SEMA News-January 2012
By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Source Interlink Media Archives
Yes, that is Honest Charley Card, Hisself, parked in front of his brand-new, 30,000-sq.-ft. speed parts store on Honest Street in Chattanooga. Hot Rod’s Ralph Guldahl traveled to Tennessee in late 1970 to profile the legendary retailer, who had recently become the second inductee into SEMA’s Hall of Fame.
“Legendary” might seem too grand a title to hang on a guy whose catalogs and magazine ads were full of goofy drawings and down-home, Southern-tinged humor. But Charley, a life-long car guy, parlayed his local speed shop into a giant, coast-to-coast mail-order business.
He was a true retailing pioneer, one of the first to publish a parts catalog as far back as 1948. He also was among the earliest adopters of computers, proud of the IBM 360 his company used to track inventory and orders when Guldahl visited. And then there was the genius stroke of marketing himself—or Hisself, as Charley would say.
Guldahl explained the name this way: “The addition of ‘Hisself’ to Charley’s nickname was decided on for the simple reason that people, not quite getting that flash of recognition at first sight, often asked: ‘You’re not Honest Charley, are you? Are you Honest Charley hisself?”
The “Honest” moniker came from the days, before the parts business, when Charley ran a restaurant. During World War II, the restaurant was so busy that there was no room on the lunch counter for the cash register. “So I put it outside the door to collect the money for what the people ate,” Charley told Guldahl. “When they came out, I’d ask ’em how much they owed—we didn’t give checks—and they’d tell me and pay me. Customers said, ‘My gosh, Charley, you must be honest.’ An’ that was it. I painted ‘Honest’ real big on a sign atop the restaurant.”
Charley Card passed away in 1974, and the business closed in 1990. In 1998, Corky Coker bought the name and trademarks, and Honest Charley’s was back in business soon after. It’s still based in Chattanooga, right next to Coker Tire’s headquarters, and still sells hot-rod parts, along with musclecar parts, apparel and more. The catalogs are online now, but you can still find Charley, Hisself, on nearly every page.