- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

In 1903, David Dunbar Buick founded the company bearing his name to this day.

After initial success Buick began to falter. That's when William Crapo Durant was called upon to save Buick. This he did, and in the process he took control. In 1908, he used Buick as the cornerstone to form General Motors.

Durant tried to move too fast in expanding the corporation, which displeased the men bankrolling the operation. In 1910, he was invited to leave the company.

Louis Chevrolet, a well-known race car driver, was convinced by Durant to join forces and create an automobile called Chevrolet.

The first prototype was tested in early 1911, but Chevrolet wanted to build a high-quality, high-powered, high-priced car while Durant had his eye on competing with the Model T Ford.

When Chevrolet left in July 1911 Durant retained the rights to the Chevrolet name for the car.

Chevrolet automobiles began selling in 1913. By 1915 the company was so successful that it became part of General Motors and Durant once more became head of the company, a post he retained until being once again ousted in the recession of 1920.

Before his second departure, Durant was busy trying to expand Chevrolet's dealer base to compete with the wildly successful Model T Ford.

In 1917, a Chevrolet representative visited Maryland in search of bright, young enterprising individuals who might want to open a Chevrolet franchise.

He found H. Deets Warfield Sr. working on a construction crew that was paving an old dirt road, which today is Route 27.

The young man knew the horseless carriage was coming. After all, that's why he was paving the road. Consequently, he jumped at the chance to be a dealer.

There was just one problem. The Chevrolet representative said he would need $100 and the prospective franchisee had only $50.

His father rejected his plea for a $50 lean because automobiles were untried. A Damascus merchant loaned him the $50, which set him up in business in 1917 as a Chevrolet dealer.

He sold one car in December to Edward Burdette. It was a 490 model touring car. This occurred as U.S. soldiers were preparing to ship out to fight the war to end all wars in Europe.

To the base price of $490 was added $25 for an extra demountable spare tire and rim, $12.50 for a speedometer and $50 for an electric starter, which brought the total to $577.50.

Because most of the unpaved roads were impassable during the winter months, Burdette didn't take possession of his Chevrolet until spring.

The new Chevrolet dealer housed the car in his father's buggy barn and, during the winter took interested clients to the barn to demonstrate the wonders of the 1917 Chevrolet such as the robe rail on the back of the front seat, the leather pocket on the inside of each of the four doors, and a foot rail for the comfort of rear-seat passengers.

By the time Burdette came to claim his Chevrolet, the young entrepreneur had sold two more cars and that was the beginning of Damascus Chevrolet.

Seven years later that first Chevrolet was traded in on a 1924 model. By that time a real dealership existed. Because the 1917 Chevrolet was the first car sold by the original dealer, it was tucked away and preserved.

As the years ticked by and the roads around Damascus were paved, the Chevrolet dealership was moved to more modern quarters. The original dealer transferred the business to his son. Always, however, the 1917 Chevrolet was kept in mind.

About 40 years ago former body shop manager Russell Long was enticed to come out of retirement to restore the old Chevrolet. Mr. Long had no trouble matching the original color. Virtually everything on the car is black, including all the various fabrics.

When the restoration began, the car was inventoried and found to be lacking bumpers as well as side curtains. Early photographs of the car indicate that it never had bumpers.

As for side curtains, that's another story. The fittings that side curtains would attach to are in place, but no side curtains are to be found. If they ever did exist, they have long since been discarded.

The odometer currently reads 5,871 miles, which is believed to be accurate. The speedometer only registers speeds up to 60 mph. The condition of the roads 85 years ago contributed to slow speeds and the low mileage.

Six vertical louvers on either side of the engine hood help keep the 171-cubic-inch, four-cylinder, overhead-valve engine cool.

On either side of the honeycomb radiator are a pair of headlights with seven-inch lenses.

Each headlight rests in a semicircular metal cradle.

The 3½-inch wide by 30-inch diameter Firestone tires on demountable rims are affixed to wheels with a dozen wooden spokes. The spare tire is attached to the rear of the car with the single taillight in the center of the wheel.

About the time the car was restored was when the second generation took the helm of the dealership. That's also when the current third generation running the dealership today was born.

H. David Warfield, general manager of Damascus Chevrolet, recalls that he was in college when his grandfather died. He is reminded often about his grandfather and father by longtime customers.

"Service was important to my grandfather," Mr. Warfield said. "I'm proud to follow in his footsteps."

Mr. Warfield remembers the first automobile he sold, a 1977 Monte Carlo. His father's first sale was a 1955 Bel Air. Both of those cars are long gone but his grandfather's first sale is secure.

After its restoration, the old Chevrolet was stored at Mr. Warfield's grandfather's house until about 20 years ago. At that time it was moved to a place of honor in the showroom among the new Chevrolets on display.

Mr. Warfield has learned that the grandson of the man who bought the car in 1917 is Rodney Van Sant who works in the parts department of the dealership.

With that kind of customer loyalty, Mr. Warfield said, "I try hard to live up to my grandfather's reputation.


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