Asheville’s First Motor Mile was downtown’s Coxe Avenue. A new motor mile has emerged in recent years along Brevard Road in West Asheville, but in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the peak years of the American automobile industry and the years remembered for the hype of the annual model change, Coxe Avenue was the place for checking out the latest automotive wares. It is hard to describe the excitement that the annual introduction of the new cars produced. The model changeover was always timed for the early fall. The so-called “Big Three,” General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, invested millions of dollars in making each year’s model appear substantially different from the year before. Often, this was just a change of sheet metal, but every few years, the entire platform of an automobile would be changed. The best remembered change of the era was the introduction of the 1955 Chevrolet, described as “The Hot One”, and hot it was, especially when compared with the now stodgy appearing models of 1954.
Let’s pretend it is the fall of 1957 and we are taking a stroll down Coxe Avenue. One of the master automotive stylists of the era, Dick Teague, called this the “the age of gorp.” Chrome trim and tail fins were being applied in vast quantities to automobiles and then re-arranged the following year to create the impression that there was something new underneath the pizzazz. Heading south from the Patton Avenue intersection and past the Trailways bus terminal on the right and the Sears department store on the left, we enter automobile row and something resembling a small-town carnival. Banners and pennants were flying, and the sidewalks crowded, especially if it were a Friday evening or a Saturday. The big automotive news of the 1958 model year was Ford’s introduction of the Edsel. Asheville’s Edsel dealership was Sam’s on North Market Street. The reaction to the new marque was immediate and harsh. My father, who never missed the new model introduction in spite of being a man who usually kept a new car for close to a decade, described the Edsel as much too ugly to sell. He proved right about that; Edsel was dead and gone in three years. He also found little to like in the new Chevrolets at the Parkland dealership at 50 Coxe Ave. “Tortured sheet metal” described that one.
The new Fords, from Matthews Motors, still at 100 Coxe, before the company’s move to Biltmore Avenue in 1960, were more to his liking. Not that he bought one; there would be no new Ford in the Sheary driveway until 1963. The Plymouth-Dodge and Oldsmobile dealers were around the corner at 226 and 196 Hilliard Avenue. The lower end of Coxe Avenue was home to used car lots and a variety of automobile repair shops. The best known of the used car dealers was Bob Ledford’s at 185 Coxe Avenue.
There were a few outliers from Coxe Avenue among the new car dealers. Glover Chrysler – Plymouth at the corner of Valley and College Streets, Ed Orr Motors was at 90 Biltmore Avenue selling Ramblers out of the building that currently houses the French Broad Food Co-op.
Sam’s Lincoln – Mercury was on North Market Street, and the best known dealership of them all, Harry’s Cadillac – Pontiac was on Haywood Street, the current site of Pack Memorial Library.
Coxe and nearby Hilliard Avenues were the center of the automotive action, and all of the dealerships were within easy walking distance in downtown. By the mid-sixties, times were definitely changing. The Ford dealership was by then well established on Biltmore Avenue. Dorato Dodge could be found on Tunnel Road and the permanent end of the dominance of Coxe Avenue and downtown Asheville as the region’s automotive marketplace was marked by the move of Harry’s to the West Asheville end of Patton Avenue in the 1970’s. It was great fun while it lasted. J L Cannon Motors opened on Tunnel Road selling Volkswagens in the building that is now the site of Prestige Subaru and end of the annual model change was at hand to be presaged by the arrival of Ralph Nader, pollution controls and a tidal wave of imported cars that all looked the same.
Post by Ed Sheary, former Library Director.
Blog reader Jason, obviously an Asheville 1950s car dealership aficionado, wrote to say he read this post with interest and added that “the Edsel was initially sold by Deppe Motors, Inc. at 110 Coxe & Hilliard.”
Jason is correct.
The caption under the photo of the Parkland Chevrolet building notes that it was originally the Richbourg Motor Company. My grandfather, John Ashby Richbourg, was the owner. He lost the Lincoln-Ford dealership during the Great Depression and later was elected Chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. He served as Chairman from 1940 to 1946.
John Ashby Bryson