Most to all of the Houston car dealers that I shall mention here are long gone. I’m presuming they all are, but with the caveat that one or two may still exist on a low-advertising budget during an era in my life which finds me less involved with car dealers than I ever was as a kid and young man.
I grew up with cars and car dealers because cars were my my dad;s business. Dad had a Dodge-Plymouth dealership in Beeville, Texas back in the 1930s. In fact, when Dad opened his doors there in 1936, he was briefly recognized as the youngest car dealer in the United States at age 25.
World War II ended our family-run dealership and we moved to Houston on my fifth birthday, December 31, 1942, spending our first Houston night at the old Big Chief Motel on South Main and celebrating New Year’s Eve with burgers at the Prince’s Drive Inn at the South Main/OST “Y” connection of those two old city roads.
Dad spent World War II working as a welder at the Brown’s Shipyard and then went to work as manager of the parts department for the Jess Allen Chrysler-Plymouth dealership near the Broadway/Harrisburg “L” link in 1946. He later held the same job for Bill Lee Motors, a Studebaker dealership on Lawndale, east of 75th, from 1950 to 1958. 1958 is also the year that my parents and siblings moved back to Beeville so Dad could go back into business for himself. I stayed here because I was already into my junior year at the University of Houston by then – and because I had been raised as a Houstonian. I didn’t have to leave town to go home. Home was here.
An off-the-top-of-my-head list of Houston car dealers that are no more includes Jack Roach Ford, Sam Montgomery Oldsmobile, Earl McMillan Ford, Jess Allen Plymouth-Chrysler, Bill Lee (Studebaker) Motors, Art Grindle Motors (I forget what he sold), and so many more that now escape easy memory, and they all sold American cars: Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Hudson, Nash, Kaiser, Fraser, Chrysler, Plymouth, and Dodge.
There were other American cars and far more now-lost dealerships in Houston that I can no longer quickly recall, but they were once here. And they were real. And they basically drove Houston and fired the horsepower of our mid-20th century American economy. Then along came VW, Renault, Fiat, and Toyota – like so many soldiers from the Trojan Horse belly of our new Post WWII world economy – and it was all but over soon for the dominance of Detroit in the American new car world.
Because of my partiality to Oldsmobile, or maybe “just anyway,” I do still easily remember the jingle that Sam Montgomery used to attract new customers by radio. Sung a cappella by a men’s barbershop quartet, the Sam Montgomery Oldsmobile pitch went like this:
“Go to Sam Montgomery, and climb behind a Rocket!
You will find what’s right for you!
A car to fit your pocket!
Take the wheel, make a deal, of a beautiful Rocket Oldsmobile!
Better talk to Sam! – Sam the Rocket Man!
Talk to Sam Montgomery today!
(He’s in the Village!)
Talk to Sam Montgomery – TODAY!”
… Have a nice Thursday, everybody! If you remember the names of the many other now vanished Houston car dealerships that I have so easily forgotten, please post them below as additions to this piece.