Northwest Citroen Owners Club
Northwest Citroen Owners Club
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The History of Citroën in the Seattle Area
The Early Years

The 1960's

The 1970's

The 1980's

The 1990's - Today

Mysterious Michelin Museum

Michelin House

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The 1990's - Today << >> The 1960's


There were no formal Citroën dealerships in the Seattle area in the years of the Traction Avant (up to about 1956). There are however indications that there were several Traction Avants in this area in the early 1950's. These cars were either imported independently from Europe or possibly purchased from Challenger Motors in California (Challenger motors was importing Traction Avants, renaming them as "Challengers").

The introduction of the fabulous DS in 1955 seemed to be a turning point that sparked a campaign by Citroën to sell cars in the USA. The Seattle area was no exception. According to the book, "DS - Le Grande Livre" by Olivier de Serres, a small number of DS's, about 5800, were manufactured as model year 1955. In 1956, that figure nearly doubled, to 9868 cars, and in 1957 the production numbers doubled again to 20873 cars. It was in 1957 when DS's started to be imported into the US in any measurable quantity, and this is the year for which our stories in Seattle take off. But for the moment lets travel back two years before 1957 to 1955.

Pick up a copy of the October 1955 issue of Road and Track magazine and look closely at a truly strange advertisement for Panhard cars:

Panhard Ad
Click for full size picture

Panhard Ad

After you finish snickering about the "…blast furnace of power…." comment, look more closely at the dealer directory listed in the ad:

Panhard Dealer
Panhard Dealer

"Jack Woods" is listed as the Panhard distributor for Seattle. A Panhard dealership in Seattle in 1955? Well...maybe. We traveled to 2225 Eastlake in Seattle, the address shown in the ad, to check out the area where the dealership used to be. Is the building still there? As it turns out, yes. But it is not a commercial building as we were expecting - instead, it is a small apartment complex, probably built in the 1940's. Not much of a "dealership."

Seattle Panhard Dealership?
Seattle Panhard Dealership?

It seems as if Jack Woods was selling new Panhards out of his apartment! The above photo shows the apartment complex at 2225 Eastlake, as it looks today. We bring up Panhards and Jack Woods for a reason. Read on and see why.

The first business in the Seattle-area to sell Citroëns was French Cars Inc. located at 1159 Broadway in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle. French Cars Inc. first appeared in the 1957 edition of the R.L. Polk & Company City Directory.

Business incorporation documents show the names of Jack & Rhoda Woods and Ralph & Betty Gage as the proprietors. Yes, this is the same "Jack Woods" who was selling Panhards from his apartment 2 years earlier. City records further indicate a business incorporation date for French Cars Inc. of July 30, 1956, which is actually quite early insomuch as DS production is concerned. But by the time the 1958 Polk City Directory was issued, French Cars Inc. seems to have disappeared!

Club member Tom Farrell discovered that one of his acquaintances worked at French Cars Inc. That person is Frank Nashland. Many of those who lived or grew up in the Seattle-area during the '60's and '70's may have come into contact with Frank as he was the 31-year owner or co-owner of Wheelsport Ltd., a bicycle shop in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle. Frank opened Wheelsport Ltd. shortly after the demise of French Cars Inc. with French Cars Inc. co-owner, Ralph Gage.

Club member Tom Farrell recently had a chance to talk about French Cars Inc. with Frank Nashland. Following is a summary of their conversation:

Tom: Did you have any involvement with French cars in general before you worked for French Cars Inc.?

Frank: Well, I had a couple of French cars before working at the dealership. I had an 11B Traction Avant and later, a Renault 4CV, both of which were great cars. Plus of course, during the time I was at French Cars Inc., I drove DS's, 4CV's, Panahrds, and other weird and wonderful cars.

Tom: So besides Citroën and Panhard, French Cars Inc. also carried Renault?

Frank: Well, we briefly carried Renault. But of course the model they had then was the Dauphine which I won't go into since we all know what kind of car that was!

Tom: What was your job description there?

Frank: I was a salesman.

Tom: And besides yourself, Ralph Gage and Jack Woods*, who else worked there?

( * Remember the name "Jack Woods" - the guy selling Panhards from his Seattle apartment?….Ed)

Frank: There was only one other person and that was a full time mechanic - a Dutchman by the name of Rolf - I cannot remember his last name - but he was very good at working on Citroëns and Panhards - or any other car you brought him. The guy was a wonder.

Tom: What sort if interest did cars such as the Citroëns and Panhards create amongst the general public?

Frank: Well, it was scant to be kind. The people who were mostly interested in cars of this type were quite often Boeing engineers, as well as some University types. I guess you could call them eccentrics or those that were drawn towards something off of the beaten path. An interesting thing about this dealership is that it was in a little brick building on Broadway and East Union Street which was originally, sometime in the early part of the century, built as a dealership for Sterns Knight automobiles!

Another interesting thing was that across the street (across Union) there was a place that for a short period of time sold Tatra and Skoda cars. They sold quite a few Skodas, but not many Tatras (surprisingly, since the Tatra was a much better car). It was quite an interesting era!

Tom: Do you recall selling many DS's or Panhards?

Frank: No, we maybe sold 2 or 3 DS's and maybe 1 or 2 Panhards and that was about it really.

Tom: Do you recall selling any 2CV's?

Frank: Yeah, maybe we sold 1 or 2 in that time period.

Tom: How about Renaults, did you sell any of those?

Frank: No, not at all.

Tom: Did you have a car supplied by the dealership to drive around?

Frank: Yes, I drove a DS19 around and I also drove a Panhard on occasion. Once I went to a party given by Bill Muncy (a famous hydroplane driver at the time) at his house on Mercer Island. Somehow we got into a conversation about cars and anyway he became entranced about driving this Panhard I had brought to the party. So I said, "OK fine," and we went around Mercer Island Drive. It was an interesting experience. He really enjoyed driving it, but did not buy one.

Tom: When you had the DS demonstrator car to drive around, do you recall having any problems with it?

Frank: Not at all, not for a moment!

Tom: At one time you mentioned that the colors were not the most desireble?

Frank: Yes, at that time the color selections were very scant. I had a drab beige color. It was a real boring color. The last DS we had was a black one with a maroon velour interior and as I recall, it finally sold (after sitting on the showroom floor for months) to a fellow by the name of Bill Wakefield. He had a large Alaskan fishery concern - Wakefield Fisheries - or some such thing. It was a beautiful car!

Tom: Do you recall any problems that people had with these early cars?

Frank: The only problem I can recall was when people would occasionally put in the wrong hydraulic fluid, but mechanically they were durable.

Tom: Was there much in the way of support from the factory or training information?

Frank: Not really, besides the brochures (which we had to pay for) there wasn't any support, not even for dealer signs or anything like that.

Tom: When a potential customer came in, did they have much knowledge of the DS and its features?

Frank: As a rule, no. They understood it was a French car but most had very little idea of the mechanical features of the car.

Tom: What kind of reaction would you get when you took them on a test drive?

Frank: Well, they were impressed, but that was the extent of it.

Tom: Were people scared of the complexity?

Frank: Not that I was aware of. At least none of them had related that at the time. People often thought it was strange that the brake was a little button on the floor. I have to relate this tale. The distributor for Citroën was in Portland and one year we had an auto show - I think it was 1957. So Ralph and I went down to Portland to pick up a couple of demos; an ID19 and a 2CV. The distributor has a 2CV truckette - I loved the thing. We all climbed in it and went out for lunch. We ended up taking the truckette and the ID back to Seattle. Ralph drove the ID and I drove the Truckette. I think we left at about 4:00 in the afternoon. Forty-five miles an hour was about the best I could get out of it with my foot stuffed through the firewall! Back in those days Highway 99 was the main route home (a two lane road most of the way). As we were coming up, every once and a while I would have to pull over and let the traffic (that was bottled up behind me) get past. I didn't get home 'til midnight and I think the only time we stopped was once for gas!

Tom: Where was the auto show that year?

Frank: It was in what is now the Seattle Center. It was held in an exhibition hall that was later torn down to make way for the present-day Opera House.

Tom: Were there any other activities that French Cars Inc. did to try and promote the dealership?

Frank: No, we didn't have any kind of budget for that kind of thing or for much in the way of advertising. We did take on a line of German trucks by the name of Tempo. These trucks were front wheel drive and very well built. They had a Triumph engine in them and were basically a flatbed with wood sides that folded-up. They were great trucks, but at that time we were going through a bad economic period - essentially a recession - and no one was really buying that type of thing.

Tom: What sort of memories do you have of the owners Jack Woods and Ralph Gage?

Frank: Well, Jack was an interesting guy. He was not really involved with the business other than funding the operation. He was really a landowner. He had several apartments in the Eastlake area. (Remember the Panhard dealership on Eastlake Avenue we were talking about earlier?…..Ed). Jack was a nice guy but wasn't around much. Ralph and I had known each other for a long time and of course later on, after Jack had closed the dealership, Ralph and I went to Bellevue and opened up Wheelsport Ltd.

Tom: Did you foresee the end of French Cars Inc.?

Frank: Oh yeah, we could see that there wasn't anything happening at all and Jack was tired of loosing money, so he folded it up.

Frank Nashland is presently living in Kirkland (another Seattle-area suburb) and still has a keen interest in all things Citroën. He regrets ever selling his Traction Avant and would love to someday buy a 2CV Charleston!

So it appears that French Cars Inc. never really sold many cars and was very short-lived. But surprisingly, Citroën brochures bearing the French Cars Inc. dealer stamp surface from time-to-time, such as the following:

1956 DS19 Brochure
1956 DS19 Brochure

Today, there appears to be no trace of the building at 1159 Broadway, as the entire block was razed to make room for a medical center.

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