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Death Valley Promotion at the Auto Mart Grand Rapids Michigan

It seems to be common for used car dealer’s to have some type of a promotion or “special deal” going on as a way to get you on the lot and try to sell you a car. The Auto Mart, sited at an unknown location in the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan, apparently was not an exception to this rule.

The lead photo taken on April 8, 1949, appears to contain the owners L.B. Petrie and J.C. Weaver along with a couple of lot boys posing with a circa-1930 clunker laying on its side behind the young men. The sign reads “Death Valley Special – Don’t Let This Happen To You Buy A Car From The Auto Mart.”

Share with us what you find of interest in the photograph courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library.

22 responses to “Death Valley Promotion at the Auto Mart Grand Rapids Michigan

  1. LOL–I think I spot only about 4 cars that aren’t black! Not that I’d buy a car from “Smilin’ Sam” or his accomplices, but if I had to choose, I’d take the `49 Studebaker on the far right nearest the curb.

  2. In the Lead photo and Item 1 of 3 on the left, I believe that’s a ’49 Mercury and a ’46-48 Chrysler with possibly the rear center light of a Lincoln Zephyr or postwar Lincoln to the rear. On the right a ’49 Plymouth, a ’41 Buick and a ’41 Chrysler.

    In Item 2 of 3, probably a ’47 Nash (slightly proud center portion of wider upper grille vs a ’46 and side trim extends farther forward vs a ’48), a ’47 Chevy (no chrome surrounding the grille vs a ’46 or earlier and no split grille vs a ’48) a ’46-’48 Dodge, a split grille ’48 Chevy and a ’42 Buick Special (side trim on the hood vs the new senior Buicks). A ’36 Ford beside a ’38 Chevy.

    In Item 3 of 3, that’s likely a ’47 Studebaker Champion (vertical hood emblem vs “winged” emblem on the Commander and later models), another ’47 Chevy, a ’47 or ’48 Ford (turn signal light below headlight vs a ’46), probably a ’41 Buick and again, the ’41 Chrysler.

  3. I’m not sure what tires those two Chevys have on the left in Item 2 of 3…they seem to have some light stripe outside of the wheel rims, and they don’t appear to be those white “spats” so often seen on Chrysler products of the day, but the Dodge between them appears to have the only visible whitewalls in the photos. I’d have expected more, considering they were somewhat common in urban areas and readily available by ’49.

    • As properly I.D.-ed by Pat W above, the Studebaker is a ’47 Champion. Not only the hood badge, but the unique 47-only bumper guards give it away as a 47.

  4. What attracted my attention other than the 13 year-old ’36 Ford on the left side of the dealership was that the “boys” didn’t clean or dress the tires on the cars that were for sale. I recall that in the late ’40’s, even in the boondocks of Texas, the local service station would wash my father’s ’48 Ford and deliver back to him with the tires all spiffied up with a coat of black tire paint. I guess folks in Michigan didn’t think it was worth the effort.

  5. I suppose we can assume, according to the sign, that’s L.B. Petrie on the left, J.C. Weaver on the right and Goober and Gomer turning wrenches,,,aside from the Merc, some pretty lackluster offerings.

  6. It doesn’t appear they could support 2 lot boys for that small of a used car business. Maybe the lot staff was family? That would explain their position front and center as well.

    This is a picture I’d enjoy knowing more about if anyone can provide the information. It would be fun to know more about these people and the business. Nice picture regardless. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  7. I noticed that all of the relatively new used cars have been placed up front, whereas virtually all of the older models have been placed further back, with the ’46-48 Chrysler being the one exception. I am truly surprised to see a “used” ‘49 Plymouth being offered for sale on that lot in April of that year for unlike the other big automakers due to production problems they did not start coming off their assembly lines until January of 1949. Our first family car happened to be a four door dark green ’49 Plymouth that my father bought in 1958 for $100.00 from a college student. It lasted until 1962 when he was forced to sell it as it was constantly leaking oil, which was quite a common occurrence for those type of cars. We eventually ended up with a ‘61 all white Pontiac Tempest wagon that was constantly having mechanical problems. He used to speak fondly of that old Plymouth which I did not remember too well. Can you blame him though, because that Tempest sure was one lousy automobile!

    • Hi Morgan, that’s how it was, and hasn’t really changed. Most people want the best used car they could find, proudly shown by these dealers right up front( as if to appear, ALL their cars were of that caliber) and the less desirable cars, worked their way to the “back row”, which was one step before junking them. If I did any car shopping at a dealer, I’d go directly to the “back row”. In the mid 70’s, that’s where all the tired muscle cars were.

  8. Okay, it may be just me…reacting to the post-Nader and ambulance chaser tv ad attorneys, but “Death”- anything is hardly a good word to use when selling cars.

    Since Michigan is a long way from Death Valley (unless it’s a new nickname for Detroit) I wonder if the sale name was to capitalize on the long running “Death Valley Days” radio series which was broadcast from 1930-45? It later became a TV series which ran until 1970.

  9. The jaunty, confident, casual body language of the two suited gentlemen would scare me off of buying a car here. They could be the world’s nicest humans but they sure give the appearance of having an answer for everything and being able to make a sale no matter what.

  10. I am fabricating a model of a used car lot in this same time period (late 40s, early 50s) for my O gauge model railroad. I am naming the dealer “4 Square Motors”. Their slogan being “A 4 Square deal is a great deal”. I am not committed yet to that slogan, so your suggestions are welcome

  11. The Auto Mart has its beginnings in the Motor Mart founded by Curtis Weaver Davis around 1936 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Originally at 1002 Division Avenue South, by the second year there was an additional location at 554 Division Avenue South. It appears that this is when Lynn Burton Petrie (L. B. Petrie shown on the sign in the first picture) joined the company. Around 1940 Alwin Hallum Crosbie started working for the Motor Mart as an additional salesman. This team seems to have continued working together at these locations through 1942.

    The Motor Mart moved from Grand Rapids in 1943, and it reappears at 1030 Peck Steet, Muskegon Heights, Michigan by 1944. Why this happened is unclear. Davis appears to have left the Motor Mart in 1943 and begins selling used cars at 618 Division Avenue South. He later moves his business to 1603 Division Avenue South, and he continues at that location into at least 1958. Crosbie continues at the Motor Mart until June 7, 1945 when he dies in a motorcycle accident.

    The Motor Mart then appears to have been solely owned by Petrie in Muskegon Heights until 1947-1948. The Auto Mart opens during this time in Grand Rapids, and it is owned by Petrie and Joya Clessent Weaver (J. C. Weaver on the sign). The Auto Mart location was 896 Division Avenue South. Both locations continue operating at least into 1955. The end of the Auto Mart appears to have been in 1956 as I could find no further information on it after that time. The Motor Mart was apparently sold to Calvin M. Essenberg and Lloyd J. Bell, Jr., also in 1956, and it continued until at least 1959.

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