Wheels: Car Dealers | News from local businesses
The automobile has evolved over time, and with it, the dealers who sell them.
They were originally located in densely populated and densely developed metropolitan areas to take advantage of foot traffic from consumers and streetcar commuters, as these pedestrians were the future of car ownership.
Early car dealerships often replaced several small storefronts with their need for garage space and a large footprint. Architectural and design details were an integral part of these early structures, making the purchase of an automobile a special occasion and garnering public attention.
The 1930s brought the Art Deco style to cars and dealerships, and many of the classically designed adornments of buildings gave way to streamlining and neon lighting, drawing the attention of the passer-by now traveling to high speed as the automobile became more ubiquitous.
Yet some of the ornamentation remained. The next time you pass by 300 Forest Ave. (Route 302) in Portland, look at the top of the building and notice that in the center of the top of the roof line is a medallion of the Studebaker script banner, diagonally across the relief of a spoke wheel, embellishing the facade.
This logo was used by Studebaker from 1912 to 1935 and adorned the former dealer E. Hansen Studebaker formerly located in this same building.
In 1947, when car dealerships were still unique and impressive statements for the franchisee, Frank Lloyd Wright, the prolific architect and designer of notable mid-century modern structures such as Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, was responsible for renovating a gas station. and car dealership for Roy Wetmore in Detroit.
The design included spiral ramps, abundant use of glass and concrete, and a cantilevered display platform, all iconic elements of FLW. Unfortunately, despite some interior improvements planned, the overall project was never completed. Although the building stands today, a mishmash of styles that never came close to its potential historical significance, lost under garish signage and unassuming features.
As the science of car selling has become more mainstream, larger glass windows have become a dealership staple. In 1948, General Motors published a 160-page book, “Planning Automobile Dealer Properties,” which introduced the ideal car dealership and the reasons behind the design elements.
Every detail has been covered, including the best angle to park a car so that traffic will be noticed due to a motorist’s field of vision as opposed to a store in town, where pedestrians on sidewalks would have a vantage point different ; why showrooms with corner glass walls were more effective than flat glass walls; siting of a building to enjoy the sun and its angles; curved glass versus thin angular glass; office fittings; used car areas; and shop space were also covered, among the many aspects of the book.
Large glass walls would remain a consistent design element at dealerships, while bolder features and colors would define the branding.
White is often chosen, characterizing bright spaces and lending the best light to display models.
The sales offices are now open to give an impression of transparency in the conduct of financing and transactions, perhaps subtly separated from the shiny floor of the showroom by a carpeted transition, while hues of lighting soft create a soothing atmosphere.
Opulent structures have given way to square glass cases. Manufacturers rely on rebranding and remodeling their dealer networks perhaps every 10 years – at the dealer’s expense – and no longer design or build for the long haul. Like most franchises, the appearance of buildings, grounds and signage should reflect and evoke an image that represents the brand.
While most dealerships these days are typically block structures with sleek facades of silver or white square or rectangular panels, some contain unique design elements. But all display their logo prominently.
Chrysler / Dodge / Jeep / Ram dealerships often have a large center palladium window above the front door, while Chevrolet dealerships have a GM blue framed entrance with an obvious bow tie emblem displayed.
Ford blue oval and writing define Ford dealerships, while BMW dealers showcase their cockade. Volvo flaunts its blue accent with its spelled letters, and Toyota goes with its stylized red “T”.
Subaru is back to blue with its eponymous constellation logo, and more blue defines Honda, which displays a heavy “H” at the bottom. Without naming them all, it’s safe to say that there is no confusion between one branded dealer and another despite their obvious similarities.
Gone are the days of going to a lavish car dealership and experiencing driving the showroom in a brand new courier, replaced by the seamless chore of financing a vehicle with the same conditions than the purchase of housing yesterday in a hermetically sealed and air-conditioned glass. box. I wonder if we have really moved on.
Eric and Michelle Meltzer own and operate Fryeburg Motors, a full-service licensed automotive sales and service facility located at 299 Main Street in Fryeburg, Maine. More than a business, cars are a passion and they appreciate everything that rolls, rolls, floats or flies.