With the sale of the dealership to an Ohio firm, however, it doesn’t mean the Menlove/Johnson families are leaving the automobile business behind. Those still-being formulated plans are detailed in a front page article in this issue.
The history of the local auto dynasty, which started nearly 59 years ago, is shared below. Information is taken primarily from Beverly Perkes Nowak’s recent volume, “The Heart of Bountiful Businesses.”
A. W. “Bill” Johnson first soldcars in 1953 at Lake Motors in Salt Lake City, followed by the opening of his own used car lot on U.S. Highway 89-91, with the slogan, “Buy your automobile from AutomoBill.” The original dealership was at 609 S. 500 W., next to today’s Jim Lodder Automotive.
Nearly a decade later, Bill Johnson opened Rambler Village, a new dealership, with the assistance of his father-in-law, Roy Menlove, who provided moral and financial support. Also helping out was cousin Jim Menlove. It was the only Rambler dealership in the county and was across from Slim Olson’s, Carol Johnson told Nowak.
Rambler had its problems, and a year later, it was dropped in favor of Toyota – this new, Japanese brand. Today, Menlove is the longest-running Toyota dealership east of the Pacific Coast in the U.S., said Wes Johnson, who ran the business for many years.
“The last of the little guys” moniker was reportedly instituted with that change to Toyota. It was also incorporated into the Dodge dealership, which the family owned for many years. That was sold to Larry H. Miller in the past few years.
Apparently there was also a personal reason for switching to Toyota, Carol Menlove said. “Jim Menlove was an avid hunter and wanted a Land Cruiser.”
A hundred dollars in parts could be obtained with a franchise, along with a chance to buy the Land Cruiser at cost.
“Roy Menlove didn’t work in the car business, but was a financial and moral support,” his daughter Carol Johnson said.
“Mother (Carol Johnson) was the controller, took care of what little money we had,” Wes Johnson said, adding, “We were close to bankruptcy many times.”
Jim Menlove sold his interest in the business in 1966, with Roy Menlove allowing Bill Johnson to buy a bigger part of the business. When Roy Menlove died in 1996, he willed the remaining 15 percent to Bill and Carol Johnson.
Bill Johnson died in 1997, and his wife Carol turned the business over to her son Wesley, who had been working there with his father.
A. W. “Bill” Johnson was inducted into the Utah Automobile Dealers Hall of Fame in 2006. In the fall of 2009, Menlove Toyota/Sion moved into a new state-of-the-art building at its longtime location on South Main Street in Bountiful.