ECONOMY CAR IMPORTS
Following the early demise of French Cars Inc. on Broadway in 1958, a dealership popped up in Renton, Washington (the city of Renton is about 10 miles south of downtown Seattle). The dealership was called Economy Car Imports, and was located at 124 Rainier Avenue, about a block south of Airport way.
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 a brand new airplane at this time!). The building at 124 Rainier Avenue that once was Economy Car Imports, is still there, is still an automotive repair facility, and seems not to have changed much at all.
We have not been able to locate a brochure from Economy Car Imports, but the following postcard recently surfaced:
Scrutiny of records at the Seattle Public Library revealed that the business was owned by Jerry Fleming and Richard Wald and incorporated on August 15, 1961. 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. on Broadway. Flemming and Wald unsuccessfully operated a Citroën dealership (using the very same company name) a few years earlier in Portland, Oregon. The lack of surviving information, combined with my inability to track down Flemming or Wald, has made it difficult to know how active the dealership was. It was active enough however, to warrant inclusion into the factory authorized directory for 1962.
At the end of 1962, Economy Car Imports lost their Citroën franchise 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.
It was early January, 1963 when Automobiles Internationale opened it's doors near the corner of SW Alaska street and Fauntleroy Way SW in West Seattle. The original site was a somewhat modest building located at 4603 - 37th Ave SW. The building is still there today, and ironically, is a foreign car repair shop.
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 interesting excerpt from Sagner's letter is repeated as follows:
"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."
Also, a pricelist was found which shows Automobiles Internationale's prices for the 1963 Citroën line:
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. 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. The Citroën display, assembled by McConnell and Jolley, was situated adjacent to the Fiat and Volvo displays. Michelin Tires also had a booth at the show, and a local Michelin distributor (Standard Service Tire) proudly displayed an advertisement exploiting the "international" flavor of the event.
The 1963 Seattle Import Auto Show must have seemed a triumph for Automobiles Internationale. Photos showing this car at the '63 Seattle Auto Show still exist. Standing to the right of the 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 passers by.
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 after its opening, Chuck McConnell withdrew from the business. His decision to leave was largely due to differences of opinion with Paul over the future direction of the company. Paul wanted grandiose and 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.
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 Alaska Way SW, looks like a "proper" dealership with a large showroom, huge plate glass windows, and several large service bays. The July 1964 CCC quotes a Seattle newspaper as saying that the new quarters of Automobiles Internationales were "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, 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"). The second building, like the first, is still used in the automobile trade (Huling Brothers Used Cars and Thrify Rental).
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.
Automobiles Internationales' stay in the building at 3801 Alaska (location #2) was even shorter than its stay in the first building. Automobiles Internationales would have to move again, this time, across the street to 4550 - 38th Ave. SW.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to see what this third building originally looked like since it has had an unsightly "facelift" from the 1970's. As one looks from a distance, the original curved glass roofline is still visible, suggesting that the original form of the building was much more interesting than its '70's vintage present 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 a huge upgrade for Automobiles Internationales as a credible automobile dealership (not to mention a huge upgrade in overhead costs!).
During 1963 in the small building and 1964 in the two larger buildings, 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 Paul Jolley did not see eye-to-eye and thus Romi's employment at Automobiles Internationale was brief. There will be more about Romi later.
As it would turn out, this third location 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 Paul Jolley and the landlords of all these buildings!
This time, a 'downtown' location was chosen: 1124 Pike Street. This area around Pike Street and Broadway was very active in the automotive world in the 1950's and 1960's. It is worth noting that this small area of Seattle (a few square city blocks called Capitol Hill) was once the home of dealerships of many marques of foreign and domestic cars, including; Peugeot, Renault, Citroën, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, MG, Austin Healey, Triumph, Jaguar, Saab, Desoto, Jeep, Plymouth, Porsche, Studebaker, BMW, and Mercedes Benz.
In the 1960's this neighborhood was a natural for Automobiles Internationales. As with their second and third locations, Fiat cars were sold from this fourth location, side?by?side with the Citroën's. It is very difficult to see, but if you look closely, you can see the roofline of a DS sedan in the showroom in the first photo.
The Pike Street location of Automobiles Internationales remained in operation until 1968. At that time, financial problems lead to the liquidation of business. All of the parts, tools, equipment, and paperwork were seized and either auctioned off by the bank - or discarded. Romi Lucas and Chuck McConnell (both names we have already mentioned) purchased much of the leftover inventory of parts and dealership fixtures. As a result of the business liquidation, it is believed that very few of the original records concerning the business are in existence. Chuck McConnell however, graciously supplied what does remain for this article. Today, no data has been found that details the number of Citroëns ultimately sold by Automobiles Internationales, but it is to be sure that a substantial percentage of the DS's in the Seattle area in the 1960's were sold by Automobiles Internationales.
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?
Today, very few automobile dealerships remain in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle. The most notable is Ferrari of Seattle (formerly Grand Prix Motors) who serve Italian exotic makes Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, and Phil Smart who has made a great living selling BMW's and Mercedes Benz. Today, the original building at 1124 Pike is an art supply store.
Chuck McConnell, now in his eighties and one of the nicest men you could ever meet, lives in the same West Seattle home he occupied in the days of Automobiles Internationale and still drives Citroëns. Currently, Chuck is restoring an SM and also has a few D-models.
Paul Jolley, the other original founder of Automobiles Internationale, lived for many years in a West Seattle home just down the street from Chuck McConnell. But about 4 years ago, he disappeared from sight, leaving behind a tired CX wagon and a rusty Traction Avant in Seattle. As of this writing, we do not know where he is or what he is doing.
Another visible Citroën dealership in the Seattle area was ABC Motors in Tacoma, about 40 miles due south of Seattle. The first appearance of ABC motors in the Tacoma city directory was in 1966 when a small advertisement appeared. By 1969, ABC Motors featured a full-page ad, with the motto, "ABC Motors, Inc. - Fine cars the world over." As can be seen in the following advertisement, ABC Motors claimed to serve foreign cars from France, Italy, and England, as well as a domestic make (Studebaker).
ABC also advertised many other services, including the following curious item:
"ABC Motor Air Lease - Leasing Aircraft and All Makes of Cars"
The ABC building was a drive-in hamburger joint in the '50's, later turned into a Pontiac dealership, and then became ABC Motors. Currently, an auto parts store occupies the building. On the right of the photo behind the white mini-van, you can see the original covered parking from the '50's drive-in.
South Tacoma Way, the road on which ABC Motors was originally located, is now one of those terrible stretches that goes for miles and miles with ugly and outdated businesses lining both sides of the road. As soon as Interstate 5 was constructed in the 1960's, South Tacoma Way was no longer needed as a major transportation route and became destined to linger in an eternal state of purgatory.
By 1971, all traces of ABC Motors had vanished from the directories.