Los Angeles Public Library
Ranchero Motors was a car dealership in Hollywood, California that started up in 1950. Ranchero Motors was part of a larger automobile empire owned by a mysterious and somewhat controversial figure named Phil Rauch. Phil Rauch’s automotive career spanned 42 years, from 1939 to 1981. For a brief period, Ranchero Motors offered Citroëns.
Philip Jameson “Phil” Rauch Sr. was a native of Southern California and was born in October of 1911. The details of his early life were a bit hard to uncover, but we did find that it was not without controversy. Despite this, he had managed to start up a dealership for Studebaker cars by 1939, when he was only 28 years old.
The first indication we can find of his dealership was in October of 1939 when a list of Studebaker dealers in Southern California included his business. There is some scant evidence that his first location was 700 S. San Fernando Boulevard, in Burbank, California, but we think his first location was more likely to be 718 S. San Fernando Boulevard, just down the street. He was operating under his name, Phil Rauch Inc.
Los Angeles Public Library
PHIL RAUCH’S STUDEBAKER DEALERSHIP IN BURBANK IN 1951
By 1950, he had added a second location, still on S. San Fernando Boulevard (633 S. San Fernando Blvd.), across the street from the main location. The above photo was supposedly taken in front of the 718 S. San Fernando address.
In 1950, Phil Rauch decided to open a third location, this time in North Hollywood, a few miles west of his two Burbank locations. Instead of operating the business under his own name like the first two, he decided to name this new location Ranchero Motors. It was located at 5101 Lankershim Boulevard.
Phil Rauch is reported to have spent $75,000 updating the building to be a car dealership. It had 12500 square feet (1161 square meters) and occupied 110 feet (33.5 m) of storefront on Lankershim Boulevard. A newspaper article indicated that there was ample parking space for customers and a complete service department in the rear.
Below is a newspaper photo that was taken a few days before the business opened.
Valley Times, Jul 1950
GRAND OPENING OF RANCHERO MOTORS
He opted for a “Western” theme for this new business, no doubt due to his obsession for the outdoors and the ‘ranch’ life. We read that he had the dealership furnishings custom built with a Western theme, including an “R” branded on various pieces of furniture (the “R” is presumably for Ranchero or perhaps Rauch).
The grand opening of Ranchero Motors was Thursday, July 20, 1950. Refreshments and square dancing were offered the following day.
LA Evening Citizen, Jul 1950
GRAND OPENING OF RANCHERO MOTORS
INTERIOR OF RANCHERO MOTORS IN 1950, PROBABLY DURING THE GRAND OPENING. NOTE WESTERN THEMES
Los Angeles Public Library
PHIL RAUCH IN 1950
At this point, he had three locations up and running; two on S. San Fernando in Burbank (Phil Rauch Inc.) and the third on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood (Ranchero Motors). Oddly, in the years that followed, he seemed to freely intermix the two business names. Sometimes the Hollywood location would be referred to as Phil Rauch Inc. and the Burbank location(s) would be referred to as Ranchero Motors. An example of how he let the business name float back and forth between locations is shown below, where he tied the Ranchero name to his Burbank location.
EXTRACT FROM A STUBEBAKER BROCHURE SHOWING THE RANCHERO NAME, BUT FOR THE BURBANK LOCATION
We believe that the name Ranchero Motors was primarily associated with the building at 5101 Lankershim in North Hollywood (as seen in the above photos). To the best of our knowledge, this building is the only one that had the Ranchero Motors name on the sign.
In addition to mixing the business names, he seemed to float the various marques he was selling between his locations. This all became a bit confusing.
If Phil Rauch’s businesses weren’t confusing enough, we found that Phil Rauch was also involved in a Studebaker / Packard dealership in the early 1950’s called Jack Sheetz, located in San Fernando (603 Fernando Road). San Fernando is about a 15-minute drive from his other locations. We found a 1951 legal notice indicating that he was (at least for a while) the owner of this business. This means that he owned at least three Studebaker dealerships in the LA-area in the early 1950’s.
Valley Times, Dec 1954
FOUR LA-AREA STUDEBAKER DEALERS IN 1954, THREE OF WHICH WERE OWNED BY PHIL RAUCH
Packard merged with Studebaker in 1954 and formed a new company called the Studebaker-Packard Corporation. After the merger, Phil Rauch started offering Packards along with the Studebakers he had been selling since 1939.
He seemed to have success selling Studebakers, but there was a storm on the horizon that had been gathering since 1945; Studebaker and Packard’s post-war cars were losing favor with the public. Post-war Packards in particular were problematic as they were largely re-vamped versions of their pre-war cars and were increasingly seen as old-fashioned, and were not appealing to younger customers.
By the mid-1950’s, Phil Rauch must have known that he needed to try something different….
In 1955, he took on the Mercedes marque, his first step into the world of foreign cars. While he heavily advertised Studebaker, he only half-heartedly advertised Mercedes. For some reason, he never seemed to be really invested in Mercedes. Mercedes cars were gone from his showrooms by 1963 or so. Mercedes seemed to have specific ideas on their dealership network in this era, and so we expect that it was Mercedes that initiated the separation.
By the middle of 1957, Phil Rauch was suddenly offering Citroën DS’s. Below is the first advertisement we can find connecting Phil Rauch and Citroën, dating from April of 1957.
LA Times, Apr 1957
Phil Rauch tried pretty hard with the Citroën marque in 1957 with plenty of advertising, but by 1958 his advertising for DS’s had dropped off dramatically. He seemed to be losing interest quickly, no doubt due to miserable sales figures.
A wonderful photo has turned up showing Ranchero Motors in 1958. If you look closely, you can see a Citroën sign in the window.
RANCHERO MOTORS IN 1958 – NOTICE CITROEN SIGN IN THE WINDOW
The late 1950’s was a time when there were many dealerships in Los Angeles trying to sell Citroëns. Most failed within a year or so and quietly dropped the marque. Phil Rauch was one of the dealers who gave up, but he did hold on for about 5 years (1957-1962), longer than most. By 1963, the Rauch/Citroën marriage had ended.
We were unable to find any more details about Phil Rauch's association with Citroën. No brochures, no known surviving cars.
Ranchero Motors was listed in the Citroën factory dealer directories from 1957 to the 1962 version.
In the above photo, we can see a Maserati sign. This caused us to wonder if Phil Rauch was actually handling Maserati? We dug and dug and sure enough, it looks like Phil Rauch offered the Maserati marque for a while in the late 1950’s. The newspaper article below is one of the (few) bits of evidence we found that tied Rauch to Maserati.
Los Angeles Mirror, Mar 1957
PHIL RAUCH OFFERS MASERATI BRIEFLY IN THE LATE 1950's
How long did he offer the Maserati marque? We have no idea and there doesn’t seem to be much information out there to find the answer. But considering it took a bit of work to connect Phil Rauch to Maserati at all, it was probably not long. Incidentally, Phil Rauch’s base price for a 1957 Maserati (such as in the photo) was UD$8900. Kind of a lot of money for 1957, wasn’t it? This is four times what a well-equipped 1957 Studebaker would have cost, and two and a half times what a DS19 would have cost.
In February of 1964, Phil Rauch became involved with the German Amphicar. A brief history of the Amphicar from Wikipedia is repeated below:
“….Production started in late 1960. By the end of 1963, complete production was stopped. From 1963 to 1965 cars were assembled from shells and parts inventory built up in anticipation of sales of 25,000 units, with the last new build units assembled in 1965. Cars were titled in the year they actually sold rather than when they were produced, e.g. an unsold Amphicar assembled in 1963 or 1965 could be titled as 1967 or 1968 if that was when it was first sold, though the inventory could not be sold in the U.S. in the 1968 model year or later due to new environmental and USDOT emissions and safety equipment standards, they were available in other countries into 1968….”
Since Amphicar production stopped in 1963 and Phil Rauch started offering them in 1964, he must have known that there wasn’t much of a future in them. But it turns out that Phil Rauch took a liking to the little Amphicars. So much so, that Phil Rauch became the sole US distributor for Amphicars in 1964. Prior to that, there were other organizations attempting to sell them in the USA, but Phil Rauch apparently stepped in and took over in 1964. A 1992 article in the Fresno Bee newspaper indicates that Phil Rauch bought 659 unsold Amphicars that were sitting in various locations (probably in 1964) for $1012 each. In total, the article states that Phil Rauch sold almost 3000 Amphicars between 1964 and 1968. If this article is accurate, this would mean that Rauch's company was behind the vast majority of all of the Amphicars sold in the USA, since total US sales are stated to be just a bit over 3000.
For some reason we were unable to uncover, Rauch’s headquarters for Amphicars was not in sunny California where he was born, grew up, and started his business. Instead, it was in Carlstadt, New Jersey, headed up by a man named C.A. Haigh. The New Jersey operation seemed to alternate back-and-forth between two names; Ranchero Motors and Amphicar Corporation of America. The business was located at 231 Washington Avenue in Carlstadt, NJ. We read that Phil Rauch travelled all over the country trying to set up franchises and/or dealers.
Post-Star New York, Dec 1965
AMPHICAR ADVERTISEMENT SHOWING NEW JERSEY AND HOLLYWOOD LOCATONS FOR RANCHERO MOTORS
RANCHERO MOTORS WINDOW STICKER FOR AMPHICAR
The newspaper article below indicates that Phil Rauch lent an Amphicar to an advertising agency for a 1964 Pepsi commercial. Luckily, a copy of the commercial is available, here.
Valley Times, Jul 1964
RANCHERO MOTOS PROMOTIONAL FLYER FOR AMPHICAR
The New Jersey Amphicar location had a fire in April of 1968 and not long afterwards, the address seems to have been used for a different business. Was this the end of Phil Rauch’s Amphicar business? It appears so.
Note that no new Amphicars could be sold in the USA as of January 01, 1968 due to a plethora of new safety and emission rules that kicked in as of that date.
After Phil Rauch, it looks like a man named Hugh Gordon bought out the stock of spare parts. Gordon Imports is to this day still selling parts for Amphicars.
We will discuss Phil Rauch and his Amphicars more later on in this article.
In March of 1968, it was announced that Phil Rauch would be a dealer for small International Trucks (such as the Scout and Travelall models), but International Trucks seemed fade out of the spotlight at Phil Rauch Inc. not long after.
Valley Times, Feb 1970
By the early-1960’s, Phil Rauch seemed to be getting tired of the oddball cars that weren’t making him money (e.g. Maserati, Citroën). Also, his mainstay marque for the previous quarter century, Stubebaker, was starting to wind down (Packard had failed by 1958 and the last Studebaker car rolled off the US production line in 1963). What to do?
He reinvented himself and became a dealer for Chrysler and Plymouth cars. The 1965 newspaper announcement below suggests that he took on Chrysler in 1965, but we found that it was earlier, in early 1961.
Valley Times, Feb 1965
His years as a Chrysler/Plymouth dealer lasted over a dozen years, well into the mid-1970’s. Finally, a marque that worked for him after Studebaker failed! In 1973, in one giant sale, he sold over 500 Plymouth Satellites to the state of California.
Valley Times, Jun 1973
It is a bit unclear if he stuck with Chrysler/Plymouth to the very end, but he was still selling them in 1976. After that, it seems not.
The year 1976 marked other changes for Phil Rauch. He left his custom-built building with the Western theme at 5101 Lankershim Boulevard. A business called United Auto Service moved in after Rauch left.
Similar to another LA area dealer we profiled (Clifford T. Nutt), Phil Rauch got into selling Motorhomes late in his career. Starting in the late 1960’s and accelerating in the 1970’s, he began advertising motorhomes such as Travel Queen, Chinook, Beaver, Sightseer, etc.
But similar to Clifford T. Nutt, the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 really hurt sales of gas-thirsty motorhomes…Could this be the beginning of the end for Phil Rauch, as it was for Clifford T. Nutt? What do you think?
THE BUSINESS WINDS DOWN
By 1976, he was down to one location: 5846 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood and this location was primarily used for motorhomes and used cars.
Phil Rauch’s business closed its doors permanently in early 1981. His very last advertisement in the Los Angeles Times was on January 28, 1981. Phil Rauch would have been 69 years old.
MORE ABOUT PHIL RAUCH
Phil Rauch did not go through life without some personal, real estate, tax, and legal controversies that were well documented in the newspapers of the era. But we have decided not to go into these in this article. Just recognize that Phil Rauch was a bit of a controversial figure.
Phil Rauch was perhaps a good car salesman, but we are getting the impression that real estate was his true calling and the real source of his wealth. We found several public notices and articles discussing his ownership of various ranch properties. For example, in 1956, he sold a 33-acre estate in the San Fernando Valley, with a house, 8 car garage, electric gates, swimming pool, etc. for $350,000. Also in 1956, he advertised a 73-acre plot in the San Fernando Valley for subdivision.
In 1968, he held a public auction and sold off the assets from another of his ranches near Oroville, California. The auction included cattle, horses, miscellaneous farm equipment, and a Cessna 310 airplane. Speaking of Ororville, we found that he was selling several river-front lots there in 1979.
His biggest property deal came in 1992 when, at the age of 81, he sold his ranch in Mariposa, California (Mariposa is a 4-hour drive from his dealerships in LA). The ranch was reported to be over 6200 acres (2500 hectares), containing lakes, meadows, and ponds. The ranch was offered for $8.6 million dollars, a decent amount of money in 1992.
Phil and Ellen Rauch raised their kids on the ranch(es) and he credits the rural, ranch life for how well his children turned out. In his own words, “…All four of them turned out fine, no dope problems, no nothing…”. He stated that he did not regret the painful 4-hour commute between the ranch and his dealerships in LA.
We found that he had owned several Cessna airplanes over the years. Do the airplanes explain his ability to commute back-and-forth from his ranch(es) to his business(es) in L.A.? Probably.
Modesto Bee, May 1992
PHIL RAUCH IN 1992 AT THE AGE OF 81
Phil Rauch died on April 6, 1996 at age 84. He is buried in Mariposa County, near one of his ranches.
LEAF V. PHIL RAUCH, INC.
In 1970, Phil Rauch found himself in the middle of a lawsuit that would become a landmark case for automobile warranties. If you Google “Leaf v. Phil Rauch, Inc.” you will see that it has been quoted over and over in similar cases. The case involved the sale of a 1968 Chrysler Imperial that had repeated breakdowns. The car was not being satisfactorily repaired and so the owners of the car (Marvin and Helen Leaf) sued Phil Rauch and Chrysler. Phil Rauch and Chrysler lost the suit and were required to refund the entire purchase price of the car. This case has been tied to the modern “Lemon Laws” the USA has for defective products.
PHIL RAUCH AND HIS AMPHICARS
Remember we said that we would come back to Phil Rauch and his Amphicars? Well, it turns out that Phil Rauch had personally kept a handful of new (unsold) Amphicars from the 1960’s. It is unclear how many in total. He is said to have stored these “new-old-stock” (zero mile) Amphicars on his ranch properties, including the 6200-acre ranch discussed above. We wondered what happened to these NOS Amphicars?
After some digging, we found the fate of at least two of them. See the following classified advertisements, one from 1978 and one from 1979.
Los Angeles Times, Feb 1978
Los Angeles Times, Mar 1979
The above two cars were advertised in the late 1970's, but according to a 1992 newspaper article in the Modesto Bee Newspaper, he still had three more NOS Amphicars stashed away on his 6200-acre ranch! We have no idea what happened to those.
Phil Rauch’s many business locations were a tough one for us to sort out. For one thing, he seemed to interchange business names between the various locations. For example, sometimes a specific address was billed as Phil Rauch Inc. and at other times he would call that location Ranchero Motors, or Phil Rauch Chrysler, etc. Also, his many locations were sometimes listed for new cars, sometimes listed for used cars, and sometimes used for motorhome sales. But we have done the best we can to sort this out. Dates are approximate.
700 S. San Fernando Boulevard, Burbank (1939 ?)
We found a source that indicates that this was Phil Rauch's first dealership location. But the more we dug into it, we think it may have been a typo or a mistake. The Burbank Public Library helped us confirm that his first address was more likely to be 718 S. San Fernando Boulevard (below).
718 S. San Fernando Boulevard, Burbank (1939-1966)
As noted above, Phil Rauch's first year or two are not well documented, but this was most likely his first dealership location. He remained here until 1957 when suddenly this address was Art Rice Dodge and then Valley Auto Sales in 1964. At times, Ranchero and/or Phil Rauch advertised from this address at the same time Art Rice was using this location, so we are not sure what was going on. Shared space? Perhaps. But by the end of 1966, Phil Rauch was out of this location for good.
The Studebaker-info.org website suggests that the 1951 photo (below) is the building at 718 S. San Fernando Boulevard. This area has also been redeveloped into residential space.
Los Angeles Public Library 1951 photo
Google Street View, 2021
718 S. SAN FERNANDO BOULEVARD
633 S. San Fernando, Burbank (1950-1951)
Phil Rauch briefly used this as a second location, at the same time he was using the building across the street (718 S. San Fernanado Blvd.). This location has since been redeveloped as well.
300 S. Victory Boulevard, Burbank (1952-1956)
This location is a 5-minute drive from his main location at 718 S. San Fernando Blvd. and was used by Phil Rauch for a few years. This was often billed as Phil Rauch's truck location.
NORTH HOLLYWOOD LOCATIONS
5101 Lankershim, N. Hollywood (1950-1976)
This was the main location that went under the name of Ranchero Motors, at least from 1950 to about 1964. After that, he often called this location Phil Rauch Inc. Whether using the name Ranchero or Phil Rauch Inc., he used this building from 1950 to 1976. Phil Rauch used this building to sell Citroëns, Maserati, Mercedes, Studebakers, and probably others.
Something called United Auto Service moved in after Rauch left in 1976. Later on, the building had other various uses, the last of which was a fitness studio. The building was town down in 2017 and a multi-story mixed-use condominium was built.
Google Street View, 2014
Google Street View, 2021
5906 Lankershim, N. Hollywood (1960-1966)
In November of 1960, Phil Rauch moved into this property on Lankershim, usually using the name Ranchero Motors. That is until 1964 when he dumped the Ranchero name and started calling it Phil Rauch Chrysler. By 1966, he was calling it Phil Rauch Used Cars. By 1967, it was no longer being used by Phil Rauch. Currently, the location is a park.
This address is quoted as his Citroën location in the 1962 dealer directory. Before the 1962 directory, Citroëns were advertised using the 5101 Lankershim address.
5831 Lankershim, N. Hollywood (1967-1974)
Phil Rauch started using this location in early 1967. The lot seemed to be used for used car sales initially, but later on it was billed as Phil Rauch Chrysler-Plymouth. After that, it was used for his Motorhome sales.
In 1974, he ran large advertisements indicating that he had “lost his lease” on this property and offered steep discounts on vehicles that were still at this location. This location is currently a Honda dealership.
5051 Lankershim and 4281 Lankershim, N. Hollywood (1970 ?)
We found one single advertisement from 1970 that listed these two additional addresses for Phil Rauch car lots (below). But we were unable to find how long he used these addresses (we suspect not long).
LA Evening Citizen, Feb 1970
5846 Lankershim, N. Hollywood (1977-1981)
In 1977, Phil Rauch started using this address for selling his Travel Queen Motor Homes. This was his last location. His advertising for this location primarily used the business name, Phil Rauch Travel Queen or Phil Rauch Inc. By May of 1981, Phil Rauch had closed up this last location and retired. Currently, this location is Ocean Honda.
NEW JERSEY LOCATION
231 Washington Avenue, Carlstadt, NJ
This was Ranchero Motors’ main headquarters for Amphicars. This location seemed to have started up in 1964. The building experienced a fire in 1968, and shortly afterwards, had another occupant, thus bringing an end to Phil Rauch’s Amphicar empire.
Google Maps, 2022
CALIFORNIA LOCATIONS FOR PHIL RAUCH’S DEALERSHIPS