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Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017

Picturing the Past 56: Car dealers - and a bonus

Posted Wednesday, April 14, 2010, at 6:06 AM

Lowe Oldsmobile in October 1958. (T-G file photo)
Seems like I keep finding old negatives of Shelbyville new car dealers in the T-G stash.

Among them are this photo of Lowe Oldsmobile from Oct. 7, 1958. I posted a mid-1960s photo of last year, but this one's much different. The building above burned partially around 1960 (remember seeing the clipping, not sure of the date). It appears that the front facade survived -- or the building was rebuilt in the original design.

"Be our guest! Take a Rocket Test" refers to the fast Olds "Rocket" engines.

The new 1959s must not have been out yet, because that's a '58 in the showroom. The '59s were definitely longer and lower -- someone in Shelbyville had a gray and white '59 two-door hardtop as late as the 1990s. Anyone remember seeing that one around town?

Looks like they mixed new and old in the parking lot, because there's four 1958 Oldsmobiles next to a '57 Ford and '55 or '56 Mercury, and what looks to be a '53 Olds. Check out that Volkswagen in front.

And the bonus? Look to the far left of the Lowe's photo. You'll see one side and part of the sign of Honeyland, a yellow-brick building which housed food and fun from the 1940s into, I think, the mid-to-late 1970s.

Behind Honeyland is what looks like the second story of a two-story house. I haven't thought of that building for years but now remember it. I'm thinking, and I may be wrong, that by the 1960s that "house" was more of a storage building for Honeyland, maybe serving as sort of a barbeque pit.

The Lowe's building was last used as a new car showroom in the 1980s. By that time it was Coltharp Oldsmobile-AMC. The Rambler/AMC franchise was moved around a lot, including here by early 1958.


Generations of Bedford County residents bought cars in this building -- including myself ('79 Grand Prix, and lots of longing looks at '70s Trans Ams).

Originally a Buick-GMC dealership owned by R.L. Benson, this building on Union Street was built around 1947 and housed GM dealers until about five years ago. Bill Wilkins bought the dealership at some point in the 1950s. It was a Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealership for most of its run, and Ramblers were sold there off and on as well.

That's why this photo was made Jan. 9, 1958: They were announcing their new Rambler franchise.

I've seen where the building on Madison Street that housed Dixie Motors when it was a Datsun/Nissan dealer was originally built as Sanders Rambler in 1965; within a year or so Wilkins was selling Ramblers again, I think, then Ernie Cook and what was then Cook Motor Sales took over the Rambler/AMC franchise for awhile. Seems like AMC disappeared locally for awhile before showing up at Coltharp.

Note that Lowe's and Wilkins (as well as Cannon Chevrolet at the same time) had gas pumps in front.

The remodeled Wilkins building now houses House of Prayer, which on Sunday dedicated a prayer tower near, if not actually on, the site of those gas pumps. So fuel's still available there today -- just in a much more powerful form.

Picturing the Past is featured each Tuesday in this blog. Reader contributions are welcome.

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Thanks David for two more great pictures and even a bonus of Honeyland. That sure does bring back some memories.

It is interesting to note that the building referred to as Wilkins started out as Darnell-Benson when it was first built, and was operated by Ernie Darnell (Nancy June Brandon's father) and "Duck" Benson (Billy Joe Benson's father). I am not sure of the time frame of L.T. Bellar being a part of the business but in the back of my mind it seems to me that I can remember Wilkins coming into the business and eventually solely owning it himself. I will check with Gayle and see if I can get a more accurate timeline for us.

-- Posted by leeiii on Tue, Apr 13, 2010, at 12:06 PM

My father purchased several vehicles at Wilkins motors. The last one was a very nice 1975 Pontiac Grand Prix. That car road like a boat! I also recall that the old bowling alley was right across the street where Piggly Wiggly is now. Thanks for the memories David! Oddly enough, my family was renting Mr. Lowes small farm house out where Blackberry Ridge golf course is now.

-- Posted by Tim Lokey on Wed, Apr 14, 2010, at 1:17 AM

Just a note here, I heard from a family member of the original owners of the Union Street building and edited the blog text slightly. R.L. Benson, not a Mr. Bellar, was the original owner and it was built in 1947 rather than 1950. I got the 1950 date from seeing old newspapers indicating the Buick franchise was moved from Depot Street to the Union Street building that year.

-- Posted by David Melson on Wed, Apr 14, 2010, at 6:08 AM

Boy, I'd love to have that 'Take a Rocket Test' sign!

-- Posted by espoontoon on Wed, Apr 14, 2010, at 12:30 PM

In 1956 I bought a 1954 yellow Ford convertable from Duck Benson. I met my wife about that time.

The Ford is gone but I have had my wife for 53 years.

-- Posted by jim8377 on Wed, Apr 14, 2010, at 3:04 PM

Congratulations jim8377. My wife and I are celebrating our 50th tomorrow.

-- Posted by leeiii on Wed, Apr 14, 2010, at 5:05 PM

My Dad worked at Bellar Pontiac until he went out of business. He then went to work at Lowe Oldsmobile and was working there when it burned in the fall of 1959. I think the year is correct. Bellar Pontiac was on North Main where the employment office is now, and it backed up to the old jail. The Oldsmobile dealer was between the railroad track and the Dixie Hotel before it moved out on Madison St.The front of the Oldsmobile dealership was saved from the fire and is still there today. I was a young kid then but remember going in Honeyland getting hamburgers and spending a lot of time at Sanders Body Shop which was behind Lowe Olds.

-- Posted by sixtysomething on Wed, Apr 21, 2010, at 2:06 PM

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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.