In Memoriam – Don Leach (December 21, 1924 – August 11, 2018)

One of the original Citroën men in charge of establishing Citroën in the USA has passed away.  Don worked as both Advertising Manager and Director of Dealer Relations for Citroën in the US from 1956 – 1970.  Don Leach passed away peacefully on Saturday morning, August 11, 2018 in Annapolis, MD.

John McCulloch and I interviewed Don along with his friend Buddy Owens (a former Citroën dealer from North Carolina) when Don attended and spoke at the 2007 Citroën Rendezvous at Saratoga Springs, NY.  He was very candid and gave us great insight into Citroën’s approach to the US market from the late 1950’s to the company’s withdrawal from the North America in the ealry 1970’s.   This from our article in the Spring 2008 edition of Citroënthusiast: 

In the mid-nineteen fifties Don Leach was working in the advertising business when he saw a photograph of the newly minted DS19. In Don’s words: “I fell in love.”  He contacted Citroën and made a pitch to sell the DS19 in the States.  In his mind the three ingredients for successful car sales were “service, service, service”.  Armed with this philosophy, Don was made the Advertising Manager and Chief of Dealer Promotion.  Citroën provided him with the following to get started on marketing the DS19 in America (in his own words):

“All we had were two DS19s. One was in Kelly green with a champagne top and a bright green interior.  The other, however, was beautiful, finished in champagne with an aubergine (dark eggplant purple) top and a royal blue interior.  We also had a gray (what else) 2CV, an 11CV shop van known as the “pig nose” by the staff, and three 11CVs, all the Normale model: two in black and one in gray.  No literature, no cars, no fixed price.  In short, nothing.”

In case you were thinking that Citroën had forgotten Don, you would be wrong.  During the first week on the job, he received a box of folders that extolled the virtues of the 2CV, a car that was not being sold in North America.  The brochures were filled with such memorable phrases as “O, how she makes to pull herself with her front wheels” or “How one will rejoice in the robustness of her crankshaft”.

Of course, Don did eventually get brochures on the DS but he remained frustrated that Citroën insisted on advertising in The New Yorker and Town and Country.  It seemed that Citroën wanted to push the “Buy in Europe and ship home” option more than purchase in the U.S.  Citroën persisted in placing glossy ads in prestigious magazines and neglected local markets by not advertising in regional publications.  Small dealerships with limited funds found it prohibitive to place ads especially when margins were small and the cars difficult to obtain let alone service.  Those responsible for promoting Citroën in North America did research into the marketing of comparable foreign cars but Citroën felt that it was too expensive and suggested they not bother with that type of research. 

  Don Leach at 2007 Rendezvous – Saratoga Springs, NY.

Do was born in Philadelphia, Pa. on Dec. 21, 1924.  He spent his childhood in suburban Philadelphia and attended the George School where he excelled in soccer.  After graduating, he joined the Army in the summer of 1943.  He was sent to basic training in what is now known as South Beach, Miami.  The hotels along the beach had been taken over by the military and used to house the trainees.  The air conditioning was not to be used for the duration.  Later he was sent for advanced training in Fargo, North Dakota.  He was assigned to the 795 AAA (AW) battalion.

In early 1944 he was shipped overseas, first landing in Whales then to Portsmouth and Brighton (he visited Brighton again in 1995) before being sent to a processing substation outside of London.  Don landed in Normandy 12 days after the June 6 invasion.  He was assigned to a nearby airfield as part of an operation to secure the airfield and the surrounding area.  During a German attack, the airfield was bombed and Don sustained a shrapnel injury to his knee.  Suffering from exposure, he developed pneumonia and was sent back to a hospital in Southampton to recover.  He recalled being on the beach lying on an air mattress and seeing a luxury ship converted for hospital use as well as U.S. and British warships and smaller landing craft.  He was given a box with the Purple Heart while in the British hospital but there was no paper work involved and it was not later recognized.  After his recovery, he was sent to a replacement unit near Paris where he rejoined the 795th Unit.  Later he was stationed in Belgium and later in Wurzburg, Germany.

Of his war time, he remembered his father telling him before he left “Keep your mouth shut, your eyes open and never, never volunteer for anything!”  He also remembered the kindness of the people to men in uniform.  In North Dakota at Thanksgiving time during a short supply run, three people invited him to join them for dinner and added: “and bring a couple of friends”.  Don returned to the U.S. and was discharged in January 4, 1949.

After the war Don went to Yale University majoring in English.  In the early 1950s he moved to Manhattan for a number of years and worked in sales and advertising for several automobile companies including Packard.

We are saddend to loose not only a super nice fellow but someone who could vividly recount how Citroën operated in the USA during their time selling cars here.  He was a fascinating man. 

Don is survived by his brother Douglas and wife Denise of Harleysville, Pa., and his nephews Brian and Christopher.  His obituary is posted here:

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