An Entertaining & Informative Vintage Automobile Internet Magazine

The Smiling Irishman Sold Cheap Fifty-Dollar Used Cars

“The Smiling Irishman” used car sales lot is pictured here, circa 1952 at West Pico Boulevard and Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles, the owners name was Walter Wellman. While the “$50 Cars” seem to have sold for a low price when compared to today, with inflation factored in the sum equals four hundred and fifty dollars, a figure that appears to be quite cheap, but back then new cars also sold a much lower price.

Wellman began in the business in the 1930s according to a lawsuit heard by the New York Supreme Court in which he was the plaintiff in a case filed in 1939¬†against another used car dealer who used his registered trade name “The Smiling Irishman.”

He later on apparently set up the Los Angeles operation during the war years and must have been well-known in the area, possibly because of radio advertisements, because Jack Benny mentioned him on one of his shows in the 1945-’46 season. How long this Wellman ran this lot in LA is not known.

The photo is courtesy of ElectroSpark.


16 responses to “The Smiling Irishman Sold Cheap Fifty-Dollar Used Cars

  1. I really enjoy photos of car dealers from this era. One thing for sure, not much has changed in used car sales. They still badger you with hype. Make no mistake, none of the cars you see are “$50 dollar cars”. Those would be relegated to the “back row”, where I did most of my car shopping. I like the semaphore traffic signal ( that appears to be changing from stop, to go) and I’d think the “Smiling Irishman” would take offense to an ad for a mortuary outside his dealership. ( This guy’s gonna kill ya’) Is that a Frazer on the right? Seems like a lot of Pontiacs.

  2. I wonder if most towns had a “Smiling Irishman”… We have one here in Louisville, Bob Ryan. Been there forever, and was still there, last time I drove past. The lot here looks a lot like this one, too, only a bit smaller.

  3. Even in the early to mid 70s when I got my license, the used car lots had some interesting stuff in the back row. They were usually $99.00 or $149. at that time . Occasionally they did advertise $50.00 specials to get people on the lot, hopefully to pick out a higher priced clunker.

  4. It seems like LA had more than its share of colorful characters in the used car business, Madman Muntz being the most prominent.

    Looks like a nice yellow & black Hudson Hollywood 2-door hardtop, behind the bus stop bench.

    • Lots of used car dealers had gimmicks and ways to get you on the lot. The King of all car salesmen was over in Long Beach. Cal Worthington……. and that is a great story all in itself.

    • In Chicago we had Jim Moran the Coutesy Man, but the best was…

      “Hiya friends, Ralph Spoilsport of Raplh Spoilsport Motors here,
      The world’s largest new used and used new automobile dealership: Ralph Spoilsport Motors here in the beautiful city of….Emphysema.

      “Let’s just look at the extras on this fabulous car! Wire-wheel spoke fenders and two-way sneeze through wind vents, star-studded mud guard, sponge-coated edible steering column, chrome fender dents – and factory air conditioned air from our fully factory-equipped air conditioned factory! “

  5. Based on personal experience, I would say those $50 cars would be 10-12 years old and really not bad, or clapped-out 46-47 models. I gave my uncle $50 for my first car in 1955, a 1947 Nash 600. My second car, from the bull pen at the local salvage yard, was also $50, a 1946 Hudson Super Six, with nothing wrong but a bumper that had been torched off at the driver side fender edge. Good days, and good times for a young driver!

    • Hi Larry, all of my cars in the ’70’s were $50-$100 cars. It seemed, the ones that needed minor work, were $50, and the ones that you could drive right away, were $100. One must remember, my 1st gas station job in ’73 paid $1.77/hr. Most were from the early to mid ’60’s. Some were a ’63 Falcon 4 door, a ’62 Mercury Comet 4 door, a ’64 Rambler American, you get the idea. That’s why it, for me, is so unusual to see these cars I considered “beaters”, fetching thousand’s of dollars today. My 1st car loan in late ’73, was for my ’71 MGB, at $1995. By then, I worked at a foundry and made a whopping $4.50/hr.

      • Ah, the days of low wages. I think in ’55-’56 I was a part-time stock clerk in a supermarket at about .75 cents per hour. And, yes, I’d love to go back and live those years over. Like I said, good times. ūüôā

  6. My first car, a 1961 Ford Fairlane I bought in June, 1968, was purchased for 75 dollars. It would just about move under its own power as the clutch was worn out. I only wanted it for the body (which was pretty rusty) as I had a decent 223 CID six and Fordomatic transmission from a wrecked 1960 Ford to swap into the ’61.

  7. Not to get off the subject of cars, but look at the electrical grid. Could you imagine that system in modern day Las Vegas.

  8. In San Jose CA, where I lived for many years, we had the Scotchman’s Corner used car lot on So. First St. “The Scotchman” (Thomson Motor Co.) was San Jose’s Hudson dealer in 1955 and 1956 at a different location, 31 No. Second St.

  9. My mother Lita was a spokesperson for Mr. Walter Wellman. I have a photo of him dancing with her from about 1952. I’m happy to share it if you’re interested. Thanks for this great blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *