The Guilford Motor Company
For many years, Guilfordites bought their cars at the Guilford Motor Co. on the south side of the Green.
Bruce Faitsch wrote the following in a posting on Facebook:
Peter Lazarevich and his wife Charlotte came to Guilford in the 1920's. Peter was a mechanic and started a repair business in the building on the corner of Graves and Boston St. (The old town garage, subsequently). Sometime later he moved the business (probably '35 or '36) into what was the old A&P, which had moved into new quarters. That is now the Cleaners next to Franks Package store. There was an alley between Pete's and a beautful old house built in the early 1800's (do I remember Eliot Benton correctly?) In the mid 30's Pete was able to buy that property and build a garage behind the two building. It had three bays and one lift. That bulding was subsequently added to with another two bays plus storage space in the late 60's. Peter and Charlotte's only son was named George, nicknamed Sonny Pete (Peter's son) or just Sonny. George drove the town ambulance, worked as a mechanic in the shop, and raced cars at the Thompson CT racetrack, were for a time he had held a track record. The quality of the work Sonny and Peter (and Bill Konig) did became well known, and owners of foreign cars from a considerable distance would bring their cars in to "Guilford Motors" (never mind that cars had engines; motors are electrical devices.) Sonny was in Europe during WW II, and became a Lieutenant in Patton's third army. He drove tanks, and was in the Battle of the Bulge. In the 30's and 40's Peter and Sonny sold several different cars, including Graham, Hudson and VW.
When I was 7 or 8 I used to take the bus into town from Clapboard Hill to go to the library in the summer, and the bus stopped next to their gas station going East. There was a bench in front of the "store" (the gas station office in their home) and I used to wait for the bus and marvel at all the different foreign cars that went through the alley to the shop in back. By then Peter didnt work in the shop, but did tend the gas pumps which were on the sidewalk next to the street. He used to come out and talk to me, and I remember that if it was Saturday afternoon, he always listened to the Metropolitan Opera broadcast.
In 1958, Renault, Peugeot, and Citroen started importing some of their cars into North America. Peter and Sonny became a dealer for Renault and Peugeot, but not Citroen. Coincidentally, my brother Dick returned home from 4 years in the Air Force and began working at Guilford Motors. I think the first time I saw a Renault was in the Guilford fair parade, with Peter driving a Dauphine with a front wheel taken off. I started working for Sonny in 1964 while at SCSC. I had just purchased my first car, a 1960 Peugeot 403, and since I had to commute into New Haven every day, I stopped at a couple of foreign car parts stores to pick up whatever was needed for repairing customers cars on my way home. I also worked for them on Saturday. The shop used to be open Saturdays until 1 PM, and they were trying to wean the customers off from that day. Sonny and I worked alone on Saturday morning, delivering cars, cleaning new cars for delivery, tending to minor problems, etc. The Peugeot was quite different from either American Iron, as it was referred to in the shop, or most other foreign cars - mostly British and German. No one had ever heard of Honda or Mazda making cars at that point. The French were the first in the country to utilize Michelin tires (makes sense since it was a French brand). They wore like iron. My brother's future father-in-law was one of the early purchasers of a 403. He was a salesman, and put over 90,000 miles on his first set of tires, and got over 30 mpg doing it. That was unheard of in the early 60's, and I think it had a lot to do with Guilford becoming a Peugeot town. At one point there were more Peugeots per capita in Guilford than any town in the US. The car was actually quite simple to work on, mine ran on about 2.25 worth of Gulftane (low octane) gas a week, and was easy to tune up. That was good, because spark plugs didn't last long driving at 70 on I-95. Which I did a lot. As well engineered as the car was, it really wasn't designed for high speed sustained driving. But, it had a sunroof, was cheap to drive, and the seats reclined. But most of my friends drove a Ford, Chevy or Plymouth and thought I was nutty for buying it. By this time Peugeot started importing the 404 model, which was much improved over the 403, still got good mileage, and had the most comfortable seats of any car of the era, except for Citroen which was an upscale Peugeot. That's when you started seeing Peugeots all over town. My father bought another 403, and later traded it for a new 404. Sonny bought his daughter Dana a 404 cabriolet (convertible "sporty" car) which was very rare. There was only one other cabriolet in the area, and of course, we serviced that one too. There were a few 403 wagons about; the last 403's were imported in 1965, and then the 404 wagon came out. Sonny still took care of customers with other foreign cars, but that trade gradually diminished, and after a few years, all you saw were Peugeots and Renaults in the yard. Renault got snooty and wanted Sonny to build a new modern dealership, so he dropped that line of cars. Why so many foreign cars in town before they became common elsewhere? One reason was because the competition was VW, which was cramped, had a very poor heater, and got 5 mpg less. But mainly because Guilford Motors had a reputation for good work at a fair price. Compared to cars today, they weren't that reliable, they rusted out in 10 years, and they often spent more than a day in the shop getting fixed for something unheard of today.
In the late 60's there were 404's all over town. My mother drove a 1968, and she even learned to use a standard shift. She had a lead foot in that car, but never got a ticket. Peugeot started the 70's by importing the front wheel drive 304. That was very unusual at the time, but the less said about that car, the better. It went through half shaft axles like you know what through a goose. In 71 Peugeot started importing the 504, which was a very smooth upscale car. By 1976 it had velour upholstery, power windows, automatic, power steering and brakes, AC - all the things American cars had for years. In 1977 Sonny retired. Peter had passed away about ten years before, but Charlotte, Sonny's mother was still going strong. An amazing lady, such a gentle soul! My brother Dick bought the business and moved his family into the Lazarevich home. Peugeot was always behind the times in the 70's and 80's - it took forever for them to import cars which had been on Paris streets for years. But when they did, it created quite a stir in town. When the six cylinder 604 came out in the late 70's, it was quite luxurious but Peugeot sold very few in this country. One of the customers who bought one was Jacques Pepin. When he first came to this country to live, he stopped in to Guilford Motors, and i remember giving him a ride to the car rental place on Route 1. A short time later he came back, and I took him for a test drive in the new 604. I think he was one of the first to buy one in this area. But Peugeot was having difficulty selling cars in this country, usually less that 20,000 a year. In the 80's (I forget what year),they suddenly announced that they were pulling out of the country altogether. They did have to maintain parts for awhile, but it made a lot of people very angry. Many had Peugeots for decades, and the suddeness of the announcement didn't help. Later my brother sold the property to Logan Page, but the dealership could not be sold. Today, the Pages call the shop building the Faitsch building, but I really think it should be called the Lazarevich building, or just "Sonnys'"