The 1960's were really the heyday for Citroëns in the USA and perhaps in France too. Read on to see what was happening in Seattle in the 1960's.
ECONOMY CAR IMPORTS
Following the early demise of French Cars Inc. on Broadway in 1958, a Citroën / Fiat dealership popped up in Renton (the city of Renton is about 10 miles Southeast of downtown Seattle). The dealership was called Economy Car Imports, and was located at 124 Rainier Avenue. This location puts the facility very near the Boeing Renton Plant and the Renton Airfield. It is interesting to note that the Boeing 707 was still a new airplane at this time and the 727 Tri-Jet was about to be launched, both from the Boeing Renton factory, a stone’s throw away from Economy Car Imports. It was well known that Citroëns appealed to Boeing engineers and so it was common to see a DS in the Boeing parking lots.
Scrutiny of records at the Seattle Public Library revealed that Economy Car Imports was owned by Jerry Fleming and Richard Wald and incorporated as a business on August 15, 1961. Oddly, Flemming and Wald unsuccessfully operated a Citroën dealership (using the very same company name) a year or two earlier in Portland, Oregon (see the 'Oregon' section for more details).
A Citroën dealer directory printed in April of 1962 listed Economy Car Imports as the sole authorized Citroën dealership in the State of Washington! This left a several year “gap” in the availability of Citroëns in Seattle following the demise of French Cars Inc. in 1958 and the start-up of Economy Car Imports in 1961.
1962 CITROEN DEALER DIRECTORY
Seattle Times 1961
1961 SEATTLE TIMES NEWSPAPER ADVERTISEMENT FOR ECONOMY CAR IMPORTS
NWCOC member Paul Joos remembers taking a test drive with his parents in a new DS at Economy Car Imports in 1961. Young Paul and his dad liked the car, but his mom was unimpressed and therefore there was no sale.
We recently talked to a man named Arnold Barer who was an acquaintance of Jerry Flemming whom you might remember was one of the owners of Economy Car Imports. We were told that Jerry was very involved in cars and car racing back in the late 1950's and early 1960's. We were related a story that in 1961, Jerry Flemming wanted to sell Arnold his aluminum-bodied 1955 Mercedes 300SL for USD $4400. It turns out that this car was one of 29 aluminum bodied 300SL's, and is therefore a very rare and valuable beast. Perhaps being overly cost-conscious, Arnold turned the deal down.
After Economy Car Imports closed, Jerry Flemming ended up working for many years for Wade Carter at Carter Volkswagen, a VW dealer in North Seattle.
Economy Car Imports didn't last long at either location (Portland or Renton), so it is likely that they didn't sell many cars. But they were active enough to warrant inclusion into the factory authorized dealer directories.
The building at 124 Rainier Avenue was built in 1958, so it was nearly new when Economy Car Imports was launched. This building is still there, is still an automotive repair facility, and seems not to have changed much at all (see following photo).
Google Street View 2018
ECONOMY CAR IMPORTS BUILDING AS SEEN IN 2018
1961 ADVERTISING POSTCARD FROM ECONOMY CAR IMPORTS
At the end of 1962, Economy Car Imports gave up their Citroën dealership to two motivated and enthusiastic Seattleites, named Paul Jolley and Chuck McConnell. It was these two people who came together and formed Automobiles Internationale.
The original formation of Automobiles Internationale was the result of numerous letters between Paul Jolley, Chuck McConnell, and Citroën. Many of these letters are still in existence and are stored in files at Chuck McConnell’s West Seattle home. It is interesting to note that Citroën refused to let Jolley and McConnell use the word “Citroën” in their dealership’s name (it was stated that this was Citroën’s ‘policy’). Hence it was decided to call the business Automobiles Internationale.
Seattle Times 1963
Seattle Times 1963
Automobiles Internationale operated out of no less than 4 different buildings, so let's start with the first location.
It was early January, 1963, when Automobiles Internationale opened its doors near the corner of SW Alaska Street and Fauntleroy Way SW in West Seattle. The original site was a somewhat modest brick building located at 4603 - 37th Ave SW. The building is still there today and appropriately, is a foreign car repair shop (see following photos).
AUTOMOBILES INTERNATIONALES LOCATION #1 IN 2008
Chris Dubuque 2008
Photo Provided by Foreign Car Workshop
AUTOMOBILES INTERNATIONALES LOCATION #1 IN 1947 SHORTLY AFTER THE BUILDING WAS BUILT
In issue number 77 of the California Citroën Car Club (CCC) dated May 1963, Roger Sagner from Portland, Oregon, offered a congratulatory statement to Paul and Chuck for starting up their new dealership. Sagner, who operated a Citroën dealership himself in Portland, also took credit for planting the seed for a Seattle-area dealership. An excerpt from Sagner’s letter is repeated as follows (questionable grammar and all):
“Add my congratulations to Paul Jolley and Chuck McConnell. I am sure glad that things up north was taken on by enthusiasts instead of just automobile people. I will never forget the look on Paul’s face when I suggested that he set up a Citroën palace in Seattle. I wasn’t kidding and by golly, as it turned out, neither was Paul, who said, “Nothing could please me more.”.”
Seattle Times 1963
1963 PRICELIST FROM AUTOMOBILES INTERNATIONALE
SEATLE IMPORT AUTO SHOW
Several DS’s were shown by Automobiles Internationale at the 1963 Seattle Import Auto Show, held at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall. The Exhibition Hall, along with the majority of the buildings in the Seattle Center complex, had been newly constructed for the World’s Fair, held in Seattle a year earlier. This auto show was billed as, “Seattle’s First International Imported Car Show” and included cars from 27 makes with over 100 models on display. (Despite the claim, it wasn’t really the first import auto show in Seattle as there was at least one before; in 1957.)
The auto show was sponsored by the Import Car Distributors Association, and was headed by a man named Kjell Qvale who was head of British Motor Car Distributors, Ltd. and later instrumental in the formation of the Jensen-Healey brand.
The Citroën display, assembled by McConnell and Jolley, was situated adjacent to the Fiat and Volvo displays.
FLOORPLAN FOR THE 1963 INTERNATIONAL AUTO SHOW IN THE SEATTLE CENTER EXHIBITION HALL
The 1963 Seattle Import Auto Show must have seemed like a triumph for Automobiles Internationale and photos still exist! (See below.)
Photo Provided by Chuck McConnell
Photo Provided by Chuck McConnell
Photo Provided by Chuck McConnell
Photo Provided by Chuck McConnell
Standing to the right in the above photo of the DS cutaway is a young Chuck McConnell. Chuck, the technically savvy half of the partnership, explained the eccentric inner workings of the DS19 to astonished passersby.
Automobiles Internationale, under the leadership of Paul and Chuck, rapidly gained a good reputation among local Citroën owners. In the November 1963 CCC, an obviously pleased local DS owner named David Middleton wrote:
“After reading about the problems in getting good service in some of the hinterlands in your last few issues, I can only advise these poor unfortunates to migrate to the Seattle area and let their sick vehicles recuperate at Jolley-McConnell’s Automobiles Internationale. I found that Paul and Chuck were Citroën owners long before they were dealers, and having suffered the familiar woes at the hands of unscrupulous and scheming agents, they are determined that their customers will get a fair break.”
Unfortunately, only about a year opening, Chuck McConnell withdrew from the business. His decision to leave was due to differences of opinion with Paul Jolley over the future direction of the company. Paul wanted grandiose but Chuck thought it best to keep the business simple with low overhead. In retrospect, Chuck probably had the right idea. Chuck left Automobiles Internationale and went on to continue his career as a Boeing engineer. See Chuck’s business withdrawal notice from a 1964 Seattle newspaper.
Provided by Chuck McConnell
AUTOMOBILES INTERNATIONALES LOCATION #2
In early 1964 Paul Jolley, now on his own, made the decision to move Automobiles Internationale to a new and much larger location, just around the corner from the first. The second building, located at 3801 SW Alaska Street, looks like a “proper” dealership including a large showroom, huge plate glass windows, and several large service bays. A Seattle newspaper article (below) is quoted as saying that the new 10,500 square foot location of Automobiles Internationales was “luxurious” and a far cry from the “30 by 40 hole in the wall” of the first location.
As can be seen in this rare photo (above right), Jolley added the Fiat line to Automobiles Internationales at the “luxurious” new building. Also, notice a subtle spelling difference in the company name that was incorporated by Jolley after the split with McConnell (an “s” was added to the end of “Internationales”).
Photo provided by Paul Jolley
Chris Dubuque 2008
If you look closely at the 1964 photo (above), you can see an H-Van, a 2CV Truckette, a DS sedan, several Fiats and a new DS wagon in the showroom. During 1964, Paul Jolley tried to sell other Citroën models and advertised heavily for the Ami 6. But after a year of spending money on Ami 6 advertisements, he suddenly stopped. Our guess is that he sold very few....
Seattle Times 1964
The area of West Seattle where Automobile Internationales made its home had historically been an ‘auto row’ with several different dealerships on adjacent blocks. Eventually, nearly all of them seemed to be owned by the 'Huling Brothers' for their West Seattle automotive empire. So it is fitting that after Jolley vacated location #2, the Huling Brothers ended up in the building (following several other uses, such as a Mercury dealership in 1963-1965 and a Rambler dealership from 1965-1972.
The Huling Brothers empire itself collapsed in the early 2000’s. Thrifty Car Rental then occupied the building for a number of years (see "2008" photo above). Today, most of the buildings of West Seattle’s auto row are gone, having been replaced with condos. Somehow, the building at 3801 SW Alaska Street escaped the wrecking ball. Currently, the building has been nicely restored and is a Les Schwab Tire Center (see photo below).
But Automobiles Internationales’ stay in the building at 3801 SW Alaska (location #2) was even shorter than its stay in the first building. Automobiles Internationales would have to move again.
AUTOMOBILES INTERNATIONALES LOCATION #3
Automobiles Internationales’ third location was directly across the street from location #2. The address of location #3 was 4550 - 38th Ave. SW. Unfortunately, it was difficult to see what this third building originally looked like since it had an unsightly “facelift” from the 1970’s (see below photos). As one looked from a distance, the original curved glass roofline was still visible, suggesting that the original form of the building was much more interesting than the ‘70’s form.
It is clear that this third location was not as nice as the “second” Automobiles Internationales location. Nevertheless, the buildings at the second and third locations were much larger than the first building and must have generated an upgrade for Automobiles Internationales as a credible automobile dealership (not to mention a significant upgrade in overhead costs!).
In 2008, the location #3 building was vacated and scheduled to be demolished along with the rest of the buildings on the block for a mixed-use condo project. The economic crash of 2008 stalled demolition of the building for a while. In 2010 however, the entire block was razed. The new building complex is now complete, thus erasing any trace of Automobiles Internationales location #3.
AUTOMOBILES INTERNATIONALES LOCATION #3 AS SEEN IN 2008
Chris Dubuque 2008
HOLE IN THE GROUND IN 2010
Chris Dubuque 2010
LOCATION #3 IN 2018
Google Street View 2018
Google Maps 2019
SUMMARY OF AUTOMOBILES INTERNATIONALES WEST SEATTLE LOCATIONS
In 1963 in the small building (location #1) and 1964 in the two larger West Seattle buildings (locations #2 and #3), Automobiles Internationales had as many as 10 employees to serve their customers; 5 mechanics, 2 to 3 salesmen, a service manager, etc. One of the mechanics who logged some hours at the first location of Automobiles Internationale was named Romi Lucas. Romi had completed Citroën factory training at the Los Angeles facility, and was hired by co-founder Chuck McConnell to perform service and maintenance on the newly sold Citroëns. However, Romi Lucas and the volatile Paul Jolley did not see eye-to-eye and thus Romi’s employment at Automobiles Internationale was brief. There will be more about Romi Lucas later.
The third location of Automobiles Internationales was not to last very long either. Lease 'problems' with the building would arise in 1964 and force a repeat of the situation that occurred twice in the previous year and a half. Automobiles Internationales would again have to search for a new location. We can only guess the tone of discussions that must have taken place between the short-tempered Paul Jolley and the landlords of all these buildings!
AUTOMOBILES INTERNATIONALES LOCATION #4
For this move, a location closer to downtown Seattle was chosen in lieu of West Seattle. Paul Jolley chose the fourth location of Automobiles Internationales to be 1124 Pike Street, in a Seattle neighborhood called Capitol Hill. The auto-related part of Capitol Hill was mainly in a narrow rectangle defined by Pine Street, Pike Street, Broadway, and Minor Avenue. It is worth noting that this small area was Seattle’s original auto row from the early 1900’s and the home of dealerships of many marques of foreign and domestic cars, including; Alfa Romeo, Austin Healey, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Citroën, Dodge, DeSoto, Detroit Electric, Essex, Ferrari, Fiat, Hudson, Jaguar, Jeep, Kaiser-Fraser, Land Rover, Maserati, MG, Mercedes Benz, Mercury, Packard, Peugeot, Pierce Arrow, Plymouth, Pontiac, Porsche, Renault, Saab, Studebaker, Triumph, Volvo, and scores of more obscure marques from the early 1900’s.
The building chosen by Paul Jolley for location #4 was constructed in 1920, originally custom-built as a Packard dealership. It was designed to be one of Seattle's most elaborately ornamented auto dealerships, befitting of Packard’s luxury image. The building is nicely sited to take advantage of a key intersection in Seattle; that of Pike Street, Minor Avenue, and Melrose Avenue, just a few steps east of the downtown core of the city. This building is sort of an icon in Seattle and so we will focus on some additional history of this building, including photos of it in various uses.
As with their second and third locations, Fiat cars were also sold from this fourth location, side-by-side with the Citroëns. It is very difficult to see, but if you look closely in the 1965 photo below, you can see the roofline of a DS sedan in the corner window of the showroom.
AUTOMOBILES INTERNATIONALES LOCATION #4 AS SEEN IN 1937 IN ITS PACKARD DAYS
STREET VIEW OF LOCATION #4 (PHOTO BELIEVED TO BE TAKEN IN 1921)
AUTOMOBILES INTERNATIONALES LOCATION #4 AS SEEN IN 1965 IN JOLLEY’S CITROEN / FIAT DAYS (NOTE DS ROOFLINE IN THE WINDOW)
Photo Provided by Paul Jolley
AUTOMOBILES INTERNATIONALES LOCATION #4 AS SEEN IN 2018
Chris Dubuque 2018
The 1124 Pike Street location of Automobiles Internationales remained in operation until 1968 at which time financial problems, which had existed from the beginning, led to the liquidation of business. All of the parts, tools, equipment, and paperwork were seized by the bank and either auctioned off or discarded.
You have to give Paul Jolley credit for trying. He advertised in the local newspapers virtually every day and managed plenty of local press coverage. He even offered free trips to Disneyland! (See newspaper ad, right.)
When Automobiles Internationales closed its doors for good in 1968, Romi Lucas and Chuck McConnell (both names we have already mentioned) ended up with some of the leftover inventory of parts and tools. As a result of the business liquidation by the bank, no original records concerning the business still exist.
Seattle Times 1964
Seattle Times 1964
Seattle Times 1965
Seattle Times 1966
MORE ON THE 1124 PIKE STREET BUILDING
The Packard dealership remained in the building for about 25 years, but left in the mid-1940’s as Packard’s star was fading. For the next half century, the building experienced a succession of various car dealerships.
After Packard left, the building was a dealership for Kaiser cars called Hawthorne-Wilkins Motors which appeared in about 1946. Shortly after that, there is a listing for Western Motors selling Kaiser-Fraser cars. In 1954, the Seattle phone books list it as The Auto Warehouse selling used cars. In 1959 a business called Import Motors Co. occupied the building selling Fiat and German Borgward cars. In 1963 and 1964, the building is listed as vacant which is sad considering its grand heritage.
In 1965, Paul Jolley leased the building for Automobiles Internationales. Unfortunately, Jolley’s endeavor only lasted three years. After Jolley’s Citroën/Fiat dealership collapsed in 1968, the building remained in use as various automotive dealerships, including British Motors in 1968-1969, Downtown Datsun from 1970-1977, and Metro Imports in 1979 (Fiat-Lancia). In the mid-1980’s, the building housed Metro Mazda, followed by Bayside Jeep Eagle in the late 1980’s.
In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the main part of the building was no longer in the automotive trade and instead contained an Utrecht Art Supply store with Seattle Volvo in the west side of the building.
The building has recently gone through perhaps its biggest transformation. In 2014, it was taken over by the Starbucks Corporation and converted into the swanky Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room. While the exterior of the building has remained intact over the last 100 years, the interior has changed dramatically. Fortunately, Starbucks’s architects made an attempt to save and restore parts of the original interior, such as the Terrazzo floors and to re-expose the wooden beams in the ceiling.
The Starbucks Roastery is a place where you can experience coffee production from the un-roasted bean all the way through the roasting process until it pours into your coffee cup. Food and Starbucks promotional items are also available. It is quite striking. Go visit sometime.
MAIN ENTRANCE TO 1124 PIKE STREET IN 1927
1124 PIKE SREET IN KAISER FRAZER DAYS PHOTO TAKEN IN THE MID-1940's (VIEW LOOKING NORTHEAST)
Chris Dubuque 2018
Chris Dubuque 2018
Today, no data has been found that details the total number of Citroëns sold by Automobiles Internationales. However, a Seattle newspaper from 1964 indicated that in Automobiles Internationale's first year of 1963, they only sold 18 cars. But in 1964, the article states that they met their 1964 sales quota of 100 cars. Since 1965-1968 were popular years for Citroëns in Seattle, we can guess that Automobiles Internationales' total sales over their 5 years of operation was probably something like 800-1000 cars?
Automotive News Magazine from 1964 reports that a total of 905 Citroëns were sold in the USA in 1963 and 739 in 1964. By today's standards, these numbers seem awfully small, don’t they? No wonder these local dealerships had difficulty keeping their doors open.
Capitol Hill, where Automobiles Internationales location #4 was located, was very active in the automotive world until the 1980’s when gentrification and the resulting rising land costs drove nearly all of the automotive businesses out. As of early 2020, only one automobile dealership remained on Capitol Hill; Ferrari / Alfa Romeo of Seattle (formerly Grand Prix Motors). However, during the civil unrest and the riots that plagued parts of Seattle (and elsewhere) in the wake of the police murder of a black man named George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, Ferrari of Seattle looks like they are giving up. They covered the windows and doors with plywood to avoid riot damage and looting. After months of having to be closed, Ferrari of Seattle threw in the towel and have moved most of the business to the quieter suburb of Bellevue. So the last vestige of Capitol Hill's automotive roots is being erased.
What became of Chuck McConnell and Paul Jolley? By 1995, the last of Chuck's DS's was at the end of the road. Out of the blue, Chuck bought a derelict SM and so at 78 years young, Chuck embarked on a massive restoration project. He stripped the entire interior out and removed every bolt from the engine compartment. It looked a daunting project, but Chuck was a talented mechanic and as a retiree, he had the benefit of time. Chuck remained sharp as a razor and remarkably agile despite his years.
Within a few years, the SM was back on the road and looked great. The first road trip was a 1000- mile drive to SM World in California where Jerry Hathaway helped Chuck fine-tune the triple Weber carburetors and the SEV Marchal dual-point ignition.
Chuck McConnell passed away on August 18, 2007, at the age of 90. He is survived by his daughter in sprit, Leti Barr. Chuck was a wonderful, friendly, and talented man. Chuck, wherever you are, we miss you.
Paul Jolley, the other original founder of Automobiles Internationale(s), lived for many years in a West Seattle home just down the street from Chuck McConnell. In the late 1990's, he suddenly disappeared from sight, leaving behind a tired CX wagon and a rusty Traction Avant parked on the street. His disappearance is sort of a mystery. The cars had long since disappeared as well, most likely towed away by the city.
We recently discovered that Paul R. Jolley's last known address was in Kent, Washington where he died in June of 2008.
INTERVIEW WITH CHUCK McCONNELL
(This interview has been edited from the original version to shorten its length)
I was born 8 July 1917 in Garden Grove, California, USA. I moved to Utah in 1926 where I attended public school when in session. During summer vacations I helped in the family lead and silver mining operations under primitive conditions. All very good, but I decided I was not about to spend my life in a dark hole in the ground dodging rocks. So, beginning in 1935, I studied mechanical engineering at the University of Utah. The USA was in “The Great Depression”. I was finally able to find employment in the engineering department of Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica, California, in June, 1941.
There I thought to learn the lore of aircraft design so that I could go to Detroit and revolutionize my true love, the automobile industry. (I will say right here, that that did not work. I wound up applying what I knew about automobiles to aircraft design!)
I went to Northrop Aircraft in 1942 where I had the privilege of working directly with J.K. (Jack) Northrop and started my career as a preliminary design engineer. I contributed to the P-61 Black Widow and the B-35 Flying Wing among others. Moved to Seattle in 1950 and designed and built our home while continuing in preliminary design at the Boeing Co. until retirement in 1981.
In 1959 the family car was a used 1953 Buick Roadmaster sedan. The Buick could go like the mill tales of Hell, but one could neither steer nor stop it! I became thoroughly determined to replace the Buick with a vehicle that could be driven. Mind you, 1959 was the year of the fins and other outlandish styling. There was nothing made in the USA that could fill my very simple requirement.
After much research, the field was narrowed to the Mercedes 220, the Jaguar Mark 7 and the Citroën DS-19. I test drove these and thought the Mercedes to be a well-behaved truck. The Jag was better, but even then reliability was an issue. The Citroën was a designer’s dream come true, everything that could be desired at half the cost of the others. So the Citroën became the family car and the fun began!
There were no qualified Citroën repair people available in the Seattle area. I had always done all of the maintenance and repair work on my cars, so I bought the manuals and learned the car by reading and doing.
The ’59 DS was pretty well civilized. The gray body color became black, but the turquoise top remained. All quite striking with the double Robri side trim. The car was driven 375,000 miles with only one engine rebuild. It met a sad end in 1974 when it was attacked by a Ford and reduced to a pile of rust flakes.
Two dealerships had failed in Seattle (French Cars Inc. and Economy Car Imports...Ed) and the orphaned car owners needed more support than I could provide after work. So in 1962 I took a partner* who was also an enthusiast and established a franchised Citroën dealership (*this partner was of course Paul Jolley,...Ed). I lasted a couple of years until my partner wanted more expansion than I thought wise, so I sold out to him. He went broke (to be fair, Jolley kept it going for 5 years...Ed).
In 1972, I drove an SM on the local raceway track and was not particularly impressed. It did not seem enough better than a D to warrant the cost and the reduced room and creature comfort. I was content to let it be and let somebody else deal with the Italian monkey cage under the bonnet!
As I got older, I must have lost a few marbles on the way because, on 5 April 1995, I saw an ad in the local newspaper: “1973 Citroën SM – 3.0 L, 5spd, needs work. $2,500” and went to have a look. The engine had been disassembled for a long time and was in various boxes and heaps. The interior appeared good with the black leather near perfect. Many layers of peeling silver paint. The engine compartment a total shambles, loose hydraulic tubing wrapped around the axle shafts and so on.
Well, there never were very many SM’s and the person who had this one was in way over his head, so after a little haggling, I bought the mess. Took a year to get the title cleared and then the work started, to the complete detriment of my other Citroëns. So why did I buy the SM? I guess I felt sorry for it!
The best of the SM is the elegant appearance, interior appointments and drivability. The worst is the somewhat temperamental, delicate and usually unreliable engine.
The restoration is a long and tedious story of mangled components, corrosion, mold, rot, rat and mouse nests, damage from improper jacking and so on. Most of the damage resulted from very poor storage conditions since 1982 when the engine blew at 59,000 miles with a failed oil pump drive shaft. The car had been liberally dinged in traffic mishaps, to say nothing of the bottom looking like it had been dropped on a heap of cobblestones. This is under control now with preparation for painting underway. The good news is that the SM is mechanically complete and could be driven.
Chuck McConnell 2005
CHUCK MCCONNELL STANDING NEXT TO HIS 'SM' IN 2005
Chris Dubuque 2005
Another visible Citroën dealership in the Seattle area was ABC Motors in the city of Tacoma, about 40 miles south of Seattle.
The location of ABC Motors was originally a hamburger joint built in the late 1940’s. The restaurant’s claim-to-fame was their 3-Decker Billy Burger. And yes, this really was the name of a hamburger they offered! After about 10 years as a drive-in restaurant, a man named Tom Hawkins arrived on the scene and turned it into a used car dealership. About 5 years later (in 1963), Tom Hawkins had the original structure town down and replaced it with a new building intended to be his new Studebaker dealership (see newspaper clipping, right).
Even though Tom Hawkins repaired and/or sold cars in this location since the late 1950’s, very little shows up in the Tacoma phone books for ABC Motors until 1969, when suddenly a full-page ad appeared (following page) with the motto:
“ABC Motors, Inc. - Fine cars the world over.”
ABC Motors was quite an ambitious operation under the leadership of Tom Hawkins in the late 1960’s. They sold eight different makes simultaneously, including cars from France, Italy, and England. They also continued their support for the now defunct Studebaker marque. Their advertising was prolific in the late 1960’s and indicated that they offered many other services, including the following curious item:
“ABC Motor Air Lease - Leasing Aircraft and All Makes of Cars”
If you look closely at a ABC Motors license plate frame (photo below), you can see that they have graphics for air, sea, and road travel, suggesting that they might have been involved boats as well as cars and airplanes.
Tacoma News Tribune, March 1963
TACOMA NEWS TRIBUNE MARCH 3, 1963
Chris Dubuque 2020
1969 LICENSE PLATE FRAME FROM ABC MOTORS WITH AIR, SEA, AND ROAD GRAPHICS
Badge provided by Vlad Gladkov
TRUNK BADGE FROM ABC MOTORS
(REMOVED FROM THE TRUNK LID OF A SCRAPPED DS)
The heyday of ABC Motors was not to last. In the 1963 Tacoma News Tribune article above, Tom Hawkins indicated that he had enough “Confidence in the stability and growth” of this area that he felt safe to invest his money in his new Studebaker dealership.
Unfortunately history was neither kind to the Studebaker marque nor stretch of road where the ABC dealership was located. By 1967, Studebaker called it quits and stopped producing cars. To make matters worse for Tom Hawkins, the stretch of road that he had so much confidence in, went into decline and to this day has not recovered.
In 1971, ABC took on a conventional car make (Pontiac) to try to survive. But later in 1971, all traces of ABC Motors had vanished from the Tacoma phone books and the business at 8233 S. Tacoma Way closed down. In 1972 Tom Hawkins changed the name of his business to Hawkins Pontiac and moved to a different address in Tacoma (8200 Sprague Avenue). Hawkins continued to advertise some of their unusual cars for a few more years, including Citroën into 1972 and Peugeot into 1974. Hawkins Pontiac ended altogether with a public auction of store fixtures in 1983.
Currently, an auto parts store occupies the original building. If you look at the 2018 photo (below) and the historic phone book advertisement from 1969 (right), the building has changed a bit, but is still clearly recognizable as ABC Motors.
Tacoma City Directory 1969
Chris Dubuque 2019
ABC MOTORS BUILDING - AS SEEN IN 2018
ABC MOTORS ADVERTISEMENTS FOR FOR VARIOUS MARQUES FROM THE LATE ’60’s
1964 RENAULT CARAVELLE FROM ABC MOTORS SURFACED ON THE EAST COAST IN 2019
ADVERTISEMENT FOR MEHARIS THAT RAN A FEW TIMES IN SEATTLE NEWSPAPERS IN 1970
Seattle Times, November, 1970