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LeBARON: Manlys made history with sale of first little Honda

  • Bill and Lori Manly with the first Honda sold in the continental United States; they sold the car in 1970, and bought it back ten years later on a trade-in. August 20, 2012.

OK, here's the story. Man walks into a showroom on Santa Rosa Avenue. Pays $1,200 for a small, boxlike car, the like of which he has not seen before.

Has no clue that he has made automotive history and Santa Rosa history in one swoop.

And so has the car dealer.

That car was the first Honda automobile sold in the continental United States. And the neophyte dealership, owned by Bill and Lori Manly, was the first authorized dealer.

That was 1970; more than 40 years ago, but the car is still around, still drivable in fact.

Currently it occupies a place of honor in the newer, bigger, fancier showroom at Manly Honda on Corby Avenue.

THERE'S ANOTHER story here, as well. In this one, two car guys with an affinity for figuring out the combustion engine open a repair shop in a back alley off Petaluma Hill Road in late 1950s, a place they called Foreign Automotive.

It was a time when post-World War II prosperity was sending tourists off to Europe with money to spend.

Many of them returned, as Bill Manly recalled when we talked last week, with strange and wonderful new cars — exotics, like Porsches and Mercedes and Triumphs and Austin-Healeys and even odder creations like the Citroen and the DKW ("Only seven moving parts!") The care of these automobiles was a specialized field and Manly credits his then-partner, the late Bob Haley, for much of the modest success of Foreign Automotive.

"Haley was a genius," he said. "He could get into the engineer's mind and know how to make it all work."

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