D.D. Gross Motor Sales: Introducing a Family Legacy

I am the self-appointed historian in my family.

About twenty years ago, I started researching and writing a book about my family’s automobile dealership – D. D. Gross Motor Sales. After all these years, the book itself is still a work in progress, but I do have many stories that I would like to share.

My family story takes place in Moline, Ohio. Moline is a small town located in Wood County and is situated about eight miles southeast of downtown Toledo. Moline is also about seventy miles south of Detroit. My family ran D. D. Gross Motor Sales in Moline from 1918 until 1972. 

D. D. Gross Motor Sales was started by my great uncle, Daniel D. Gross (b. 1899). His wife, Muriel (b. 1900) joined him in running the business. In time, Dan’s brothers Ted (body repair) and Chuck (parts and sales), along with my grandfather, Frank (mechanic) joined the business as well. Around 1950, Roger Gross (my father) began working as a mechanic at the business. He was the only second generation family member to join the business.

In 1918, Dan (age 19) began his dealership.

At first, he partnered with George Taylor, a local businessman and livestock trader. George and Dan sold Willys-Overland cars under the D. D. Gross business and REO trucks and cars under the George H. Taylor business.  George took Dan in as a salesperson for his growing business in automobiles. George had a flair for sales and was considered the “Barnum of Moline” while Dan was known as the “kid businessman”. When you add the ambition and personality of Dan to the carnival of the Taylor business, you had a recipe for success. 

In 1927, Dan’s growing business needed a bigger building. An automobile repair garage located across the street from the Taylor business came available for purchase. Dan bought this property and it became the permanent home for his business. In 1931, he would add a showroom and a body shop to better suit his business needs. The building remained basically unchanged until the business closed in 1972.

By the 1930s, Dan began selling other cars, such as Plymouth, Dodge, Chevrolet and Desoto in addition to the Willys line. During this era, D. D. Gross Motor Sales had multiple locations in the nearby towns of Walbridge, Gibsonburg, and Pemberville.  Having multiple locations allowed the dealership to sell the different makes of cars.

1940 ushered in a new era for D. D. Gross Motor Sales. In 1940, he obtained the franchise for Packard Motor Car. He then closed up all of the branch locations and only sold the Packard line from his Moline location. The first Packard advertisement for D. D. Gross Motor Sales was found in the Perrysburg Journal on December 26, 1940.

This ad was one of three ads found that promoted the 1941 model. Image provided by Scott Gross.

By 1957, the dealership began selling Studebakers. New Studebakers were sold through 1966 until Studebaker went out of business. From 1966 until 1972, when the business closed, the dealership operated as a repair shop and sold used cars. 

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, I often went up town to the dealership.

If my dad needed to repair our family car, he would take me and my brothers up to the garage. By this time, the business was just a dusty and dirty building which only functioned as a repair and body shop and was operated by my grandfather and two of my great uncles.

But for me and my brothers, going to the garage was really just like going to a big playground. The gravel “used car lot” housed a large number of junk cars. The junk cars might have offended some of the neighbors, but from our standpoint, we could play in the cars and pretend to drive. When I say that the garage was a playground, I remember my brothers and I once discovered that you could take dipsticks from the junk cars and use them for sword fights. This prompted my grandfather to hide all the dipsticks.

Inside the garage, the main shop was dirty and greasy. The body shop area was dusty with “Bondo” dust.  The distinct odor of Bondo, grease and dirt permeated throughout the garage. The showroom was just a dusty office area which had not displayed a new car for years. As a kid standing in this empty showroom, I never realized that decades of new car models were displayed in this very showroom. I had no idea that countless business dealings had transpired right where I stood. From the 1930s thru the 1960s, clients came into this showroom to look at the new Willys, then Packard, then Studebaker models and made their purchases.

The showroom image was taken after 1974, after the business had closed. Image provided by Scott Gross.

By today’s standards, the building and grounds was not what we envision when we think about a car dealership. Even with the addition of the showroom and the paint shop, the facility was quite minimalistic. When you think about car dealerships of today, you may envision a roomy showroom, large maintenance facility and a paved parking lot that holds hundreds of cars. Even after Dan’s additions and renovations, the D. D. Gross facility was a small building with a small lot. Even so, this facility offered a full service experience for its customers for many decades. From the 1930s to the 1970s, automobiles were sold, repaired and even repainted from this humble facility.

This image shows the dealership in 1976, after the business had closed. Image provided by Scott Gross.

Let’s fast forward to 2002.

I had an idea to write a book about my family’s car business.  I thought it would be fun to capture the stories from past workers and customers and assemble them in one book. I mailed out flyers which asked for stories and heard back from about twenty individuals. After interviews and correspondence, I accumulated a large number of stories and personal memories. However, these stories are only as accurate as the memories of the story teller. In my interviews, I would commonly get the response, “You’re asking me to remember things that I haven’t thought about for fifty years.” The stories told are great stories and hopefully are reasonably accurate.

In this series, I will present research and stories representing the Packard years of D. D. Gross Motor Sales.

The series will start in 1940 and conclude in the late 1950s when the business transitioned to Studebaker. The series will provide a unique perspective on Packard Motor Car Company. This perspective is the first-hand stories and accounts about a small, family operated Packard dealership.

One final comment: Alwin Welling was a lifelong area resident, customer, and part-time employee of the dealership. Alwin made one brief statement that I believe sums up the essence of my project. “Times were different years ago. The Gross place of business was kind of gathering hole for the neighbors and farmers”.

The next article will begin in 1940, which is the year that Dan Gross began selling Packard automobiles. Click here to read Part 2.

Author

  • Emily Benoit

    Lover of research and writing, libraries and archives. Graduate of Oakland University's MA of English Literature program; and Wayne State University's MLIS program with an additional certification in archival administration.