By Joan Fudala
While much of the nation worries about snowy/icy driving conditions in January, Scottsdale just smiles.
During this month, we welcome the tens of thousands who attend our renowned classic car auctions and shows, held under sunny skies and in dry conditions conducive to collector cars. But one can’t talk about classic cars without talking about classic, historic car dealers — the ones who have literally been the driving force behind our love affair with motor vehicles throughout Scottsdale history.
Consider these memorable motor merchants:
• Motor vehicles appeared in the United States in the 1890s and in the Phoenix area circa 1900. By 1905 there was a motorized “stage” (bus) between Phoenix and Scottsdale over routes of unpaved horse trails. Car racing was a popular attraction at the Arizona Territorial Fair; famed car racer Barney Oldfield was a big draw, and whetted Arizonans’ appetite to have a car of their own.
• Phoenix hosted a car show in 1912. A well-publicized road race took place between San Diego and Phoenix; the winning time was 19.5 hours. Arizona Highways began publishing in the 1920s to promote the use of the state’s developing highway system. Each of these events boosted car dealer sales.
• Scottsdale businessmen E.O. Brown, Charles Miller, William Kimsey and Wilford Hayden were among the first local car owners in the 1910s. Their Model Ts served as transportation as well as engines for running farming/ranching equipment. Today, cars drive along Scottsdale streets named in their honor.
• Walter Smith opened Scottsdale’s first car dealership circa 1918. Roy and Glenn Peterson followed by opening their Scottsdale Motors dealership and repair center in 1935 on Scottsdale Road.
• World War II brought tire and gas rationing to cities and rural areas throughout the United States, and Detroit retooled to manufacture military vehicles. No new cars were produced during the war years. Scottsdale car repair shops flourished, recycling parts and cars as best they could. E.G. “Scotty” Scott turned his blacksmith shop into a vehicle repair facility. After the war, while the car industry worked to resume making cars for consumers, rebuilding and extending the life of existing/pre-1941 cars were vital to meet the demand of driving- and travel-hungry Americans. Arizona State College took over the former pilot training base Thunderbird Field No. 2 (on land now occupied by Scottsdale Airport and the Seventh-day Adventist’s Thunderbird Academy) and operated a voc-tech school for returning veterans. Among the courses offered were car repair, air conditioning and upholstery.
• Catering to increased demand for new and used cars, car dealerships opened in Old Town Scottsdale. Scottsdale’s first post-war bank, the Bank of Douglas, also recognized the desire to buy cars and offered loans to potential purchasers. Most dealerships combined the owner’s name with the brand of car they sold. Familiar names included: John Woudenberg Pontiac, Gray Madison’s Paradise Motors (in a 1959 ad, claimed to be Scottsdale’s only franchised new car dealer), Money Jeep and Olds, Peterson’s Scottsdale Motors (Dodge and Plymouth), Spur Auto Sales (used cars), Valley Motors, Car Corral (town’s only used car dealer in the early 1950s), Loose Auto Agency, Slim Kemp’s (used car) Sales and Service, and others.
• By the 1960s Scottsdale had grown as a city to 75 square miles with a population of only 44,000. Nearly every household had at least one car. Car dealers recognized a desirable consumer base in Scottsdale and saw very little regulation as to where they could locate. Within days of becoming Scottsdale’s first planning director in 1963, the late George Fretz was embroiled in his first zoning controversy. A prominent auto dealer wanted to locate on Scottsdale Road just south of Chaparral, which would have set the stage for “strip commercial” north along Scottsdale Road. Through his advocacy and tenacity, Fretz and the city council devised new “resort-residential” zoning, which created Scottsdale Road as the signature thoroughfare that it is today.
• From 1918 through the 1960s there were car dealerships in Downtown Scottsdale — Gray Madison’s Paradise Motors on the southwest corner of Scottsdale and Camelback roads perhaps being the last (until recent years when Scottsdale Fashion Square and its immediate vicinity began hosting dealerships). Madison and others relocated to McDowell Road, where there was more land for their inventory and where people were coming to shop at the new (1969) Los Arcos Mall.
• After several decades of operating on McDowell, car dealers and the city branded the area as “Motor Mile.” Among the once familiar names: Arizona English Motors, Nowak Used Cars, Scottsdale Imported Cars, Max of Switzerland, Bud Beck Pontiac-Kia, Bud Brooks Cadillac, Madison’s Chevrolet, Ray Korte Chevrolet, Jack Ross Lincoln Mercury, Kachina Cadillac, Scott Toyota, Chapman Autoplex, Linda Brock Auto, Pitre Buick-Hyundai, Pitre Chrysler Plymouth-Jeep-Eagle, Pitre Isuzu, Powell Volvo-Mazda, Scottsdale Acura, Scottsdale Honda, Scottsdale Hummer, Scottsdale Porsche Audi-Jaguar, Scottsdale Lexus, Scottsdale Mitsubishi, Sun Nissan, Bill Heard Chevrolet and more. Interestingly, Russ Jackson, co-founder of the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction, located his car wash among the car dealers on McDowell Road in the 1960s.
• While the McDowell Corridor still hosts a few car dealerships, many car sales operations have gravitated north, following commercial and population growth and the Loop 101.
• Werner Schumacher (Mercedes dealership-1985 on North Hayden Road) and Lou Grubb (Ford-1988 on Frank Lloyd Wright) were the pioneer car dealers in the Scottsdale Airpark in the 1980s; many followed. Familiar names included Van Chevrolet-GEO, Lund Cadillac, Earnhardt Hyundai, Cavallino Classics, Ed Moses Doge North Scottsdale, Gephart Classic Cars, Legend Cadillac, Lotus Cars of Scottsdale, Madison Motors, Pinnace Nissan, Right Toyota, Saturn of Scottsdale, Sun Pontiac and others.
• When the airpark reached build-out and dealerships had no more room to expand, many moved north of the Scottsdale Airpark to former Arabian horse property on the west (Phoenix) side of Scottsdale Road as well as on the east side of Scottsdale Road (in Scottsdale). Familiar names: Penske (17 different car models/brands and the Penske Racing Museum), Bell Lexus, Bentley, North Scottsdale Mercedes (formerly Schumacher) and more.
• In 2017, the Scottsdale Auto Showroom opened on Indian School east of Pima Road on Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Land and hosts a variety of car brands.
• Several car designers/manufacturer owners have called Scottsdale home and have unveiled new models here. Malcolm Bricklin moved his headquarters to Scottsdale in the 1970s, shortly after debuting his innovative gull-wing sports car. Three of the sports cars were leased to the Scottsdale Police Department for $1 a year but were returned to the company in less than a year when Bricklin suffered financial difficulties, making spare parts hard to come by. Today, anything “Bricklin” is a collectible. Car makers Tucker, Duesenberg and Shelburg all lived here at one time.
• The Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction began in 1967 as nonselling car show, Fiesta de los Autos Elegantes. Held at Scottsdale Stadium, it benefited the Scottsdale library and local charities. In 1971 Barrett-Jackson moved to the Safari Resort on Scottsdale Road and began auctioning classic vehicles. As the event grew, it moved to Phoenix Muni Stadium, where it was held annually from 1977 to 1988. Scottsdale Mayor Herb Drinkwater lured the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction back to Scottsdale where the auction and show has been held at WestWorld since 1989.
• Other classic car auctions in the Scottsdale area have included Kruse, Gooding, Russo and Steele, RM Sotheby’s and Bonham’s. Combined with Barrett-Jackson their economic impact locally is huge.
• Options in the 2020s for buying a vehicle: Carvana car vending machines, online-only car sales with delivery to your door, waiting lists for electric vehicles. Arizona has also been a proving ground for self-driving vehicles.
• Car dealers have been community leaders, too. John Woudenberg was mayor (1964); Glenn Peterson (1953), John Woudenberg (1962-64) and Virginia Korte (2013-21) served on the Scottsdale City Council; C.M. Bud Brooks chaired the Scottsdale Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees; Bud Brooks and Virginia Korte served as Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce board chairs; Max Haechler has been chair of Scottsdale Sister Cities-Interlaken Committee for years and has served as consul of Switzerland for Arizona. Linda Brock served on several local boards and commissions. Gray Madison was a founder of Paradise Valley Country Club and a promoter of Scottsdale-area golf events. Lou Grubb was also a major promoter of golf and a philanthropist.
No matter whether your car craving is for a classic, a cheap commuter, a chic convertible or a child-friendly SUV, there’s a car dealer in Scottsdale waiting to serve you.