The 1950's

The introduction of the DS in 1955 is when things started to really take off in North America for Citroën.  Surprisingly, Portland got a very early start with the DS!  

EUROPEAN MOTOR SALES

The very first indication of a Citroën DS dealership in Oregon was in 1956 when European Motor Sales of Portland indicated that they would soon become a dealership for the newly introduced DS19, in addition to Panhard and Renault cars.  Much to my amazement, European Motor Sales actually had a very early DS19 demonstrator car on their premises on September 28, 1956.  The local press covered the event in the next day's newspaper (see below).  

The year 1956 is very early insomuch as DS production is concerned.  According to most sources, a small number of DS’s, about 63, were manufactured as model year 1955. In 1956, that figure increased to 5826 cars, and in 1957 the production numbers increased again to 22667 cars. It was 1957 when DS’s started to be imported into the U.S. in any measurable quantity.  But somehow, as we shall see, more than one of these 5826 cars from 1956 found their way to Oregon!

Oregonian Newspaper 1956

Just a few years after the above demonstrator car arrived in Portland, there is evidence of more 1956 DS's in Portland.  In 1960 and then again in 1961, two different 1956 DS19's showed up for sale in local Portland newspaper classified ads (one listed as black, one white).  Does this mean that there were three 1956 DS19's in Portland?  This is amazing given the global rarity of 1956 DS's. 

SEPTEMBER 1960 CLASSIFIED ADVERTISEMENT IN THE OREGONIAN NEWSPAPER

Oregonian Newspaper 1960

AUGUST 1961 CLASSIFIED ADVERTISEMENT IN THE OREGONIAN NEWSPAPER

Oregonian Newspaper 1961

European Motor Sales was also there when the ID19 model was introduced in 1958. 

Oregonian Newspaper 1958

Oregonian Newspaper 1958

MAY 1958 ID19 ADVERTISEMENT FOR EUROPEAN MOTOR SALES

European Motor Sales was located at 1104 W. Burnside in Portland.  While this specific address no longer exists, it appears to be the same building in downtown Portland where the Pantagonia outdoor clothing store is currently housed. 

Very little is known about European Motor Sales but advertisements started in late 1956 and disappeared abruptly in 1959 suggesting that it only three years.  

EUROPEAN MOTOR SALES BUILDING AS SEEN IN 2018

Google Street View 2018

CONTINENTAL MOTOR CARS

At about the same time that 1956 DS's started being sold at European Motor Sales in Portland, an established dealer in Salem, Oregon picked up the Citroën line. 

The business, owned by a man named Richard N. Don, started out in early 1956 as a Renault dealership using the name, "Renault Sales and Service," located at 3040 Liberty Road in Salem.  There may have been a brief period in 1956 that they called themselves "Vista Garage."  But by September of 1956, they had changed their name to Continental Motor Cars.  And in October, 1956, they added the Citroën and Panhard marques. Much to our astonishment, it looks like yet another 1956 DS demonstrator car appeared in Oregon, this time in Salem (see article, right)!

Salem Capitol Journal,  October 1956

By the middle of 1958, they had moved to 900 S. Commercial in Salem and there appears to be another move to 990 S. Commercial late 1958. Also in 1958, their company name changed slightly from Continental Motor Cars to Continental Imports Ltd. 

Sales must have not been going too well, because in December of 1959, Continental Imports Ltd. was taken over by a Portland Company called, "World Wide Imports."  When the takeover occurred, the Citroën and Panhard lines were dropped. World Wide Imports went on try to sell Peugeot, Renault, and Vespa scooters. 

But things did not go well for World Wide Imports either. They closed-up at the end of 1960 (see going out of business ad, right). 

It looks like none of the original buildings still exist and we were unable to find any period photos. 

Salem Capitol Journal, November 1960  

FITZPATRICK FOREIGN CAR CENTER

The third authorized Citroën dealership in the state of Oregon was in a suburb of Portland called Milwaukie.  The dealership was called Fitzpatrick Foreign Car Center.  In their advertisements from 1958, their address is simply listed as “…the stop lite in Milwaukie…” suggesting that there was only one stoplight back then?

As is so familiar with the Citroën dealership stories from this era, Fitzpatrick Foreign Car Center seemed to have only lasted as a Citroën dealer for a very short time, perhaps less than a year.  

 

We also wonder about their commitment to the Citroën marque considering that their newspaper ads spelled ‘Citroën’ incorrectly and identified the car model "ID19" incorrectly…

Oregonian Newspaper 1958

JUNE, 1958 NEWSPAPER AD

ECONOMY CAR IMPORTS

 

The next authorized Citroën dealership in Oregon was Economy Car Imports.  Economy Car imports started advertising in April of 1959 and operated from the address 1022 W. Burnside in Portland. 

 

Economy Car Imports was operated by the same people who started a business in the Seattle area (Renton) using the very same company name.  A man named Jerry Fleming was listed as the owner of the Portland dealership.  The same Jerry Fleming and partner Richard Wald were listed as the business owners of the Renton operation. 

 

A Portland newspaper article from late 1958 indicates that Economy Car Imports was named as an authorized Citroën dealer for both the Portland and the Renton operations. It looks like the Portland operation started earlier since we can find advertisements from 1958 and 1959.  The Renton operation was incorporated as a business in Washington in August of 1961. 

NOVEMBER 1958 ANNOUNCEMENT

Oregonian Newspaper 1958

It seems that Economy Car Imports had no better luck in the Seattle-area than they did in Portland.  The Portland operation seems to have shut down in about 1961.  The Renton operation closed-up shop in 1962.  So, it looks like they had about two years selling Citroëns in Portland and an overlapping two years so selling Citroëns in Renton.  Despite trying to sell other marques as well as used cars, both locations of Economy Car Imports ultimately failed.

ECONOMY CAR IMPORTS BROCHURE

Oregonian Newspaper 1961

JULY 1961 NEWSPAPER AD

JANUARY 1959 ADVERTISEMENT

Oregonian Newspaper 1959

The building that Economy Car Imports operated from (1022 W. Burnside) is still there and is currently a Danner Leather store. 

ECONOMY CAR IMPORTS BUILDING AT 1022 WEST BURNSIDE AS SEEN IN 2018

Google Street View 2018

EUROPEAN IMPORT SALES

 

The 1959 Eugene Register-Guard newspaper has a handful of ads from a company called European Import Sales in Springfield, Oregon that handled Citroën for a brief time.  We have been unsuccessful finding much about this company, but stay tuned - we are still digging. 

Eugene Register-Guard, August 1959

Eugene Register-Guard, June 1959

VINTON AND LARSEN

There is some scant evidence that a dealership in McMinnville, Oregon called Vinton and Larsen sold Citroëns briefly in the late 1950's. Citroën USA expert Richard Bondfond had them listed on some official paperwork from Citroën for the year 1959.  

 

We worked with the library in McMinnville to understand more about Vinton and Larsen.  We found that in the 1930's, a man named Herm Larsen went to work for Gale Vinton at Vinton's Shell gas station on the corner of Third and Baker streets. They soon teamed-up and formed Vinton and Larsen, initially handling Buick, then adding Pontiac and GMC trucks. 

By the late 1950's they had expanded their line further to include Opel, Hillman, Truimph, and Studebaker.  No mention of Citroën in anything we could find.  But it seems relatively common that in the late 1950's and early 1960's, many established dealerships in the USA took on many different marques, sometimes with little or no fanfare or advertising. 

 

Vinton and Larsen operated from two other locations after the initial Shell gas station. The first was 211 N. Evans Street and the second move was to 830 N.E. Highway 99W in 1958. The business is still at this final location, albeit in a brand new building.  The business was sold in late 2018 and will loose the historic company name. 

Images of America - McMinnville

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