Service Auto Parts Once Kept Chattanooga's Cars Running

Sunday, July 13, 2014 - by Harmon Jolley
In this 1976 Yellow Pages advertisement, a smiling piston (very possibly from Detroit) invites customers to shop at Service Auto Parts.
In this 1976 Yellow Pages advertisement, a smiling piston (very possibly from Detroit) invites customers to shop at Service Auto Parts.

When I think about working on cars, I think of the times that I helped my father (or vice versa, after I started driving).  Engines were simpler then, with enough space under the hood for a mother cat and kittens to ride as stowaways one day to my father's work.  "Where is that meowing coming from?" he thought.  Fortunately, the felines were fine, though their nine lives had been on the line.

I was able to help my dad more as I got older, but as a three year-old, I can only say that I was trying to help.  According to the story that was told to me later, I started throwing pistons down an embankment from where my father was rebuilding an engine.  That earned me an escorted trip back into the house to be with my mother.

Today, there are thousands of components in the average modern automobile, and it's so crowded under the hood that my mechanic advises customers not to venture there.  The number of parts has increased over the years, particularly with the advent of on-board electronics. 

Rewind the clock to 1958 and we would still need lots of replacement parts to keep a car running.  That was the year that parts men at Service Auto Parts started fulfilling orders at their counter.

According to a November, 20, 1983 Chattanooga News-Free Press article by automotive columnist Buddy Houts, Service Auto Parts opened in November, 1958 at the corner of Brainerd Road and Tunnel Boulevard.  Owen Maddox and Hollin Williams headed the new auto parts store. 

By the time of the article, Service Auto Parts had grown to five stores.  The company had moved across Brainerd Road, and the old store had given way to the Hale Building.  The headquarters and warehouse were at 5919 Lee Highway.  Three other stores were at 4742 Highway 58 (now American Rental), 4528 Hixson Pike (now Higgins Tire and Auto), and 1200 McFarland Avenue (now a dental office).  Radio-equipped trucks made deliveries to local repair shops.

Many things in the automotive industry had changed since Service Auto Parts first opened.  Hand-written orders, inventory, and bookkeeping had given way to computerization.  In a November 5, 1978 interview in the News-Free Press, owner Owen Maddux commented how more complex that automobiles had become.  “At one time, only one fan belt would fit all Chevrolets, but now it is different.  There are presently about 250 fan belts just for Chevrolets alone.” 

In the 1970’s, automobile owners had a new reason for keeping their engines tuned properly – the 1973 oil embargo which sent gasoline prices soaring and fuel availability reduced at times.  There was a fuel economy incentive that led folks to visit Service Auto Parts for spark plugs and wires, condensers, points, air filters, and fuel filters. 

The counter salesmen at Service Auto were seen as key to company success, according to co-owner Hollin Williams.  “A spark plug is a spark plug, so what else do you have to offer your customers?  You have to give your customers better service so they will continue to come back, and we have tried to live up to our name.”

Hollin Williams passed away in 1981.  Service Auto Parts was eventually sold to new owners.  The April 25, 1998 Chattanooga Times reported that Warehouse Distributors, Inc. was acquiring the stores. 

If you have memories of Service Auto Parts, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.  I’ll update the article with some of your feedback.

Service Auto Parts often advertised in local school football programs.  This is from a November 10, 1967 Central High publication.
Service Auto Parts often advertised in local school football programs. This is from a November 10, 1967 Central High publication.

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