The unlikeliest of auto mascots, a cartoon cat from the early 20th century, has made the oldest automotive dealership in Los Angeles famous. Felix the Cat and Felix Chevrolet joined forces over a century ago in a stroke of cross-marketing genius.
Winslow Felix (owner, 1921-1936)
Auto dealer Winslow Felix found creative ways to innovate from the start. He used his social connections to his advantage, including his agreement with the creator of Felix the Cat, a popular character in the “funny papers.” The dealer became close friends with the cartoon’s creator Pat Sullivan through his active civic life and struck a deal to cross-market their brands. (Sullivan and his friends also received deals on their Chevrolets.)
According to a 1925 Los Angeles Times article, “Probably no other motor-car dealer in Los Angeles is so well known through the state at large than is Winslow Felix.”
Born to a large Mexican-American family in the Arizona territory, Felix moved to Los Angeles at 19 and started working at car dealerships. About a decade later, General Motors appointed 30-year-old Felix as a Chevrolet franchised dealer.
Felix instituted processes to go above and beyond in customer service:
Porters drove three-wheeled motorcycles (branded with Felix the Cat) to deliver new cars and bring vehicles in for service.
Felix assigned an employee to call every new-vehicle owner to ask about that person’s purchase experience (this was well before the standard practice of measuring consumer satisfaction).
Ruth Felix (owner, 1936-1955)
In 1936, Felix, at the age of 45, died in a polo accident. Without a will, his estate, including Felix Chevrolet, passed to his wife, Ruth Felix. Not much is known about her tenure except that she owned the dealership for nearly two decades before selling it to Nickolas Shammas in 1955.
Nickolas Shammas (owner, 1955-2003)
Like Winslow Felix, Shammas’ career had humble beginnings. During his childhood, Shammas spent five years in the Los Angeles foster care system.
“He learned about LA the hard way,” says Darryl Holter, Shammas’ son-in-law and his successor as dealer principal to Felix Chevrolet. “He was able to make money by working on used cars and fixing them up. He was a used-car expert.”
Early on, Shammas showed he was a natural with cars, finding and fixing used vehicles for the teachers and principal at his high school. He leveraged this talent into a high-end, used-car operation, which he paused to run a war material facility during World War II.
Shammas realized his dreams of becoming a franchised dealer when he bought Felix Chevrolet in 1955. He relocated the store from downtown Los Angeles to the historic Automobile Row on Figueroa Street, where he constructed the famous three-sided Felix the Cat sign. Felix Chevrolet ultimately became the largest-volume Chevrolet store west of the Mississippi.
“He was very forward-thinking,” Holter says of his late father-in-law, citing his innovative marketing techniques using Hollywood celebrities.
In 1965, following the devastating riots in Watts, there was an exodus from Los Angeles to the suburbs. After several Automobile Row dealerships followed suit, Shammas bought up their land, eventually totaling 27 acres on Figueroa Street.
In 1992, Holter was a history professor at UCLA when his dealer father-in-law asked him to help revive the family business following the deadly riots in the area that year.
Darryl Holter (owner, 1995-2022)
Although Shammas made the initial investment in the revival, it was Holter who ultimately restored the Figueroa historic automotive corridor a few decades later.
Holter, a former labor organizer and activist, built an alliance with the University of Southern California and the surrounding property owners surrounding Felix Chevrolet to develop a business improvement district. Now Figueroa Street is home to 12 dealerships, selling more than 3,000 cars a month.
As his father-in-law’s health declined, Holter took a bigger role in the company, making his leave from UCLA permanent. To learn more about the automotive business, Holter attended NADA Dealer Academy in 2000. He was the only student with a Ph.D. in his Academy class.
Holter balanced historic preservation and business incentives by building a four-story store behind the historic showroom of Felix Chevrolet for service, parts, and parking.
“An automobile dealership has to be part of the community because cars are big investments,” Holter says. “After buying a home, this is the second-biggest investment that a person is going to make.”
Open Road Capital (2022-present)
Through the Figueroa Street business community, Holter met and befriended Rinaldi Halim, the owner of a Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram store a few blocks away from Felix Chevrolet.
In December 2022, Halim partnered with Open Road Capital to purchase Felix Chevrolet. They have retained the dealership’s storied name.
Halim recognizes the landmark status Felix Chevrolet has garnered, calling the dealership “more than just a business.”
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