The Merrimack Street Volvo-Garage story in many ways mirrors a large section of Manchesters history. In 1895, Israel Saidel, and his family, Myer, Lena, Issac, Max, Leon, and Morris Saidel emigrated from a small town in eastern Europe, called Shadova. Shadova was located in the Covna Gobernst (Region of) Lithuania. They were a poor but hard working family that settled in to the immagrant section of Manchester. Israel was one of the founders of the Adath Yeshurin Congregation and Cemetary. The boys started business as local peddelars carrying their wares by cart or bicylce to the small towns surrounding Manchester. Meyer became an attorney, and later Max, Leon and Morris, pooled their money, and started a small clothing store (The Blue Store) which emerged on Elm Street. Here, Morris B. Saidel 1885 born earned and saved enough money to start his own business with the emergence of the automobile. Morris now 34 years old, established The Merrimack Street Garage at 56 Merrimack Street, across from Veterans Park. He purchased the 2 houses which were soon reduced to rubble in favor of a brand new single story automobile dealership selling the Hupmobile. Four years later he married Anna Friendson, also the daughter of Jewish imagrants. They soon started a family of their own with Raymond, Anita, and Evalyn. As the children grew so did the business, and after acquiring the Devoe, Pontiac, and Durant Franchises, 1934, saw Morris Saidel enlarging the facility to 2 stories, and acquiring the premier General Motors Brand, the Oldsmobile franchise. As America was thrust into World War II, so was Morris’ son. Raymond failed to pass the eye exam for several services, then enlisted in the United States Army, after memorizing the eye chart at the age of 18. His parents were worried. Raymond had been well schooled in the arts, and was an emerging painter. For the next 3 years of his life he would fight for the 1st Armoured Division, 1st Armoured regiment, in the North Africa Campaign against Hitlers Top Field Marshall, Rommel, and then again against the Germans through out the Italian Campaign, as a member of the newly formed A Co. 1st tank Battalion, 1st Armoured Division, till the wars end.
While his son fought the Nazis abroad, Morris with fought the poor economy back home. The were no cars to sell during the war. But the Merrimack Street Garage survived the war and did so with great respect for itself and its customers. With no cars to sell during the war, orders grew and grew. It was known that if enough money was passed by a customer, he might get his car earlier. Not at Merrimack St Garage. Morris instituted a huge board on the northern wall of the showroom, depicting customers, orders and dates as they came in. Everyone knew where they stood in the process, and they knew where Morris stood.
Morris passed away in 1950 at the age of 65, a beloved family man, a successful businessman, and a well respected member of the community. His death thrust his son Raymond back into the dealership. After the war, the battle hardened veteran (21 years old) started a Charter Flying Service after learning to fly with the GI Bill. Below is Raymond with his North American Navion.
Upon his fathers death, Ray sold his half of the business for $1, and returned to command The Merrimack Street Garage. In several years, Raymond not only put The Merrimack Street Garage on the map as a “small” car superstore, but he the youngest ever selected to be on the National Oldsmobile Dealer Council. Ray was then instrumental in the development of a “New” Dealer Franchise Agreement, with then GM President Harlow Curtiss. Most of this agreement is still utilized in todays General Motors Franchise Dealer Contract. Ray also realized that being a truly downtown dealer had its limitations, and he formed a used car annex division approximately 9 blocks from the original facility with apply display and storage area.
SMALL CAR SUPERSTORE
In 1952?, Oldsmobile unleashed its latest technological masterpiece on the world. The Rocket V8 engine. In those days General Motors would actually send dealers a full functioning engine on a stand to display tin their showrooms. The Merrimack Street Garage, proudly displayed their Rocket V8 in the showroom, and Raymond wondered what to do with this engine after the year went by. By July 1953 Raymond had sent an inquiry letter to The Allard Motor Company for information and pricing on their aluminum bodied specials. On August 11th 1953, Allard Motor Companys Export Manager, H.J. Davis responded with verification on one red J2X Less engine for $2769.76.
One Allard J2x type motor car, LHD, Lemans body type, Special 8000 rpm tachometer, luggage carrier, quickchange rearend modification to axle, carburetor air scoop or power bulge, 5 wire wheels, Full size windscreen and top as well as an oil temperature gauge. Chassis J-3201. The Allard was shipped on October 20th, 1953 on the S.S. American Planter. Once the Allard arrived at the Merrimack Street Volvo, Raymond set mechanic Sam Guimond to the task of installing the Rocket Oldsmobile engine. The engine was like a monster awakened when it was fired up. Raymond made sure to have one person near the Allard with a fire extinguisher every time the car was fired up. Raymond took Sam Guimond for a roadtest of the fast Allard. When they returned Guimond promptly quit. “I DON’T WANT TO DRIVE THAT CAR”, Sam said. Raymond assured Sam that he did not have to work on the Allard and he could stay on at Merrimack St Garage. Sam Guimond was a very nice man that in later years was riddled with rheumatoid arthritis. He had foot problems and his fingers we large at the joints and twisted but I never heard Sam Guimond complain once about anything.
Behind the dealership was a small radio repair shop owned by John Nacashian. John was an electronics wizard. Besides being on call for Pease Air Force Base when their radar went down, John built his on television set for a broadcast out of New York. It was a prize fight (look up this fight and date 1939?) John and Raymond were friends and after John saw Rays new toy he suggested that they go down to a place in Conn. Where guys were racing cars. John and Raymond went down to watch. In September of 1954 Raymond sent a letter requesting to join the Sports Car Club of America. October 6th 1954 Charles Miller, Secretary of the SCCA responds with a welcome letter, a few back issues of “Pit talk” and a few notes about insurance. October 31st Ray travels to Thompson Conn for his 1st SCCA Regional event. The Allard was entered as #39 Old Allard in Race #5. In the first lap Phil Cade is leading in his Maserati, Walt Hansgens “C” Jaguar Special is in second and Ray is seen passing Jackie Coopers Modified Healy on the inside of the oval. They are followed by a Frasier-Nash, 2 Modified Jaguars and a special. Lap number 2 saw Hansgen Modified Jaguar leading, Phil Cades Maserati 2nd, Ray 3rd and the “M” Healy of Jackie Cooper 4th.By the end of the race Ray finished 2nd in over 1500 cc with the Allard in full road trim still.