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Allen Motor Company



The Allen Motor Company began as a machine shop in Elkader in 1903, established by Albert and Oley Allen. Their primary business was repairing steam engines. In 1908, when General Motors was established, the Allen brothers obtained a Buick franchise for Elkader and Clayton County. In 1910 the brothers remodelled and expanded their shop and changed the name to garage, a term just coming into general usage in America.

By 1914 business had grown so much that the brothers decided to expand again. In Elkader they built one of the first and finest Buick service stations in Iowa. This new service station included one of the first gas pumps in Iowa. Prior to that, gas was sold from metal cans. In 1916 the Allen Brothers ordered a train load of Buick automobiles direct from the factory, six of which were sold on the unloading platform before they could be moved to the showroom. In the late nineteen teens over half the cars priced over $1000 sold in Clayton County came from the Allen Motor Company.

Allen Motor Company opened a dealership in Oelwein in 1922, and in 1923 the Buick Motor Company asked the Allens to take over the territory surrounding Oelwein. This gave the company a sales territory covering three counties.

In 1929, yet another expansion led to the creation of an even larger sister company at the junction of two state highways in Cedar Rapids, their first dealership in Cedar Rapids. It opened on Black Tuesday, October 29th, the day the stock market crashed. Also in 1929, Ray H. and Al W. Allen joined the company. Allen Motors was one of the first car dealerships in Iowa to sign a contract with Buick, which expanded their sales territory to eight counties.

In 1930, Maurine Allen, who had been managing the Oelwein store, closed it. In 1931, the company acquired Oldsmobile and Cadillac franchises and bought stock in AMCo. In 1932 the company did away with their elaborate showroom in Cedar Rapids and transformed it into a super service station, which was equipped with two hydraulic lifts, a tire department, a battery department, and brake testers.

With the advent of World War II and rubber and gas rationing, total company sales dropped from over a million dollars to less than $300,000. To offset this loss, in January of 1942 it developed a tire recapping and vulcanizing service and invested in intense marketing of their services. According to the November 1942 issue of the publication Tires, Upon every addition or improvement they issue interseting pamphlets and folders, complete with photographs and information about their new service. In an attempt to boost sales, the company installed plate glass windows to allow passersby to view what was happening on the sales floor and in the tire recapping department. Also due to the war, the number of employees dropped from 80 to 41. During the war, the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), of which Ray H. Allen was a director, recruited 20,000 new members for the military. Ray also recruited 30 young men from the Cedar Rapids area to serve as mechanics for the army ordnance department. He was awarded a certificate of merit from the army for these efforts. Al W. Allen served in the Supply Department of the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California from 1944 to 1945, when he returned to the dealership.

In 1947 the Elkader and Cedar Rapids companies were split, with Oley Allen's family taking ownership of the Elkader branch and Albert Allen's children assuming responsibility for the Cedar Rapids location. In the early 1950s General Motors required their dealerships to have separate franchises, so the Cedar Rapids location was split into two companies: Allen Oldsmobile-Cadillac and the Allen Motor Company, which sold Buicks. In January 1950, Allen Motor Company moved into their fourth building, which was a block long and half a block wide. This new building had a large tire and accessory sales room which sold automotive products as well as electric tools, radios, waxes, polishes, and flashlights. Soft drinks and candies were available in vending machines. The formal opening was a two-day affair with prizes. The station sold 14,400 gallons of gasoline from their six pumps during the opening.

Eventually, the Cedar Rapids super station was operated separately from the sales and service station and recapping was no longer done. The speciality of of the super service station was quick service for all makes of cars. In 1952 there is the first sign of integration, as a photo of their staff shows an African American among the group.

In 1959 Allen Imports was inaugurated in Cedar Rapids to sell import cars. The original franchise was Renault/Peugot, followed by Triumph and other British sports cars, Mercedes Benz, and Volvo. In 1980 the company sold this branch of the company for its asset value.

During the early 1960s Allen Oldsmobile-Cadillac and Allen Motor Company re-merged. In the 1970s the Cedar Rapids AmCo stock was sold to AMC and in 1985 a portion of Allen Motor Company stock was sold. Allen Motor Company acquired a GMC truck franchise in late 1989 and in 1990 they were granted a Saturn franchise. The Cedar Rapids dealership remodeled in 1991. In 1999 they relocated the entire dealership to near I-380 in Hiawatha.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Allen Motor Company Records

Identifier: MsC0874

Records of the oldest auto dealership in Iowa, including financial records, newsletters, and photographs.

Dates: 1903-2006