Motor man Cliff Smith dead at 75

September 21, 2011

Cliff Smith, who got his start washing cars and went on to build a long-standing auto dealership in Hood River, died Sept. 9 in Las Vegas, Nev.

From May 1982 to November 2010 Cliff Smith Motors operated in Hood River.

Clifton J. Smith Sr., who was born Feb. 2, 1936, is survived by his wife, Georgia, his four children, six grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

The family has announced a memorial service for noon, Sept. 22, at Anderson's Tribute Center. Please see page A6 for an obituary.

Smith was born in Texas and served in the Army in Germany for four years. When he returned to the U.S. he wanted to check out the West Coast and he visited a cousin in The Dalles, liked the community and decided to stay. In 1956 Smith went to work as a salesman for Harlan Griffith Ford in The Dalles, and stayed with the company when Ray Schultens purchased it in 1964. Smith was later made general manager of Fort Dalles Nissan.

Smith bought Byers Motors on Tucker Road and renamed the business Cliff Smith Pontiac-Buick-GMC.

"I've always wanted to do it," he said of his dealership purchase, in the May 4, 1983, Hood River News. "When I saved enough money to get into it, I decided to give it a shot."

"He was a character; he loved to talk to people and Cliff was everybody's friend," said Bob Schultens, owner of Ray Schultens Auto, whose father, Bob, hired Smith.

Schultens said that he and Smith remained friends and business confidants after Smith went out on his own.

"He was a good businessman, starting out as he did as a lot worker and working up to used salesman and then sales manager," Schultens said. "He did really well at that, especially considering in the early days around here he had to fight the bigotry that was around here. He did a really good job of it, because he was just a people person.

"You don't do what Cliff did unless you've got lots of work ethic and fortitude."

In 1986, Smith bought Owens Chevrolet on West Cascade and merged the stores, making Cliff Smith Motors a full line General Motors dealership which he owned and operated for over 26 years. (The company later became independent, terminating its General Motors franchise in January 2009.)

In 1987, Smith moved his dealership from the Heights to the West Cascade location.

In March 2009, General Motors Acceptance Corporation Financial Services visited Hood River to give Smith an award for 25 uninterrupted years with GMAC.

"I can't believe it's been 25 years; it all went so fast," Smith said in a Hood River News article. "Hood River and the Gorge have been very good to me and the business and I thank the community for their support over the years."

A GMAC spokesman said, "His is a rare accomplishment which has taken place over a period that has seen many others come and go in the automotive business."

Cliff Smith Motors closed in 2010, after outlasting two other dealerships in Hood River. (Hood River Chrysler Jeep Dodge closed in 2008 and Hood River Ford Mercury in December 2007.)

In 2011, Bob Stone Auto Center opened at the same location, in front of the building that long held the name Cliff Smith Motors.

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