Driving Force Automobiles and the New American City 1900-1930



Driving Force: Automobiles and the New American City 1900-1930 (Angel City Press) explores how Los
Angeles’s enigmatic car culture propelled the explosive growth of America’s passion for cars. And with thoroughly researched text and page-after-page of vintage images, it shows how roadblocks that limited the sales of automobiles in the rest of the country, were eliminated in a new-thinking city in the earliest days of the car industry.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, as Los Angeles transformed from a rugged outpost to a booming metropolis, so too did the fledgling automobile simultaneously come of age. Ignited by an unlikely and visionary mix of entrepreneurs who ventured into unknown territory, early adopters broadened the market and convinced the public that cars were no longer a luxury—they were the ultimate modern necessity. From these early enthusiasts, men and women in various business recognized that the automobile would change society and wanted a piece of that action. The city’s auto business emerged initially among bicycle shop owners, carriage retailers, and automobile aficionados who started selling—and repairing!—cars. Their workshops thrived, expanded, and eventually became dealerships, the key component to the auto boom.
In this first major history of dealers at work—and one of the first books to chronicle the early history of cars in Los Angeles—authors Darryl Holter and Stephen Gee share the untold story of pioneering automobile dealers who seized the chance to join a start-up industry that reinvented an American city. Some became wealthy and powerful, others failed. But the lure of the automobile never wavered.
The L.A. dealers helped change the way cars were sold. They championed selling cars on credit while accepting“used cars” that buyers “traded in” so they could buy a new one. They introduced the West Coast to the concept of dealerships with service bays for on-site car repairs; persuaded manufacturers to design cars to their specifications and created custom vehicles and innovations that were copied around the country.
With more than 150 spectacular vintage images—many never before published—Driving Force brings to life the people who made the automobile an icon of the modern American city. In its pages, readers will discover how the story of the automobile is interwoven with Southern California’s unique topography and sun-drenched climate; a new era of women’s rights, and a growing female influence on automobile design; the creation of the Los Angeles Auto Show and the remarkable 1929 fire that threatened to destroy it; and how car dealers launched renowned L.A. radio and television stations, including KNX, KFI, and KCBS-KCAL.
As car collector extraordinaire Jay Leno explains in his Foreword to Driving Force, “Darryl Holter shows that auto retailers connected manufacturers to buyers, changing America and shaping the history, economy, and culture of Los Angeles.”