July 23rd, 2024

New road for McFaddens as Honda dealership changes owners

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on June 8, 2022.

Photo courtesy of Barry McFadden Honda Civics are parked outside the new McFadden Honda dealership in 1974.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

An end of a long era in the local automotive world is over and a new one has started.
After starting the 58th Honda auto dealership in Canada back in 1974, the McFadden family recently sold their dealership.
The buyers were a family which also has strong ties to southern Alberta, the McDonalds – Paul and Gord along with Greg Flom who started working at McFadden Honda as general manager in 2015.
The McFaddens weren’t planning to sell the dealership but the timing was right, Barry, son Jon and nephew Darren said recently in an interview as they looked back on their time in the city auto business.
With Jon busy running Bert and Macs Source for Sports and Darren in charge at Lethbridge Honda Centre, the family felt the timing was right.
Jon’s father Barry, now 85, and Darren’s dad Dean, who died in 2021 at the age of 76, were encouraged by their father Mac to look into acquiring a dealership for Lethbridge in the early 1970s.
Mac – the co-founder of Bert and Macs – while wintering in Palm Springs, Calif. saw a dealership along Highway 1 at a gas station where a woman was selling Hondas. A truck would come from San Diego twice a week carrying a load of Civics, Barry recalled during a talk about the old days in Darren’s office at the motorcycle dealership.
While stopping in Las Vegas, he looked across the street from the hotel he and his wife were staying in and saw a parking lot with about 150 Civics.
“He got home and he said we’ve got to look into it,” Barry recalled. They found a location on the corner of Stafford Drive and 2nd Ave. S. where a Shell station stood and broached the idea with Honda Canada.
A house next to that lot became their used car lot.
The former dealership is now occupied by a Subway sandwich store and Sisters pub.
“They knew we were pretty dumb about Hondas (cars) but we’d never missed a payment” in their years selling Honda motorcycles which they started doing in the mid-1960s.
Barry recalls the family getting between 12 and 16 cars for their first shipment. Those 1974 Civics had a 1,237 cc engine mounted transversely and using water cooling. It produced about 52 horsepower and came standard with front disc brakes, vinyl seats and reclining front buckets. Price for the three door was a mere $2,995.
The more desirable hatchback was priced at $3,274, Barry recalled, and came with an AM radio and cloth upholstery. Options were minimal and included a two-speed semi-automatic transmission called the Hondamatic. The base transmission for first generation Civics was a four-speed manual but a five speed became available in 1975. For the hatchback, buyers could also opt for a rear wiper.
An optional Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion engine was introduced in 1974 with 1,488 cc and 53 hp. Also available that year was a Civic wagon with a 1,500 cc engine.
Honda diversified its lineup in 1976 with the launch of the Accord in Canada, that model still being one of the most highly regarded mid-sized cars on the road.
While the McFaddens believe the Dunlops have the distinction of being the longest single-owner dealership in southern Alberta, they were the longest standing import dealer with the same owner until they sold.
Over the years, Honda diversified its lineup with other products including the Odyssey minivan and game-changing CR-V compact crossover which launched in 1996 and prompted numerous automakers to bring similar vehicles to market.
“We had that market to ourselves for about five years,” Barry recalled of the CR-V.
The original Odyssey was a packaging marvel and featured a rear seat that folded down into the floor negating the need to remove it like in other minivans which became a hit after Chrysler first introduced the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager in the 1980s.
In 2006, Honda entered the truck market with the compact four-door Ridgeline, notable for its dual-opening gate which could be dropped down or opened to the side. It also had a “trunk” under its composite bed and rear seats that could be flipped up opening a cavernous cargo area.
After a one-year hiatus, it was redesigned and relaunched in 2016 as a 2017 model.
After years at their downtown location, the McFaddens eventually moved to the Crowsnest Auto Mall overlooking the Crowsnest Highway, a desirable space which generated more visibility and sales.
The McFaddens experienced tragedy in 2015 when GM Sheri Thomson – Barry’s daughter and Jon’s sister – died unexpectedly. At the time, Sheri was general manager of the dealership.
Selling the dealership was a tough decision for the three McFaddens. Honda Canada wanted them to build a new building with expanded facilities. But after taking the Honda brand to the top in the car industry, Barry, Jon and Darren thought long and hard about the future and decided the time was right to pass the keys and the Honda torch to another family that has a strong connection to Lethbridge and its automotive history.

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