Route 66 in the Mojave Desert

Used car dealer looks back on
50 years of wheelin' and dealin'

Staff Writer

VICTORVILLE -- Pat Matlach didn't think he'd be here this long.

He was transferred to Victorville while serving in the U.S. Air Force and started selling cars on the side. The year was 1951, and Route 66 was a two-lane road.

Matlach's business in its early days sat on a bluff west of its current location on D Street near First Street. A natural cut in the bluff, however, caught the eye of surveyors planning Interstate 15 in the fall of 1953, and Matlach had to move.

But all wasn't lost. Matlach waited two years before he bought land across the way where he did car repairs. It became the natural spot for his new shop.

"There wasn't any other place on this side of town to locate a car lot, so I closed the repair shop and put the car lot here," he says.

Desert Motors was the place for people who couldn't get credit at new car dealerships. His first sale was to a black man who bought a 1933 Chevrolet Deluxe with twin side mounts. Deals back then were done with a handshake.

And there were plenty of them.

"When the state bought me out (of the first location), I turned an old car upside down on each side of the lot because we were turning the market upside down with a big sale," Matlach said. "Then the Highway Patrol, after a few days, asked me to please take them away because they were going to cause an accident."

This wouldn't be the only time bureaucracy would disagree with Matlach's business ideas. His old sign featuring an arrow with bulbs pointing the way to his dealership is lighted no more. City ordinances prohibit "walking lights."

"They said it distracts traffic," Matlach explained.

But this unassuming car lot has all sorts of history. Here sat cars that have been featured in films and old television shows, such as "The Untouchables" and "77 Sunset Strip."

James Dean drove a beat-up old Duesenberg that Matlach restored for the movie "Giant."

"It was a basketcase," Matlach said of the old car, from which the term "doozie" comes. "It didn't have a top. The upholstery was down to the springs. It didn't run, but it was a Duesenberg. It had been siting out in a barnyard, I guess.

"They used my Jaguar in the movie 'Angel Face' with Robert Mitchum," he continues. "There was a Jaguar roadster that rolls over and goes down the face of a cliff at the end of the movie. But that wasn't my car. They used a dummy for that."

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