The car dealership has been around for generations. Once the Model T started rolling off the assembly lines, consumers needed a way to purchase those new automobiles. As the industry has changed, so, too, have car dealerships.
Small family-owned dealerships might have been the norm, but now large corporate dealerships have a market share in many larger suburbs and cities. Internet-based dealerships provide consumers with virtual buying options that let them shop from home.
For those interested in the history and evolution of car dealerships, we’re including links to some of our favorite unique car dealership pictures and stories to showcase how dealerships have changed through the generations.
Buying a Car from a Catalog
In the older days of cars, consumers might have been able to purchase a car directly from the manufacturer or even out of a catalog. While cars can no longer be chosen out of a catalog, there are numerous options for online car buying.
Who sold cars via catalogs? Consumers could buy a car from the 1908 Sears Roebuck catalog; in fact, the car was called the Sears Motor Buggy and it sold for $395! The car sales petered out for Sears after the 1912 catalog, though.
In 1952 Sears offered another car via its catalog called the Sears Allstate, which was priced at $1,395 (for the base) or for $1,600 for one with more features. The base price tag would translate to a 2022 price of $15,687.80.
The famous Sears catalog is unfortunately no longer available, but car buyers now have the internet at their disposal. Numerous dealership websites and online car buying companies provide consumers an easy resource for finding new and used cars. Some companies like Carvana let consumers complete the entire purchase online.
The Early Days of the Dealership
What did the earliest car dealerships look like? There is a Facebook group dedicated solely to old car dealership photos (it was even profiled by The Drive). Unfortunately, only members can view the photos. However, those who want to see how dealerships looked in previous decades can check out the article via The Drive.
A Flickr account from user Alden Jewel also offers numerous photos of old car dealerships, vintage car ads and more. Scroll through Jewel’s photos to take a trip back to the past.
While car dealerships now include spacious and perhaps even luxurious showrooms, the dealerships from the earliest days of the car selling business were likely more scaled back. Some even included signs noting that they sold ‘foreign cars.’ As companies like GM and Ford dominated the industry in the U.S., foreign automobiles were likely a new and unique option.
Asian-based automakers like Toyota might have begun to pop up in the U.S. in the ‘50s, but the first foreign automaker to build cars in the U.S. was Volkswagen. In 1978, the auto brand built its first U.S. factory in Pennsylvania.
A Car Company that Was Out of This World
Saturn was a U.S.-based car company that offered consumers a unique buying experience at its dealerships. Instead of negotiating with the sales team over price, Saturn dealerships made the deal easier and much less stressful for buyers. The price wasn’t a point of contention, which is the way some online companies now operate.
Saturn was a subsidiary of General Motors; the brand started in 1985 and it ceased in 2010. Like all auto nostalgia, though, many have a fondness for Saturn history.
Get Jerry offers a roundup of the site’s picks for the best Saturn models. For those looking for photos of old Saturn dealerships, the WordPress site Architecture and Branding offers several photos of dealerships and how some have been transformed into other dealerships.
Remember the Gremlin?
Before gremlins were known as little monsters that took over a holiday season and became part of ‘80s pop culture and nostalgia, the Gremlin was simply a small car. Like those green monsters, the Gremlin car also was part of ‘80s pop culture—the vehicle was included in several movies from the decade including Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Damone drove one).
The Gremlin model was manufactured by AMC. For those who want to revisit the allure of these cars, Pinterest users have pinned photos of old AMC dealerships, Gremlin ads and more.
The Shorpy Archive
The site Shorpy includes a vast library of historical photos and is a great online resource to get lost in images of classic cars and photos of car dealerships, too. Check out images of old-time car showrooms and car lots and see photos of car factories, too.
Car Dealership Pictures for Websites
Dealerships might be searching for stock photos depicting old car dealerships for content related to car buying trends or just for historic references. Dealerships will need to research the cost for using/republishing historic photos. Never use a photo without permission.
However, some stock photo companies offer images that also are available for purchase. Dealerships might already subscribe to these photo services.
What about dealerships that need professional images of their business? Dealerships can hire a professional photographer to capture images of their showroom or even their staff. These images can be used on the dealership’s website, via advertising and/or on social media accounts, too.
For a dealership that has been in businesses for decades, an online photo slideshow could showcase the dealership’s transformation and evolution through the years. However, not all dealerships have old photos archived or old photos that are accessible.
Document the History of a New Dealership
New car dealerships that are just getting established in an area could start documenting their history now. Take photos of the first day of business and perhaps consider snapping photos of the dealership yearly.
These photos can ensure that the dealership documents its history and its progress through the years. There will never be a question as to what the building looked like when it was established and each year thereafter.
While documenting a business in photos isn’t always the first priority of owners, it does create unique marketing opportunities in the future. Consider adding an “about us” page online and add the photos to the page.
If the dealership moves to a new location, owners could even create and upload a virtual tour of the new location. Include the virtual tour online so that those shopping for a car and researching from home can explore the new dealership.
Years or decades later, owners (and team members) could have fun looking back at the old pictures and enjoy the images of those old car models, too. After all, every business becomes a part of history. For businesses that have existed for generations, the past was the path to the future.
More Online History
For dealerships looking for more car history sites, the internet is limitless. Dealerships can find history and images for any old car they might wish to research. They can even uncover photos of old dealerships, although resources could be limited and finding photos of specific dealerships could be a bit of a history treasure hunt.
Dealerships that wish to use any historical photo online should ask permission before publishing or using the photo in any capacity. While history can enhance a blog article or online marketing effort, those photos also could become a legal issue if permission hasn’t been granted or the rights to the photo haven’t been purchased.