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Kettner Motors – San Diego’s Finest Cars

This shot of Kettner Motors, located in San Diego, California was taken in the early 1950s for CNP Signs, the maker of the attention-getting sign for the used car lot.

Based on the nice selection of clean late-model used cars in its inventory, the operation apparently was a success. It may have been operated by a descendant of William Kettner, who was active in insurance, real estate, the Chamber of Commerce in the City and served two terms in the US Congress. Another possibility for the dealership’s name may have been because of its location on Kettner Boulevard, renamed after Kettner when he died in 1930.

Share with us what you find of interest in this photo found via and courtesy of CNP Signs.

23 responses to “Kettner Motors – San Diego’s Finest Cars

  1. In the foreground, on the far right is a four-door 1950 BUICK Roadmaster and three cars to the left is a is a 1946 BUICK convertible, either a Roadmaster or Super.

  2. The car on the corner is tough but the shape of the hood and the position of the front fender sidetrim suggest ’50 Plymouth. Seen behind it, a Starlight Coupe and the rear of a likely ’46-’48 Mercury convertible.

    Up front to the right a ’46 Ford convertible (turn signals above the grille vs ’47 and ’48) with lots of accessories, a ’47 or ’48 Buick Super or Roadmaster convertible, a ’49 Ford convertible, a ’46-’48 Plymouth coupe and a ’50 Buick, likely a Special Jetback 4-door Sedan.

    Over to the left next to the ’48 Chevy Fleetline Aerosedan appears to be a ’48 Hudson Super 4-door sedan. The Woodie wagon on the end is likely a ’46-’48 Chevy Fleetmaster or Pontiac Streamliner.

  3. The newest used car I see is the `49 Ford on the right, with quite a few `47-`48 models elsewhere in the front row. I know from talking to a couple mechanics I worked with at a Ford dealer years back, they said the quality control on `49 Fords was so bad, people traded them in droves in the early 50s. Typical problems of car rushed to market too soon before QC could be done properly. The `50-51 models were said to have been MUCH better after the bugs got ironed out. (Those mechs. had been with the dealer since shortly after WWII. This was the late `70s.) A pretty nice `47-`48 Ford cvt. in the front row too!

    • Ooops…clear on the far right–almost out of frame I see the oval port holed hood of a `50 Buck-toothed Buick. Looks like possibly a base-model Special sedan. Almost missed that.

      • I noticed that a couple of the cars have yellow ’48 – ’50 license plates on them. So it looks like the photo dates from pre-1951. Very likely 1950 sometime.

    • I never knew that those ’49 models had major QC problems. The ‘Shoebox Ford’ as it came to be known was a big hit with the public as there were over a million presales for those cars that came from advertisements and showroom presentations. But looks as they say can be deceiving. I did know that much the same thing happened to Packard in ’55 due primarily to switching plant locations. In their case however it proved fatal as word soon got out that the new Packards were “dogs”, plus they were a rather ugly looking car unlike the ’49 Ford which was magnificently designed and continued to sell well after its inaugural year.

  4. Looks like “Tex” in the back would love to sell you a car. Dad said, never buy a car at night. Does anyone know why the red and green are lit on the traffic light?

    • Time exposed photo as seen by the headlight trails coming in at the bottom center of the photo also showing the red and green on the traffic light

  5. Kettner Motors (new and used cars) was at 1420 Kettner Blvd. (corner of Kettner and Ash) just two blocks up from the waterfront where the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship, is berthed. The president was Carl A. Whittenton, the vice president was W. E. Butler, and the secretary/treasurer was C. A. Whittenton Jr. At the time the photo was taken their phone number was Franklin 9-1248.

  6. The streaks of light in the foreground could be passing cars in a time exposure – would account for the red and green both lit on the traffic signal. Impressive identifications by all.

  7. That auto dealer whose slogan is San Diego’s “finest cars” certainly has an outstanding selection of cars for sale on his lot. That small late 1940’s white convertible is a real beauty. I figured that it was probably a Mercury, but it has been identified by a couple of readers as being a 1946 Ford. To my knowledge the grill on that car doesn’t match a 1946 Ford at all. Any suggestions about the front grill of that car and why it appears so different from the norm if it is indeed a Ford?

  8. …For it is written,that he who identifies the make of car directly beneath the Kettner Motors sign shall forever have their name enshrined amongst the greats and that henceforth their memory shall never be forgot,forever and forever….
    – Amen

    • 1949 Plymouth. You can just make out the “corrugated” front bumper with wide-set bumperettes bracketing the license plate.

  9. I have an undated newspaper ad for Kettner Packard, picturing a 1953 Packard and a Packard Clipper. At the top of the ad is “Mr. Carl Whittenton Appointed Dealer for Packard”. The address is 1372 Kettner Blvd., which was across the street from their used car lot shown here. The phone number shown is F-6127 (F for Franklin?). The ad had to have been published in late 1952 or sometime in 1953. The 1372 Kettner address had been home to a Packard dealership from at least 1929 (Ray Anderson) to 1953 (Kettner). Other Packard dealers were L. E. Dresback (1937), Jordan (1939 to 1952). I don’t know how long it remained under the Kettner name but by 1957 (to 1959) it became a Lincoln-Mercury dealership (first Wright, then Town L-M).

  10. The rectangular parking lights above the grille identify that beautiful fender skirted convertible as a ’46 Ford with a standard upper grille bar and a custom grille (and lights) beneath it. The ’47 and ’48 Fords had small round parking lights under the headlights.

    • Thanks Alden for clearing that matter up for me. I’m glad someone knew the correct answer! The custom grill and lights is what threw me off as to what make that car was. Your response was much appreciated.

  11. During the 1950s, the major San Diego dealerships were downtown. They typically had a main showroom, with a used car lot nearby. Downtown is where people went to shop for clothing, medical care, and most everything else. Sears was the first store to move into a suburban neighborhood in 1953, with I believe College Grove the first suburban shopping mall. I believe that City Chevrolet was the first dealership to leave downtown about 1960, followed by the others. Marvin K Brown Cadillac and City Chevrolet are the only two names still in business. JR Townsend (Studebaker later Lincoln/Mercury) closed in 2006 after having moved to Carlsbad in the North Coutny. I believe that all of the old dealership sites are now redeveloped into modern high rise office and residential space. Lots of happy memories of hanging around British Motor Sales, also on Kettner Blvd and right next door to the VW/Porsche store in the 1950s and 60s.

  12. In Rochester, N.Y. every make of car had a downtown dealer location, some more than one. Today there is only one new car dealership, Best Motors-Volvo, within the city limits, and it does very well.

  13. City Chevrolet was at 1401 Kettner Blvd. from 1948 to 1963, when they moved to their current location on Morena Blvd. The dealership goes back to at least 1936, when they were at Union and C Streets. Marvin K. Brown took over the Cadillac-Oldsmobile dealership in 1950 from Don Lee, then moved to Mission Valley (1441 So. Camino Del Rio) in 1967. They are still selling Cadillacs (along with Buicks and GMCs) at that location today.
    J. R. Townsend was a Studebaker dealer in San Diego from 1931 to 1956 (perhaps later), and also in Coronado, La Mesa, and National City at times. Townsend had the Lincoln-Mercury franchise in San Diego from 1958 to 1996, first on State St. then on Camino Del Rio. The dealership moved to Carlsbad in 1996 and remained in business there until 2006.
    British Motor Sales operated at 1305 Kettner Blvd. from 1950 to 1957, moved to 1902 Kettner until 1967, then to 3711 Frontier St., subsequently moving to 3710 Midway Dr. in 1970, remaining there until 1979.
    Trevellyan was a long-time Oldsmobile dealer at 3904 Park Blvd from 1956 to 1979, when the dealership became a fairly late arrival to Camino Del Rio, selling Oldsmobiles there until they sold the franchise to Marvin K. Brown in 1997.
    Other early auto rows in San Diego were on Broadway, India Street, University Ave. and the letter streets (A through E), along with Kettner Blvd.

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