History of horsepower: Holden Dodge toasts 75 years in business

Bill Holden Sr. and Jr. hold the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) award for 75 years of business. From left, Andre Mitchell (FCA, area manager); Bill Holden Sr. (Holden Dodge president); Bill Holden Jr. (Holden Dodge general manager) and John Mack (Mid-Atlantic Business Center, director). Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller

DOVER — There aren’t many industries that change as much from year to year as the automobile industry does.

From the strength, or lack thereof, of the economy, to the way cars are designed, to how vehicles are powered, there are many variables that factor into determining if an automobile dealership will be successful.

That’s why it is so amazing — and quite rare — that the Holden Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram dealership celebrated its 75th anniversary last Thursday at 640 S. Governor’s Ave.

John Mack, director of the Mid-Atlantic Region for FCA Fiat Chrysler, was pleased to present the Holden family with a commemorative plaque as they set their eyes on reaching the century mark in the auto business.

“Keeping a business together for that number of years is just pretty rare,” Mr. Mack said. “It’s just a great organization and a lot of good people. I’d say in probably less than 10 percent of our stores the same family still owns them (since they were founded), so it doesn’t happen too often.”

Bill Holden Jr., who now serves as a third-generation general manager for the family business, said the automobile industry is just something that is naturally in his blood.

“My grandfather (William C. Holden) started this business back in 1945 and I worked here growing up and have been back here working full-time for 33 years now,” Mr. Holden Jr. said. “I’ve been here for a good part of the 75 years and, hopefully, I can make it for quite a few more.

“I certainly grew up in the car business. I grew up washing cars and cleaning floors and have been working hard at it ever since.”

While the dealership’s site has remained constant throughout the years, it has certainly evolved ever since Holden and Mundy Dodge Plymouth was established in 1945 by Mr. Holden and his partner Gilbert Mundy.

They had worked together at Matthews Pontiac prior to World War II. Mr. Mundy was a chief mechanic while Mr. Holden was a salesperson. They joined forces after the war and went into business for themselves.

The Holden Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram dealership celebrated its 75th anniversary last Thursday at 640 S. Governor’s Ave.

The burgeoning post-World War II economy brought major changes in the auto industry. Mr. Holden described the automobile business as “exciting” as pent-up demand brought customers in by the droves who were looking for sleek, fast and affordable cars.

Holden Dodge, one of the first automobile dealerships in the Dover area, joined the Townsend Brother’s Chevrolet dealership and Kent County Motors and Bolan Motors Ford.

Over the years, the Dover Dodge Plymouth dealership moved from the muscle car era of the 1960s with the Dodge Charger and Plymouth Roadrunner, into the fuel-riddled ’70s with the Dodge Challenger and then into the economy-minded ’80s with the fuel-efficient K-car, whose platform led to the development of the ever-popular mini-van.

William F. Holden, also known as Bill Sr., took over the dealership in the early 1960s, a time of growth — and speed and muscle cars — for the industry.

“I came along in 1962 and then my son came along in the mid-70s and this dealership has become a long-time family tradition,” Mr. Holden Sr. said. “It’s a customer-driven business and it’s a very competitive business and we do have a lot of repeat customers over the years.

“It’s the way we feed our families. We depend on a lot of other families to help us do that. We’ve got a lot of good people who have been with us a long time.”

The Holden dealership’s growth over the years has also seemed to mirror that of NASCAR as it broke into the nation’s consciousness. What was then known as Dover Downs International Speedway opened for stock car racing in 1969.

The major manufacturers were heavily involved in racing, and as a retail dealer in an area where NASCAR was quickly becoming popular, Holden Dodge got in line to provide a pace car for what was known as Dover Downs. It showcased the Dodge Challenger at the Monster Mile in 1970.

A view of the Holden dealership’s showroom.

Holden Dodge even sponsored NASCAR driver James Hylton for a race at Dover in its early years. Mr. Hylton also was the owner and mechanic for the car.

Holden Dodge had expanded and upgraded its facilities in the late 1970’s and ushered in the ’80’s with a brand-new showroom, sales offices and business facilities. The expansion also afforded the opportunity to enlarge the technical service area, adding more service bays, enlarging the parts department and expanding the collision center capabilities.

In 1987, Mr. Holden Jr., grandson of founder William C. Holden, joined the dealership.

While Holden Dodge had endured many changes over the years, it was the summer of 2009 that brought a massive change to the dealership, which grew to become Holden Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram. It now offers a full lot and showroom packed with a wide variety of vehicles, setting the business up for the future of the auto industry.

“It’s a lot of work and I’m proud to be third generation, proud to represent Fiat-Chrysler automobiles and their current product lineup,” Mr. Holden Jr. said. “We have 43 full-time employees and a lot of them have been with me a long time.

“I’m very fortunate that I have a lot of good people who’ve been with us a long time, from the sales floor to the service department and everywhere else, you could say we’re one big extended family.”

One that has remarkably persevered for three-quarters of a century.