Otto Kolar started working on cars on Capitol Hill as early as 1937. In a 1957 advertisement for Kolar’s, they described themselves as “a complete automotive service,” located at 1205 E. Pine Street. Initially, Kolar's performed maintenance and repairs on used cars. But by the late 1950’s, Kolar’s started selling new cars; Jeeps, German DKW’s, and NSU’s. By 1966, Kolar’s was selling Sunbeam cars and a few years later they tried the Simca line. None of these marques really worked out for Otto Kolar, except for Jeep and as we shall discover, Citroën.
Seattle Times 1959
1959 NEWSPAPER AD FOR KOLAR’S
Seattle Times 1960
THE KOLAR’S BUILDING IN ITS EARLY YEARS (PHOTO PROBABLY FROM THE LATE 1930’s). THE BUSINESS AT THE TIME OF THE PHOTO WAS ‘MCALPIN-SCHRIENER CO.’ APPARENTLY WORKING ON AUTOMOTIVE BRAKES AND CARBURETORS
THE KOLAR’S BUILDING IN THE LATE 1970's AFTER KOLAR'S DEPARTURE
The Kolar’s building is a somewhat stylish building dating from 1910 (see photos above). On the main floor facing 12th Avenue was the Kolar’s showroom with service bays in the back. There was also a large upstairs room with a wood floor where many new and used cars were parked. In the late 1970’s, I remember looking around upstairs and routinely seeing a few Meharis, an SM or two, several DS’s and an occasional 2CV mixed in with a contingent of Jeeps. This second floor was accessible by a steep wooden ramp off of Pine Street. Inside a garage door on the main floor was another steep ramp, this one leading down to the parts department in the basement.
After Kolar’s, the next long-term Tennant of the building was the Foley Sign Company which remained there until 2009 when the building was substantially modified to add three additional stories (yes, more condos). This type of building remodel, where a brand new building is erected behind a historic facade, has become common practice on the old automotive buildings of Capitol Hill and has gained the pejorative term façadism, or my favorite, façadomy.
The building is now called the Packard Building but the building has no relation to the Packard dealership in the same neighborhood that we have already discussed in the "1960's" section. There is some evidence that Packard cars were once repaired somewhere in the building, but Packards were not the building’s main usage. We therefore presume the building’s current name is mostly a marketing decision based on the automotive roots of the neighborhood.
GUTTED KOLAR’S BUILDING DURING THE CONDO CONVERSION IN 2009
KOLAR’S BUILDING AS SEEN IN 2018, NOW CALLED THE “PACKARD” BUILDING (THE NAME IS UNRELATED TO THE PACKARD DEALERSHIP WE HAVE ALREADY DISCUSSED)
GREG LONG’S BEAUTIFUL, UNRESTORED DS21 PALLAS WAS ORIGINALLY SOLD BY KOLAR’S
Seattle Times 1969
Greg Long 2018
Kolar’s started selling Citroëns in 1969; Initially DS’s, followed by Meharis and finally SM’s. They continued to sell right up until Citroën stopped importing cars to the United States in 1973. Kolar's continued to supply parts and repairs up to about 1979, mostly under C.J. Felt's leadership.
A 1969 ANNOUNCEMENT THAT KOLARS HAD BECOME A CITROEN DEALERSHIP
From about 1971 to 1976, a quiet but friendly man named C.J. Felt worked at Kolar’s as service manager. C.J. originally operated a Citroën dealership in the 1960’s in Berkeley, California, called C.J. Motors located at 2566 Telegraph Avenue. C.J. then moved to Oregon where he put in a short stint at Roger Sagner’s Citroën dealership in Portland, called Sagner’s Motor Mart. In about 1971, C.J. moved to Seattle and became Kolar’s Service Manager for Jeep and Citroën as well as handled the parts department for the Citroën line.
Photo Provided by Pam Felt
By the end of the 1970’s, Kolar’s occupation of the building at 1205 E. Pine was coming to an end. Kolar’s sold off all of their Citroën parts and the Jeep business moved to 17037 Aurora Avenue in North Seattle. This author remembers buying boxes of new Citroën parts for pennies on the dollar as they were winding down on the Citroën business. Another local Citroën enthusiast bought up the remaining parts and to this day, still has some left.
The business’s long-time owner, Otto Kolar, died in May of 1981 and the dealership was shut down completely about a year later. The final blow to Otto Kolar’s legacy was that his business had to suffer the indignity of a public auction to get rid of the last few cars, tools, parts, and dealership fixtures.
After Kolar's folded, C.J. Felt moved to another Seattle-area business called Rainier Beach Imports located at 9245 Rainier Avenue South in Seattle. Rainier Beach Imports was briefly a Renault / AMC dealer. C.J. served as their service manager until he retired in the early 1990's.
C.J. passed away in 2004. C.J.'s daughter Pam Felt lives in Seattle and has been active in the local Citroën and Peugeot scene for many years and helped prepare this article. Pam wrote the following about her father shortly after he passed away:
"...Though I was not much beyond the typical confused teenage years, I amazingly recall my father sitting back on occasion and fondly uttering, "A thousand Frenchmen can't be wrong" when referring to some point pertaining to the Citroëns, Peugeots, or Renaults. He was always so passionate about them; he loved their simplicity, he loved their lines. Everything about their design had a reason, he felt, and thus to me his proclamation, "A thousand Frenchmen can't be wrong" was an obvious show of support to the designers, the French engineers of these cars! Yes, even confused teenagers can grasp such impressions (at least upon repetition)..."
Photo Provided by Pam Felt
C.J. Felt’s Amazing Car!
C.J. Felt owned a very interesting Citroën that has spent decades in the Seattle area. It is a 1957 DS19 that was originally purchased new in California, but shortly afterwards, it was traded in to C.J.’s car dealership in Berkeley, California. C.J. liked the car enough to have kept it for himself. In the mid-1960’s, the car followed C.J.’s migration to Roger Sagner’s Citroën Dealership in Portland Oregon (Sagner’s Motor Mart). Eventually, both C.J. and the car ended up in Seattle, where C.J. landed a Service/Parts Manager position at Kolar’s Citroën/Jeep Dealership in Seattle (as discussed above) and later at Rainier Beach Imports.
C.J. finally sold the car in about 1978 to a Seattle-area man named George Levin who apparently was never able to drive it very much since the last license tab was also dated 1978. The car languished - not running - in George Levin’s Seattle-area garage for quite a few years.
In 1985, another Seattle-area Citroën owner named Tom Kaiser bought the car from George Levin. Unfortunately, Tom let the DS sit outside deteriorating at his Green Lake home. During Tom Kaiser’s ownership, he also allowed valuable new-old-stock (NOS) spare parts (which had been following the car from owner-to-owner) to start rusting and deteriorating by keeping them in his wet, dank basement or in the equally dank trunk of the car.
Apparently, Tom Kaiser was an optimistic man, because we found a temporary travel permit in the glovebox dated from 1986. As it would turn out, Tom would never be able to drive the car. Too many serious mechanical and hydraulic problems had developed after C.J. sold the car in 1978.
In September of 1990, a fellow named Greg Bruninga bought the car from Tom Kaiser, for $200.00. Greg will be discussed more in later paragraphs. While Greg never did start a restoration on the car, Greg’s ownership did offer contributions; the car was kept in a warm, dry garage that prevented any further deterioration and over the 7 years in which Greg owned the car, he tracked down additional New-Old-Stock (NOS) parts for it.
Between 1957 and 1978, when it stopped running, the DS had clocked up a total of only 46,000 miles!
In the late 1990’s, the DS was purchased by Dr. Paul Joos, a local collector, and a huge restoration began. In 2000, the car was finished. Take a look - it is amazing!
Photos Provided by Chris Dubuque
Among the independent shops that have worked on Citroëns was Ralli-Round. Ralli-Round, founded in 1965 and specializing in Alfa Romeo, was a small shop located at 1512 Fairview Ave. East, near Lake Union in Seattle. Romi Lucas (remember this name?) was the founder of Ralli-Round and based on Ralli-Round’s incorporation date, it appears that Romi Lucas started Ralli-Round soon after he parted ways with Paul Jolley at Automobiles Internationales.
Ralli-Round worked on Citroën DS’s on-and-off for a number of years. There were even brief periods of time in the late ’70’s and early 80’s when Ralli-Round ran advertisements in the Seattle Times newspaper seeking the Citroën repair work that was no longer being performed by the defunct Kolar's.
Ralli-Round changed ownership several times since the days of Romi Lucas. Keith Magnuson followed Romi Lucas and operated it from 1978 to 2003. It was then sold to a Ralli-Round alumnae named Ben Howe who kept it in business, primarily working on Alfa Romeos, until mid-2018 when the building was vacated and scheduled to be demolished.
But by the fall of 2018, Ben Howe re-opened Ralli-Round in a new location in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, where they are still working on Alfa’s and other makes. We wish Ben Howe good luck in the new location.
It is rumored that there once was a fairly good stock of Citroën parts and special tools at Ralli-Round, but these seemed to have disappeared with time and multiple changes of ownership.
SEATTLE TIMES AD FROM 1979
RALLI-ROUND IN 2008
SAD END TO RALLI-ROUND’S EASTLAKE LOCATION (2018 PHOTO AFTER THE PREMISES WERE VACATED AND WEEDS WERE TAKING OVER)
Photos provided by Chris Dubuque
Citroën guru Richard Bonfond notes in his 2019 book, What a Ride that a company in Spokane called Empire Cycles was briefly a dealer for Meharis (not other Citroën models, just the Mehari).
We did some research and it looks like Empire Cycles started up in about 1970 which is certainly the right time frame for Meharis, but all of their newspaper ads were only for motorcycles. We were also unable to find any classified ads in Spokane newspapers for any new or used Meharis. Since Richard Bonfond is a very reliable source, we suspect that Empire Cycles undoubtedly signed up for something, but it looks like it may have never have come to fruition or if it did, it was a highly unsuccessful and brief effort.
Empire Cycle is still in Spokane, still selling motorcycles. They started out at 5425 E Trent, and later moved to 7807 E Sprague Ave.
GOLDEN ERA MOTORS
As the 1970's were pulling to a close, there were no authorized Citroën dealerships left in Seattle, or for that matter anywhere in the state of Washington. This led to the rise of of a few independent shops to pick up where the factory had left off.
One of the independent shops that sporadically worked on Citroëns was called Golden Era Motors, owned by a long-time car enthusiast named Tom Sumner. Sumner had been involved in vintage cars, vintage airplanes and wooden boats most of his life, but in was in the 1970's when his business really took off. A 1974 Seattle Times article quotes Tom as saying, "...it was about five years ago when things went bananas...I have more work than I can handle now...". Golden Era Motors specialized in early 20th century high-value cars, such as Rolls Royce, Cord, Jaguar, etc. but also occasionally worked on a few of the local Citroëns.
Sumner was no ordinary grease monkey. He was tall, slender, debonair, sharply dressed, and by all accounts, quite the ladies' man. He wore white overalls, had clean hands, and always had his characteristic pipe hanging out of his mouth.
Sumner was a Citroën enthusiast and owned several. He apparently once owned a Citroën DS police car, equipped with a European siren (I remember Sumner and his cars but I guess the police car was before my time). Sumner is quoted as saying that the Citroën DS was the best car in the world, quite a compliment for someone around Rolls Royce and other high-end cars. Sumner also had a DS19 wagon, a DS21 wagon (seen in the photo below), and a red SM with unusual smooth spun aluminum hubcaps.
The original name of his business was The Pit Stop, but the name was changed to Golden Era Motors in the early 1970's. The location was on the shores of Lake Union, at 2220 N Pacific Street. Golden Era operated until the early 2000's when Tom retired. Tom passed away in 2018 at the age of 94.
Uknown source, photo likely in the early 2000's
GOLDEN ERA MOTORS IN THE EARLY 2000's
Seattle Times, April 1980
TOM SUMNER RIDING A PENNY-FARTHING BIKE - NOTICE CHARACTERISTIC PIPE IN HIS MOUTH
THE "PIT STOP," BEFORE THE NAME CHANGE AND BUILDING RE-VAMP TO "GOLDEN ERA MOTORS"
Photo provided by Greg Long
There have been several attempts to form a local Citroën Car Club in Seattle. Most of these early attempts were met with marginal success. The first 'publicized' attempt we could find was in 1970 when the California-based Citroën Car Club newsletter published an article discussing the Seattle club. Quoting from the CCC:
"...We are a loosely organized club with no by-laws, no committees, no social events, no dinners, no award programs, no gymkhanas, rallies or concourses..."
Sounds like quite the club. They did however have a newsletter for a while. Frank Starr was specifically mentioned as the technical guru for the club. Fifty years later, and Frank still owns several Citroëns and still is a technical guru. Chuck McConnell and Paul Jolley (the founders of the former dealership Automobiles Internationales) were also members.
Eventually a solid club in the Seattle-area took hold. See the "1980's" section for details.
Photo provided by Chris Dubuque
FRANK STARR IN 1996