Like that of many others, my life long car addiction probably started with toys and models. I think the first may have been Wiking 1/87 (HO) scale models but certainly Tootsietoy, Hubley, Dinky, Corgi, AMT and Jo-Han were responsible for worsening the sickness.
Then something else came along – another addictive drug. It was the car dealership brochure.
In about 1959 an out of state friend of my parents visited our home in Rockford, Illinois. He was driving a ’59 T-Bird. Now that was a car I knew and greatly admired. He needed either a part or some minor service and wanted to go to the local Ford dealer. I knew exactly where it was and worked out the job of being the navigator to Fairway Ford – at the intersection of Church & Chestnut Streets. And I discovered (free) car brochures in the showroom.
In the late ‘50s most children in Rockford were pretty much what are called “free range kids”. It was safe. In the summer and on weekends kids were usually turned out for the day to do whatever and came home for lunch or dinner. That included me. I rode my bike around my part of town but never as far as the downtown area where all the car dealers were. But I knew how to get there – the #4 Greenwood bus. Maybe it cost a dime.
So I began a Saturday practice of visiting the car dealers. This was especially done in the fall – new car introduction time. My dad spent fall and winter Saturday afternoons downtown at club where bowling, poker and drinking were prime activities. He was usually ready to go home at 3 or 4pm or so. I planned my dealership visits around this in order to get a ride directly home; no need to get the bus and walk from the bus stop.
I got off bus as close as it got to my first dealership stop and walked about 5 or so blocks. Strandquist, at West Jefferson & Winnebago, was the Plymouth dealer. The showroom was very nice; I remember the inlaid tile floors. There was one of those ramps up to a storage area on the second floor; service was in the back. Plymouth brochures were not very good but I do remember a big red one covering the first year Valiant; that one I liked.
Next stop was a low point on the tour – Rockford Rambler. It was a block and a half south on Winnebago Street. Rambler brochures were skimpy; I thought cheap. And I never, ever liked any Ramblers so this was a quick stop. They did have some cool 1/25 display models showing the “unibody” Rambler method of construction. I wanted one but never was satisfied.
The next two were a half a block south and then a block or two west on West State Street. Hembrough Buick was first, on the north side of the street. Buick had several high quality booklets and I took as much as I could there. Buicks were not my thing but I admired the cars (I figured they were close to Oldsmobiles – which I did like). Across the street and a little west was Blackhawk Pontiac. It was an older, smaller building also with a ramp to further upstairs storage. Pontiac brochures were only OK – my visits were in the years prior to the GTO and 2+2.
Next was my favorite, Fairway Ford, about two blocks south and four blocks east. This was pre-Mustang but still very much Thunderbird era. Ford material included a “buyer’s guide” booklet that, in the back, had a coupon one could mail to Ford, with a $1.00 or so, to get a nice 1/25 scale promo model of the Ford of one’s choice. I got several over the years. Of course there were T-Birds but also a ’60 four door wagon, a ’60 Falcon two door sedan and others. I also liked the Ford special vehicle brochures – police cars and taxi cabs.
Just down the block on the east side of Church Street was Lou Bachrodt Chevrolet. It was a similar building in size and function to the Ford place. There were lots of brochures. I was somewhat ambivalent about the Chevy store. Clearly I preferred Fords (then my choice was mainly based on styling – Thunderbirds and round tail lights). I knew Chevrolet was the main competitor to Ford, so therefore “the enemy”. But we had a very nice neighbor who was the GM at Bachrodt. And he was kind enough to get me a promo model Chevy usually every fall. The dark blue ’63 split window Corvette promo I got was special. I remember being in the showroom for the unveiling of the Corvette Stingray in the fall of 1962.
Next was Caster Motors. It was the Chrysler dealer and was on the south side of Chestnut Street directly on the west bank of the Rock River. Chrysler brochures were good; Imperial brochures were very good. I didn’t know much about Chrysler and there were not many of those cars in my neighborhood. But Caster was on the way to the next dealers across the river so I had to stop.
Fran Kral Lincoln/Mercury was on North 3rd Street, a block north of State Street. Lincoln brochures were sometimes almost sumptuous. They may have been the best, even better than Cadillac. Along with Cadillac, Buick and sometimes Oldsmobile, Lincoln seemed to have two different levels of brochures – normal and very nice. None were probably meant for kids but I took what I could as often as I could and I got lots of the premium ones. Mercury brochures I don’t much remember. I did get a promo model of a white ’61 Mercury two door hardtop; I had a school classmate whose dad worked at Fran Kral and the connection got me the model.
Finally I hit Humphrey Cadillac/Oldsmobile. As noted, Cadillac brochures were very nice. They had great illustrations and were printed on heavier stock than most of the others. A Rambler brochure was often a one sheet flyer on thin paper (like the Ford service vehicle one).
A premium Cadillac brochure seems as if it could have been sold as a coffee table book. The fleet cars at my dad’s employer were Oldsmobiles. These were many Dynamic 88 four door sedans and usually one or two wagons every year. They all came from Humphrey so there was a special customer relationship there. And when I was there with my dad for him to select a color for next year’s fleet 88, a promo of an Oldsmobile would often be mine. I remember a green ’59 98 four door hardtop and a maroon ’63 Starfire. From Humphrey it was a short walk to meet my dad.
There were two adjunct showrooms that could be added if there was extra time but both were of only nominal interest to me so I visited rarely. Collier would have been an easy stop; it was between Blackhawk and Fairway. Collier sold Studebaker and Mercedes but the brochures from either brand were not good. And Craig Motor Co. was in an attractive tan brick building at the very eastern edge of the center of the city – two or three blocks east of Humphrey. It was the Dodge dealer and that was a brand that was below my radar so I deemed it not worth the walk.
Only a few of these buildings are still standing and only Bachrodt is still in business – now selling Chevrolet plus Buick, GMC, BMW and VW. The Chevy store is on its second building since the one on Church Street, the middle one is now the city’s school bus barn. On a final and kind note, Rockford Rambler is identified by Planet Houston AMX as being the #27 AMC dealership by volume in 1968.
I have provided some photos I got from the internet; not much car dealership history from Rockford seems to have been documented. But I’ve got my memories.