LIMA — Howard E. Ellis had glimpsed the future, and it had fins.
On his return from a trip to Detroit where he previewed the 1957 Chrysler and Imperial models, Ellis told The Lima News on Oct. 7, 1956, that he “saw soaring outward-canted tail fins create the sleek appearance of a poised dart, the styling concept common in advanced aircraft, racing cars and racing boats.”
In Lima in the late 1950s, if your tastes ran to the soaring tail fins of a Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth or Imperial, Howard Ellis, president of El-Par Motor Sales, was the man you saw.
Ellis was born June 7, 1917, in Alger, the son of Earl and Daisy Shadley Ellis. On Feb. 1, 1940, he married Cleona Reichenbach. Ellis enlisted in the Army on Dec. 11, 1942, and, less than two years later, became one half of a remarkable coincidence. “Firm proof that lightning does strike twice in the same place came to Harry Reichenbach, Bluffton, recently when he received news that his son, Pfc. Frederick, and his son-in-law, Pfc. Howard Ellis, had been wounded in France within a few hours of each other on the same day,” the News reported August 25, 1944.
In 1945, fresh from World War II with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, Ellis purchased Triangle Motors, a firm where he had worked before the war. Triangle Motors was owned by Wilbur Timmerman, a member of a pioneering family of Lima auto dealers.
Lynn B. Timmerman, Wilbur Timmerman’s brother, started his career in the industry in 1903 as an employee of the city’s first Ford dealer, William Rudy, the News noted Sept. 8, 1967, a day after Lynn Timmerman’s death.
In the early days, distribution of cars was an involved procedure. “Cars and trucks were shipped by rail freight in a semi-assembled condition, to be put together by the dealer,” the News explained. “This was done in the winter months for spring sales. Mr. (Lynn) Timmerman devised a unique method of assembling and storing as many as 550 finished autos, literally hanging them from the rafters and removing via a car elevator powered by a Model T engine.”
Triangle Motor Sales, according to the 1967 News story, was Lynn Timmerman’s idea. Along with brothers, Paul and Wilbur, “he founded the company 40 years ago to merchandise all makes of cars under one organization. As far as is known, this is the origination of the ‘one-stop’ idea in car selling.
“However, when automotive companies disagree, Triangle split, with a Chrysler dealership becoming Wilbur’s career and Paul going into the coal and furnace business.”
The 1928 City Directory lists Wilbur Timmerman as president of Triangle Motors, his wife, Zoe, as vice president and his brother, Paul Timmerman, as secretary-treasurer. By 1940, the Timmermans (Lynn Timmerman operated a Ford-Mercury-Lincoln-Zephyr dealership) had plenty of company. The News reported on Jan. 1, 1940, that Allen County was home to 11 auto dealerships. Five years later, Wilbur Timmerman retired and sold Triangle Motors to Ellis.
El-Par Motors celebrated its first year in business in September 1946. An ad in the News on September 29th of that year touted services that included brake and upholstery work as well as a “lubritorium.”
In 1949, El-Par moved from the old Triangle building at 129 S. Pierce St. to a new facility at 550 W. Elm St. “Howard Ellis says he plans to open his streamlined El-Par Motor Sales Building, West Elm Street, about April 15,” the News reported March 13, 1949. “It will be one of the fanciest garage-showroom structures in this section of the city.”
When an open house was held at the new facility, the News was there. “Modern machinery for motor analyzation, and equipment to test motors under simulated road conditions along with the latest facilities in the automotive repair field have been installed and will be demonstrated,” the News reported April 24, 1949.
Ellis also worked at building goodwill for his dealership through involvement in many community projects. In 1953, he dispensed his largesse more directly. “Howard Ellis, El-Par sales host, says he’ll continue with his goodwill program of putting nickels in ‘overdue’ meters in the downtown area,” the News reported Oct. 25, 1953. Ellis left a note on each car with this bit of doggerel: “Did a cop tow your car? No — ‘twas paid by El-Par,” according to the News.
Eleven years after purchasing the dealership from Timmerman, Ellis announced expansion plans. “Howard Ellis, owner and general manager of El-Par Motor sales here, announced yesterday plans to establish a Delphos El-Par Division, with new DeSoto and Plymouth dealership contracts,” the News reported on May 15, 1956. The dealership would be operated by former Delphos resident, Robert Alexander, who had been with El-Par four years.
As 1956 ended, El-Par expanded again. “El-Par Motor Sales, 550 W. Elm St, yesterday announced that it has bought Black Motor Sales Inc., 512 W. High St, and has renamed it Par-Ell Plymouth Inc.,” the News reported Dec. 20, 1956. “Acquisition of the former Dodge-Plymouth dealership makes Howard Ellis, operator of El-Par since 1945, the only dealer in the United States who has franchise contracts to handle every line of cars and trucks made by Chrysler Motor Corp.” The former owner of Black Motor Sales, Richard Black, joined El-Par.
Black Motor Sales, like Triangle Motors, dated to the early days of auto sales in Lima. The 1919 city directory lists Charles H. Black, Richard Black’s father, as the owner of a garage at 512 W. High St.
As 1957 ended, the short-lived Delphos El-Par dealership began to unravel. On Dec. 4, the firm filed to dissolve the dealership and the company went into receivership. On Dec. 19, Ellis distanced himself from the troubles, telling the News he no longer had any connection with Delphos El-Par.
The problems, however, dragged into 1958. “Delphos El-Par went into receivership last fall and legal maneuvers to unsnarl its financial entanglements have been going on since,” the News wrote March 26, 1958. Finally, on Nov. 12, 1958, nearly a year after Delphos El-Par filed for dissolution, Alexander admitted to two counts of larceny, although he told the News “he didn’t profit a penny by the manipulations. All the money went back into the corporation.” Alexander was placed on probation.
Despite that setback, Ellis was able to boast on June 1, 1961, that El-Par employed 42 at its dealership and had an annual payroll in excess of $200,000. On June 11, 1973, the News reported that Jim Shirey, a Kalida native who joined El-Par in 1947, had been named vice president of the firm and had purchased an interest in the company.
Ellis announced the end of El-Par Motor Sales in November 1980. Ellis told the News El-Par would cease selling new Chrysler and Plymouth automobiles on Dec. 1, 1980, blaming slumping sales on high unemployment and the high price of new cars.
“The El-Par Motor Sales dealership has sold more than 30,000 new and used cars in the past 35 years, according to Ellis, and has carried approximately 150 vehicles on the lot at any given time,” the News wrote.
Ellis died Sept. 21, 1986.
Reach Greg Hoersten at TLNinfo@civitasmedia.com.