Buying a Car: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

It was a 1977 silver Monte Carlo with a maroon interior. My Dad got it used at Bill Dean Chevrolet for my high school graduation. When I graduated from UCA, he got it painted and pinstriped at Mattison’s Body Shop. It was sweet! That classic long hood! What more could a girl want!

There were four main car dealerships in Conway when I was growing up. They were Bill Dean Chevrolet, United Motors, Smith Ford and Brown-Baxter Motors (later Jodie Brown Motors). Bill Dean was located where Old Chicago and J.J.’s Grill are today. United Motors was located at Chestnut and Deer. Smith Ford was located on Front Street and Brown-Baxter Motors was located on Harkrider in the building that now houses the Ministry Center.

The original Chevrolet franchise in Conway was given to J.T. Parrett and Richard Tucker Steel. Parratt-Steel Chevrolet opened in 1936 at 801 Court Street. When Parratt passed away in 1953, it became Steel Chevrolet until Bill Dean, Steel’s son-in-law, purchased the franchise in 1967.

Later Bill Dean built the new showroom and lot at East Oak Street and Bill Dean Drive. After his death in 1989, the dealership was bought by John Walter. In 2004, it was bought by Superior Auto Group and became Superior Chevrolet.

United Motors was started in 1916 at 627 Front Street. Leo “Hippo” Crafton worked for his father there when he was growing up and then came back after World War II to operate and eventually own the dealership himself. United Motors was considered to be one of the oldest Chrysler dealerships in the country.

The showroom and lot at Chestnut and Deer Streets was built in 1949. The dealership also sold Plymouth, Dodge, Jeep and Eagle products. Superior Auto Group also bought United Motors in 2004. The United Motors building would serve as the first location for New Life Church starting in 2001.

Smith-Hess Ford opened in 1916 when S.G. Smith, a cotton merchant, decided that “horseless carriages” might sell in his mercantile store on Front Street. Hess was a mechanic. The brick building on Front Street which now houses King’s was built in 1923 and housed Smith-Ford for fifty years. You can still see the Ford emblem across the top of the building.

The first showroom and lot on East Oak Street was built in 1974. Celebrating 100 years this year, Smith-Ford is the oldest auto dealership in Arkansas. Four generations of Smiths have run the family-owned dealership.

In 1940, Dave Ward got a franchise for selling Pontiacs and GMCs. His Conway Motor Sales on Harkrider added the Oldsmobile to its line in 1965. In 1969, he sold the dealership to James L. Beck and Jodie R. Brown and it became Beck-Brown Motors. They added the Buick and Opal.

In 1970, Brown and Joe Baxter purchased Beck’s interest and it became Brown-Baxter Motors. In 1974, Baxter left to establish his own dealer ship and Brown continued to run the dealership on Harkrider. In 1986, he built the showroom and lot on Museum Road. He sold the franchise to Crain in 2002.

In 1986, I traded off my 1977 silver Monte Carlo at Jodie Brown Motors for a brand new candy apple red Oldsmobile Firenza! That first car purchase would lead to many others.

There would be other memorable trips to these dealerships over the years to trade in for a new model.

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