With fervor for automobiles and century-old history, father-son duo David and Scott Cotten lead The Bay City Motor Company as Bay County's destination for classic and exotic cars.
Some 21,000 enthusiasts come through their doors every year to check out their inventory - everything from a 1910 Oldsmobile with 60 horsepower to a Mcclaren F1 with 600 horsepower. We had a chance to sit down with David Cotten to chat about his eclectic family business, moving from its inception in 1904 through its prospering today.
Q: Can you describe what the Bay City Auto Company is?
A: A lot of work! Be it, work we love. It’s quite literally a used car store! We primarily focus on cars that are pre-1973 or newer exotics like Ferrari and Porsche. Aside from our inventory, our heritage is why we stand out. We go back to my wife’s great-grandfather who came off the Great Lakes as a ship captain and opened the first Cadillac dealership in the world.
Q: Amazing! Can you share the story behind that?
A: William Mitchell and his brother Charles Ambrose had an affinity for cars their entire lives. At 10:30 p.m. Aug. 31, 1904, on the second floor of the Republic Hotel, they signed a contract with the Cadillac Automobile Company. Their first garage on N. Saginaw St. in downtown Bay City was the first Cadillac dealer in the country! Between 1904-1945 they opened up three additional locations, all in downtown Bay City. In 1979 they pivoted and sold the Cadillac franchise to Bauer-Labadie-Olds Inc. At the time, Mitchell Cadillac was the oldest Cadillac dealer in the country and the last independent Cadillac distributorship in the world.
Q: The business closed in 1979 and reopened in 2005. What inspired the reopening?
A: My wife Anne and I started dealerships in Florida and Missouri, but in 1992 we felt a pull to move back to Michigan. We love Michigan because our family is here, and we love being so close to the water! In 2005 we decided to pick up the legacy name and focus on classic cars as Bay City Motor Company. My oldest son, Scott and I have enjoyed cars and wanted to focus on the business together.
Q: What specific events can classic car owners and enthusiasts attend in the area?
A: The summer is the best time of year for cars in Michigan. The biggest event in the area is the tri-city car show after the Fourth of July every year in downtown Bay City. Restaurants in the area like Castaways have drive-in car shows Tuesday and Thursday nights. Beyond the tri-cities, Flint is the birthplace of General Motors, so there is obviously rich history. Sloan Museum of antique cars and automotive history is an amazing spot.
We’re excited about Back to the Bricks next year too. Back to the Bricks is a classic car event that does a five-city tour drive around Michigan. We’re anticipating them being at the store June 7, with over 300 cars. They hail with Mustang clubs, Corvette clubs, Thunderbird clubs, and more. It’s going to be a treat!
Q: Why is it important that people continue to support historical businesses?
A: That’s a great question! Small businesses, in general, are the fiber of the United States. They continue to be vital to the community. Historical businesses, specifically, are all linked to our heritage and the way we’ve lived. There’s nothing better than walking into a store that’s been around for 150 years. It’s special when a father buys a car that he’ll pass down to his son, and with that car he passes down history. You can’t find that at just any dealership.
The Bay City Motor Company is located at 1124 N. Water St in downtown Bay City.