By Miriam Raftery
September 19, 2014 (La Mesa)—Drew Ford, a fixture in La Mesa with roots dating back to 1927, has sold to SoCalPenske. Mallory Lee, agency manager at Drew Ford, confirmed the sale to ECM reporter Janis Russell, adding that she believes Penske will keep the facility a Ford dealership.
Drew Ford’s website makes no mention of the sale. It does state, “We are glad and proud that we’re still, after all these years, family owned and operated in a day when big corporations and absentee ownership are the norm.”
The dealership was founded by Elmer Drew. After his death, Joe Drew (photo, right) became the famliy patriarch, running the dealership for many years and earning a reputation for integrity. He became a supporter of numerous community causes, from the La Mesa Flag Day Parade to the Kiwanis Soapbox Derby.
But in April, Joe Drew died at age 74 of cancer, the UT San Diego reported. Dean Mansfield, president of the New Car Dealers Association in San Diego County, remember Joe Drew as “just a high-integrity, customer-service oriented guy. He was all about family and integrity.”
Joe’s son, Bill Drew, has been managing the dealership since then. He did not return our call requesting the reason for the sale, or other details.
The Drew family dynasty began in 1927, when Elmer Drew opened Drew’s Garage in La Mesa, then at the corner of La Mesa Boulevard and Allison Avenue. According to the company website, he didn’t have mechanic’s skills at first, but did know how to pump gas, change tires or batteries, and wash cars. He learned his mechanical abilities on the job.
Then during the Depression in 1934, the Ford dealer down the street went broke. The dealer’s head mechanic, Wallace Todd, was given the Ford clock as payment for back wages. He took the clock to Drew’s Garage and went to work for Elmer Drew.
Local car owners quickly began to bring their Model Ts, Model As and Flathead V8s into Drew’s Garage for repairs. Soon after, a Ford factory representative asked Elmer if he would become a Ford dealer. At first, Elmer refused, since the last Ford dealer had gone out of business. But Ford sweetened the deal, offering Elmer a demonstrator car for $20 a month and also sold him parts, and Drew Ford was in business.
In 1967, the company opened its Roundhouse of Values that still stands today at the intersection of I-8 and 125, accessible off Grossmont Boulevard. The dealership added a Hyundai franchise in addition to selling its staple brand, Ford.
“We’ve been lucky and we’ve been blessed,” the Drew Ford site’s history page reads, adding, “There’s still an `old-fashioned’ goodness about the place that people seem to recognize and appreciate.”
Whether the new multinational owner can retain the loyalty of customers at a family-owned business that has been a fixture in La Mesa for 85 of the city's 101 years, however, remains to be seen.
Note: An earlier version of this story stated that Drew Ford had been purchased by Penske Automotive, an interntaional company. In fact the buyer was SoCal Penske, based in Southern California.