there is a chance that we are on the wrong corner of this block. 

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Google Street View, 2021

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Google Street View, 2022

SATORI'S NORTHERN CALIFORNIA LOCATIONS

LOCATIONS - SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

 

The confusing number of locations Peter Satori had between the late 1940’s and the early 1960’s settled down in about 1962 to a single location that consisted of a string of buildings along West Colorado Street in Pasadena. Satori operated in Southern California from 1949 to 1983. Below is our best effort at listing his SoCal locations. 

 

Dates are approximate, except where noted. 

338 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills (~1949 - 1953, and again in 1962)

 

It looks like Peter Satori moved into this handsome building in 1949 or 1950 and used it until June of 1953, when a man named Ted Dillan (another SoCal British Car distributor) took over the building and called it Coventry Motors. It looks like Coventry lasted in this building until 1955 when Coventry moved to 9334 Wilshire Boulevard (another address associated with both Coventry and Peter Satori). 

 

But here is a confusing bit. We found that Satori ended up using this building one more time in 1962, but only for one year. It seems to have been used as a body shop, Brown Brothers Body and Fender, between 1953 (when Coventry left) and 1962 (when Satori moved in for the second time). 

Was there a business relationship between Coventry Motors and Peter Satori? There might have been. First, they sold similar cars and they seemed to swap two locations back-and-forth (338 N. Canon Drive and 9334 Wilshire). Plus there is a curious statement we found in a 1962 newspaper article, "...Mr. Satori recently purchased Coventry Motors, 9334 Wilshire Boulevard, which he had previously owned from 1949 to 1953..."  We weren't able to fully unwind the Coventry Motors / Peter Satori relationship. 

Unfortunately, there is no trace of this building remaining. 

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Pinterest, photo date likely between 1949 and 1953

2301 Colorado Boulevard, Eagle Rock (Glendale) (~1951 - 1955)

 

There is a bit of confusion about this address. Most of Satori’s advertisements listed it as 2301 Colorado Street. However, there is no such address. There is 2301 W. Colorado Street, there is 2301 Colorado Boulevard, and an old Satori brochure lists the address as 2301 E. Colorado Boulevard. All three of these addresses are different locations. Our best guess is that it was 2301 Colorado Boulevard, right in the middle of Eagle Rock, CA. 

9035 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles (1953 only)

 

Satori used this address for a few months in 1953. Before Satori, it was briefly Cavalier Motors, selling Alvis cars. The building no longer exists. 

1247 W. Valley Boulevard, Alhambra (~1953 only)

 

Unfortunately, there is no trace of this building left. 

143 S. Glendale, Glendale (~1953 - 1961)

 

In the late 1940’s this building was a Studebaker dealership called, Thatcher and Alexander. Peter Satori used it from June of 1953 to 1961. After Satori it became Caustin and Sons, a Lincoln dealership. Unfortunately, there is no trace of the original building.

418 State Street, Santa Barbara (~1959 - 1961)

 

In the late 1940’s this building was used as a Hudson dealership. By 1957 it was Desser Motors / Preston Moore Inc. selling Rolls Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin, Rover, and DKW (eerily similar marques that Satori was selling at this time). By the summer of 1959, Peter Satori took it over and used it until 1961. After Satori left, it became Motor Enthusiasts, Inc. selling BMW. By 1969 it was an AAMCO transmission repair shop. It is now a restaurant called Kim’s Service Department, the name honoring the automotive origins of the building. 

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kimsservicedept.com

9334 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills (~1963)

 

A British car dealership in Beverly Hills called Coventry Motors operated out of this location starting in December of 1955 (they had formerly been at 338 N. Canon Drive). But in December of 1962, Peter Satori bought Coventry Motors and announced a grand opening of his dealership at this address. But he apparently only used this building for less than a year since by mid-1963, a different dealer named Charles H. Hornburg was operating out of this address, selling Jaguar, Rolls Royce and other British cars (again, nearly identical marques to what Satori was selling). The original building is gone. 

 

285-325 W. Colorado Street, Pasadena (~1950 - 1983)

 

These addresses were a strip of several different buildings that spanned the better part of an entire block along W. Colorado Street in Pasadena. Over the years, Peter Satori gradually used more and more of this block. Now, the Rusnak Auto Group is using most of these buildings (Porsche, Jaguar, Maserati, Rolls, Royce and until recently, Audi.) 

 

Below are a few “THEN” and “NOW” photos of the buildings along this block.

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westcoastbritish.com

THEN

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Google Street View, 2021

NOW

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Google Street View, 2021

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tcmotoringguild.org, photo likely from the early 1950’s

THEN

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Google Street View, 2021

NOW

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Google Street View, 2021

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Flickr.com

THEN

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Google Street View, 2021

NOW

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Google Street View, 2022

SATORI'S SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA LOCATIONS*

Santa Barbara location not shown

SOURCES

 

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

 

The obituary we mentioned that contained an excellent framework of Peter Satori’s life and career can be found at legacy.com.

 

A man named Michael Green wrote a few interesting stories about his father, Richard Green, a man involved in Rover USA in the early 1960’s. We used a great photo of Satori’s Pasadena location that Michael had published. 

 

http://www.westcoastbritish.com/roverbook-1.htm

 

An MG club named TC Motoring Guild had a brief history of Peter Satori and a few great photos. The article was written by Doug Pelton. 

 

http://www.tcmotoringguild.org/chassis/10MayMidget.pdf

 

The Audi Media Center website contained a photo of one of Satori’s dealerships in the DKW 3=6 years. 

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Tim Broers