When a couple of Iowans named Gerry Sumner and J.D. Ramsey decided to open a car dealership in downtown Des Moines in 1946, they did so in a spirit of postwar optimism that informed their belief that every American deserves a beautiful, well-running car sold to them by a friend and neighbor that will treat them right.
Sumner Pontiac was situated at 519 4th Street, just down the road from the newly opened Noah’s Ark Restaurant and the Art Deco Firehouse which is now the Des Moines Social Club. Our neighbors were the YMCA of Greater Des Moines and the Des Moines Association of Fine Arts which, two years later, would move about forty blocks west and become the Des Moines Art Center.
Des Moines had no opera company, no World Food Prize Building, no 801 Grand but now it had a Pontiac dealership and Sumner and Ramsey had Torpedoes and Streamliners rolling out of the lot, complete with six-tube radios playing the sounds of Frank Sinatra, The Adventures of Sam Spade, Detective and Perry Como who topped the ten-year old Billboard Chart that year.
Sumner Pontiac became Sumner-Ramsey Pontiac and eventually Ramsey Pontiac. As the dealership grew, so did Des Moines. We welcomed new neighbors, like Veterans Memorial Auditorium and the Civic Center. We watched the music change from Perry to Presley (and the King even played at Vets!). We tuned in as TVs entered into every home and we did our very best to get a Pontiac in every garage.
Torpedoes gave way to Star Chiefs, then Bonnevilles, then Firebirds, then GTOs. Through the decades, as Des Moines got bigger and hairstyles grew longer, Ramsey distinguished itself by excellent service and friendly financing. The Ramsey Difference was as palpable as Flower Power and the British Invasion. Soon enough, those rebels with a cause at Ramsey were one of the top-volume sales leaders in the United States.
In 1975, while Jack Nicholson was in his cuckoo’s nest, Ramsey Auto Center was expanding to include a Subaru franchise. People thought we were crazy to introduce a Japanese import with less than a decade’s history in America into Iowa but we knew good cars when we saw them and we knew that trustworthy service and salesmanship would win the day. We sold Imprezas and XVs, then SVXs and Mini Jumbos and finally Outbacks and Foresters and every car that left the lot, whether they were listening to the Carpenters or the Clash, left with that wonderful new car feeling, the one that Ramsey Auto gets out of bed for.
Throughout the decades, Ramsey’s roster of cars fluctuated. We sold Pontiacs and Subarus but also Buicks and Audis, stately Vauxhalls and sporty Peugets, funny little Isettas and fancy new Porsches. We sold trailers to go behind the cars like Champions, Sprites and Twinkle Twilights.
We added a pre-owned facility on Hubbell Avenue and another downtown but as we grew and as our inventory changed, our commitment to service our customers as friends and neighbors has never wavered. Later, Des Moines saw the Iowa Oaks baseball team turn into the Iowa Cubs and Ramsey added another franchise, this time Mazda, in 1989.
While Driving Miss Daisy was sweeping the Oscars, we were driving MX-6s and 626s all over Iowa. Soon, our capacity had grown enough to precipitate a move to Urbandale. We had a new facility but the same commitment to honesty and service that had made us successful from that first Pontiac back in 1946.
Today, Ramsey Auto Center owners John S. Ramsey and Tom Carey are passionately committed to continuing the founders’ dedication to fair dealing and customer service. Ramsey’s new showroom, opened in 2014, greatly increases service and parts capacity and provides a number of additional amenities for Ramsey’s customers. 70 years, 27 Beatles number ones, 23 Bond movies and 12 Presidents later, Ramsey Auto still believes in great cars at fair prices. In a world that changes so quickly, isn’t it nice that there are some things you can count on?