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Nalley autos cranked up in Gainesville

POSTED: July 26, 2009 1:00 a.m.

When Jim Nalley was growing up in Gainesville in the 1950s, his main hang-out was his father's Chevrolet dealership on South Main Street.

He installed radios and floor mats and kept the cars sparkling clean.

It was an exciting time in those days when new models came out. One of Jim's jobs was to paper over the showroom windows to hide the new cars until their official unveiling the next day. He can still remember vividly when the 1955 Chevrolet came out.

"The star of the show was a coral and gray Belair coupe V-8," Jim says. "I remember shining that thing up. I had never been so proud of anything."

The Nalley name has been associated with motor vehicles since 1918, and although it has been on dealerships in other parts of the state and other states, it is most familiar in the Atlanta area. The slogan and jingle, "That'd be Nalley," became so popular in the 1980s Atlanta radio stations sometimes broadcast it free.

It all started in Gainesville.

The original C.V. Nalley, Jim's grandfather, was a salesman, but when cars became popular, he traded in his horse and buggy for one. That led to his fascination with them, and he soon became the Northeast Georgia distributor of vehicles and parts for Dodge Brothers in a building on West Spring Street just off Gainesville's downtown square.

Nalley Sr. was late for work the morning of the terrible April 6, 1936, tornado and escaped injury. But his building was devastated with one fatality among others injured.

C.V. Nalley Jr. followed his father's footsteps in the car business even though he sold the Dodge distributorship after Nalley Sr. died in the late 1940s. He had a used car lot behind the old Downey Hospital on Spring Street facing Fat Smith's Standard Oil service station. He sold it and opened Nalley Discount Co., which financed used car dealers' inventories.

After Johnny Martin died in 1953, Nalley Jr. acquired his Chevrolet franchise, Martin Motor Co., on South Main. Nalley remained in that location a while, but later built a large dealership at the corner of what were then Broad and Sycamore streets.

He got into other businesses as well. Nalley Jr. owned Crescent Ice Cream Co., which was in the Dodge building his father rebuilt after the tornado, and with Major Nuckolls operated Nalley and Nuckolls Farm Implement Co. on Church Street.

The Nalley name first appeared in the Atlanta market in 1955 when Nalley Jr. opened a Chevrolet dealership there. He had to sell the Gainesville dealership to Loper Lary because dealers were only allowed to have one franchise.

For about six months in 1957, Nalley owned the franchise for Edsel, Ford's famous failure that became the poster child for ugly automobile styling, target of numerous jokes and now a pricey prize for rare-car collectors.

Nalley Discount meanwhile expanded and moved to Broad Street in Gainesville. Shortly it had locations in four Northeast Georgia towns, including Winder and Cornelia.

Married and out of college, Jim Nalley, who is C.V. Nalley III, was selling ice machines for his uncle, Logan Nalley. His wife persuaded him to go to work for his father in Atlanta, where "I did nearly every job there was to do at twice the hours and half the pay," he said.

The long hours might have continued, but Jim Nalley made a name for himself when he became a partner with his father and Clint Morton in a heavy truck dealership in 1971. Two years later, Nalley Motor Trucks in Atlanta became the highest volume truck dealer in the country.

About the same time, Nalley opened a Honda dealership with a two-year exclusive contract. But he almost couldn't give away the tiny Japanese-made cars that sold for $1,345. That changed, however, during the 1973 oil crisis when miles-per-gallon became a big selling point.

Nalley acquired two more truck dealerships in Charlotte in 1982, and the Honda and truck successes were followed by the state's first Acura store in 1986. He bought a Ford dealership in 1987 and established Atlanta's first Lexus store in 1989.

Over the years, he has bought, sold and closed other car dealerships. Retired now, he still reports to an office in Buckhead and keeps track of his three sons, who have continued the Nalley tradition in the motor vehicle business. (More next week.)

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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