Posted  Friday, February 12, 2010   Jeepster and Anne Simone attribution added Feb. 14th Osen Motors building added Feb. 17

Some early Reno automotive dealerships


This all started in an effort to determine the first Japanese auto dealership in Reno following a discussion of recalls, which my HP laptop ought to be included in. But, as usual I digressed and lost sight of the objective and what you’ll read is an enumeration of auto makes and who sold them, and where in Reno, and who sold their dealerships to whom and wherever else the text leads me. Unfortunately, you won’t read of the first Japanese dealership because I got kicked out of the Nevada Historical Society at closing time and have to go back later. Were I a betting man I’d fall toward Scherupp & Harper on East Second Street, selling Toyota Land Cruisers well before Toyota passenger cars. Don’t know yet. But I will. And the Land Cruiser (at left) was and remains one of the coolest 4WDs ever built. They inspired a newer one 40 years later, at right.

            I always like to give attribution for photographs and artwork, and so here I will note that all you see were stolen off the internet from various people and entities.

We’ll start at 1940, principally because the intro to this page is an ad run by Marsh Johnson, presumably after a fire at his Johnson Chevrolet dealership in 1944, when the ad ran. I couldn’t find anything of a fire in the Nevada State Journal of even date but it was wartime and the papers were somewhat challenged to get the news straight. So, in that year we find Johnson buying Durant Motors and busying themselves at Court and South Virginia, west side, where other dealers were bunched up south of Court Street. As we’ll read.

            In that year we also noted that Scott Motors, just south of Johnson Chevrolet, had acquired the LaSalle brand (left), which probably coincides with General Motors acquiring LaSalle (Scott was the local Cadillac and Buick dealer.) May still be in 2010…?

            Little happened in the years following WWII on the dealership horizon. Then about the year 1948, the car biz started coming to life. Dick Dimond Motors, which triggers my spell-checker but it’s OK, took over Dodge passenger cars in the building at 600 South Virginia Street formerly occupied pre-war by an earlier Dodge dealer, Osen Motors – not Oden Motors we'll read of soon – but the interesting element of that is the building, not the Dodges. The building is built in an architectural style reminiscent of the pre-war auto dealerships on Van Ness Avenue – San Francisco’s auto row –  and I’ve always thought it was possibly designed by Bernard Maybeck, but I’ve never been able to get anybody cranked up to research it (he also drew the Palace of Fine Arts). And to add to the allure, there are some characters – Cyrillic? – cast into the building’s walls. Now’s the time for HRPS’ architectural maven Anne Simone, who contributes immensely to the volume of knowledge of local architects, to turn her junkyard-dog attention to this classic building, now kind of a sleeper dumpy-looking convenience store just south of the downtown Reno everyone wants to save. Go save 600 South Virginia!  Feb. 14th: This just in, per Anne Simone, the building's a DeLongchamps design. It just looks like a Maybeck on Van Ness Avenue. Thanks Anne; I knew you'd know! (Now, if we can figure out what the characters mean...)  Feb. 17: We substitute a photo of the Osen Motors building as-built, courtesy Jerry Fenwick. Now it looks even more like a S.F. Maybeck building!)

            In 1950 we see an ad for Richardson-Lovelock Ford at the corner of Highway 40 and University Street – we’d know that corner better in a few years as Fourth and Center Streets – (Center Street was “University” for a number of years after the war, “the war” in this piece shall henceforth delineate World War II.) We’ll read of a few other Reno streets with changing names. Also in 1950 an ad for Hermann & Wilson, who took over from Brown Motors. They were on the southwest corner of Sierra Street (then Granite Street) and the Truckee River. Most remember their photo in Roy Powers’ 1950 Reno Flood book pictured with a log floating through the showroom lodged up against a Town & Country woody Chrysler convertible (at left). Like to have that ride today…?

            1952 brought a plethora of changes: Diamond T trucks became available at 311 Washington Street (that West Fourth Street area – think Lincoln Highway/Highway 40 through the valley – was an earlier auto row, before many dealers moved south of the Court House.) McKinnon Motors sold International Harvester “Cornbinders” – another great 4WD wagon or pickup (remember the “Travelalls," at right? Rough-riding as hell but what a wagon. These was trucks.) IH would shortly after be taken over by Sanford Tractor, up at the top of Valley Road.

            Winkel Motors was selling Pontiacs at the northwest corner of Center and Ryland Streets in a building adjoining the great old Tower Theater. But the coolest dealership in town, particularly if you attended Central Jr. Hi School in the former Reno High building between Arlington (we called it Chestnut then), West, West Fourth and West Fifth Streets, was, Oden Motors, and here I make the comment that this shouldn’t be confused with the Oden/Hart family’s other business, Oden Cycle further east on Fourth Street at Lake. (They sold Schwinns and Harleys.) Oden Motors sold damn near every foreign car in Reno then available, again we’re talking 1952. They were the great old British cars – the Jaguars (at left), the Morris (and their brand the Morris Garage – affectionately the MG photo at right, in black, below the red Triumph TR-3), Austin, who then made a sedan and quite a nice one, as well as the Austin Healey and the Land Rover which was a no-nonsense 4WD that rode like a truck, which I guess it really was, didn’t have a working heater, half of them were right-hand drive and like all British cars had pathetic electrical systems, sexy Jaeger instruments and weird Whitworth wrench sizes that none of us had in a toolbox. I couldn’t find an Journal ad or listing in Polk’s City Directory to confirm it, but I seem to recall the Studebaker dealer on the northeast corner of Sierra and West Fourth. They made the “Hawks,” great cars, and later the Avanti, a drop-dead leader in early American sports muscle coupes, photo at left. (Earl Pickles drives a Studey Golden Hawk.) And lest we forget, Studebaker also made a pickup truck. (And tracked Weasels during the war)

            Moving right along and skipping through some inconsequential stuff, it’s now 1955 and whattaya know, along comes an ad for Seevers Motors selling Packards at 300 South Virginia Street, the old Grand Central Garage at the corner of Liberty Street, a Chevron dealer that would later have an early Mercedes-Benz dealer (we think that Oden’s – while they didn’t stock them, could get Mercedes and there were indeed a few in Reno – remarkable cars even in the mid-1950s.) One of the last of the Packards is seen in blue to the right. Old car nuts (there are no young car nuts) reading this will remember an annual auto show of foreign-cars-only around the swimming pool at the Riverside – ‘twas there that I saw my first Mercedes 300SL Gullwing (selling then for about $5,000 American – now infrequently sold at auctions in the half-million range.) I drove one about 1960, the most miserable, uncomfortable car I ever drove, but was it an incredible experience. (pictured at left)

            In 1956 Charles H. Retzloff, and I’ve seen this also as “Retzlaff,” would occupy a building on the northwest corner of West Street and West Second that had quite an auto heritage for many years. That building would later house Stremmel Volkswagen for a time, then Harrah-owned Modern Classic Motors, and even later become a Harrah motor-pool facility assuming one can call a top executive parking garage frequented by Chrysler 300-Ds, several Rolls-Royce Phantom V limousines (pictured right), Mr. Harrah’s own red Ferrari Boxer (seen near the column's end) and his bodyguard’s blue Ferrari Dino (in an unusual approach to body-guarding, they didn’t ride together; frequently one would see two Ferraris cranked up over a hundred MPH climbing Spooner Summit to Harrah’s new club at Stateline.)

            Now, if anyone remembers how that last paragraph started, we’ll resume: Retzloff sold DeSotos and later French Renaults at right (in my 2002 Olympic column I noted the Renault Dauphine was the Official Car of the Squaw Valley VIII Winter Games.) 

            Waldren Motors would break the downtown-auto-dealer-row pattern by moving out to 1999 South Virginia Street, just south of what would soon be the intersection of South Virginia and new Plumb Lane. There you could buy Your Grandfather’s Oldsmobile Rocket 88, sadly now but a memory. But a good one. The Waldrens were/are a great local family – nice people – a good dealership. Now that dealership houses a Sushi Pier or something, with some retail shops behind it in the old body and fender shops on Hillcrest Street.

            Somewhere in this period we saw an ad for Reno Motors – Lincoln and Mercury – at 501 South Virginia Street. That was owned by dealer and sometime-rancher Ham(ilton) McCaughey, a good guy, and what make all that somewhat interesting is that his showroom later became the casino for the Ponderosa Hotel, existing even today as a men’s club

• • •

In 1957’s archives we ferret out some notes of minor consequence. In that year that brought us two of the defining cars of our lifetime – the ’57 Chevy and the porthole Ford T-Bird, cue the Beach Boys, please, we learn that the Imperial was added to the Chrysler Motors line as a stand-alone car brand, and would stay so for several years, and was now being offered by Hermann & Wilson alongside the most awesome cars ever built, the aforementioned Chrysler 300s, true muscle cars (at left) – not the wussy-ass “300s” of today. Them was the big-bore Hemis, boys and girls; the real deal. (Hemispheric combustion chambers, but you knew that.)

            And, up on Fourth Street, Nevada Truck Sales was offering the Willys lineup - "Universal" Jeeps, like my red 1966 CJ-5A your aging Blue Plate Special staff is riding in and the pickup at the left, and the great old two-door wagon at the right.  My newborn older son would come home from St. Mary’s in a blue wagon in 1966. I wish they’d bring out that wagon again, just as it was but with XM radio and a decent heater – what a ride it was! GMC trucks were catching on in this area, and here I might make an observation: We didn’t buy a GMC, Chevy or Ford truck nor Suburban off-the-lot with four-wheel drive – if we wanted 4WD on those we took two-wheel drives down to Fresno like Nevada Bell and Sierra Pacific Power did, where an outfit would add a live front axle. It would be several years in the future before GM and Ford offered that feature (there were the IH Travelalls and Willys for the skiers.) Willys, soon to become a Kaiser product, eventually moved to Cal-Vada Motors at the former Oden Motors location on Fourth and Chestnut/Arlington, but that's for another inevitable later website follow-up. Added Sunday 2/14: A S.F. friend to remain nameless wondered how in the hell we could run photos of early Jeeps without including a VJ Jeepster. A fair question. Here's a red 1950 (last year built) at the right. (Now we should include that our late friend Lloyd Gotchy had not only a Triumph TR-3, pictured above somewhere, but a maroon Jeepster! Anybody else have two cars pictured on the site...? And yeah, I'd trade straight across for the Jeepster!)

            Time marches on. In 1959 we note that Hermann & Wilson acquired Dodge and Dodge Truck with the apparent demise of Dimond Motors, still on the Truckee at Sierra Street, now the victim of not one but two major floods (Gray Reids had already said to hell with that and moved to North Virginia Street, now Circus Circus)

            Richardson-Lovelock now shows in ads as being on “Center” Street, not University Street. Same place. New street name.

            And Bill Stremmel had opened the famous Stremmel Volkswagen at 1492 South Virginia Street at the dead-end of Mt. Rose, selling the famous Volkswagens for about $1,500 with a Blaupunkt radio. The original dealership building would later be razed to allow Mt. Rose to continue through to Holcomb. The buildings to the north and south, now occupied by Lulou’s Restaurant and Norm’s Automotive, (actually Norm’s recently closed) were segments of Stremmel’s operation, housing Porsche and an expanded VW showroom space. To create some confusion, Stremmel moved for a time to the previously mentioned building on West Second and West where Bill Harrah later parked his Ferrari. But most remember Stremmel on South Virginia.

            One interesting story that was on the street in the late-1950s was, that while VeeDubs were selling like hotcakes, their somehow-related Porsche cars weren’t big sellers, and, the story was that if Stremmel wanted, say, 10 VWs, they had to take at least one Porsche, like it or not (a blue '62 is seen at left). True story – I don’t know. Porsches were unsafe; hell, we all knew that because Rebel without a Cause James Dean died in his Porsche Spyder in 1955, damn furrin’ cars anyway can't handle the intersection of two two-lane roads at a hundred and twenty.

            Stremmel became a Porsche dealer in 1960.

• • •

Also in 1960, the move to furrin’ cars caught on – Herrmann & Wilson picked up the British Hillman and Sunbeam lines – not bad little cars but had little to distinguish them as anything but smallish, which is where ‘Merca was going. The Hillman Minx was actually kind of a cool little sedan and there were a couple of them on the University campus (my buddy Ellen Murphy Fockler had one), and the Sunbeam Alpine was a pretty hot little number. Both are essentially now sadly forgotten by the mainstream auto guys.

            In the craze to showcase foreign cars, Les Schwimley Motors, now stripped of DeSoto, started selling Valiant (at the left, not a foreign car but a stand-alone albeit short-lived Chrysler product), and Simca (at right), a French car with a name that’s an acronym for something, mostly a French dude who got tired of riding bikes. Few Simcas remain.  Winkel Pontiac picked up the Vauxhall, a British car owned then and maybe even now by GM. Few Vauxhalls remain in the Colonies now, either, but they are still being built in England.

1961 was an interesting year with a lot of auto dealer activity in the ads and newspaper clips. Dan Gillum Motors, who I’d long since forgotten, opened with Mercedes Benz, Auto Union, (which Audi later became an acronym for); DKW, a forgettable German car; Triumph, mentioned earlier as a popular British car mostly for the sporty TR roadsters; and Volvo, a boring-but-safe Swedish entry to America (a black wagon pictured at the right).

Stremmel left South Virginia for the 201 West Second Street location (at West Street, now a vacant lot.) Winkel Pontiac, still on Ryland and Center, gets the GMC Truck line.

Scott Motors left their location near the Washoe County Court House for their present location at South Virginia and Grove Streets. GM's LaSalle division had ended production.

In 1962 Les Schwimley Motors, who had been making an apparent fade into the sunset, revived itself by picking up Studebaker, which was also fading into the sunset. Studebaker did make a home run with the Avanti. Pity they didn’t stick around…

1963 brought us Modern Classic Motors – a Harrah affiliate – that would make a pretty good go in the old Stremmel location, selling Ferraris, Jaguars and Rolls Royces, just your average little mainstream American dealership…  Stremmel Motors, still banished to Second and West, would introduce the Karmann-Ghia (left) as a Big Deal in an ad (actually the graceful little Karmann-Ghia-built body on the VW bug chassis had been around in America since 1958, earlier in Europe.) Our Blue Plate Special research director Carmine Ghia’s name is by simple coincidence.

• • •

This column is growing too long.

The year is 1964 and we’ll chronicle a few more changes on the horizon then call it a column for this week. In 1964, how could we forget Kohlenberg Motors out South Virginia Street, taking the reins of Chryslers and Plymouths from Hermann & Wilson (Imperial had merged into the Chrysler division line and was no longer a stand-alone brand.) They occupied the present Peppermill’s north parking lot. Kelli Dodge, I think named for Kelli Kohlenberg, took over Dodge on Kietzke Lane.

            Modern Classic Motors – pretty much known by now as MCM – moved into the old Dodge dealership building that I’m trying to save at 600 South Virginia.  Stremmel went back to its roots at Mt. Rose and South Virginia.          Mr. Harrah's Ferrari Boxer >>>

In 1965, Kelli Dodge became Reno Dodge. Winkel Motors moved to its present Kietzke Lane location.

And, in 1968, Richardson-Lovelock Ford becomes Bartlett Ford and moves to Kietzke Lane. Herb Hallman buys out Marsh Johnson (Chevrolet) and also moves the dealership to Kietzke Lane.

And, on February 12, 2010, at 5:35 p.m. PST, Karl Breckenridge will attempt to load all this bull onto a website with some photos without disturbing The Girl from Ipanema music that Blue Plate Special musical director Cal Pettengill has chosen for this weekend. (On Valentine’s Day we’ll hear Hearts & Flowers, or something.) Thanks, Cal, and God bless America.