Wilhelm marks 60 years as Jamestown automobile dealership

The Wilhelm Chevrolet Buick GMC automobile dealership marks 60 years of operation in Jamestown.

Wilhelm letterhead
Letterhead from James River Motor from 1961. James River Motor over the years transitioned into what is now known as Wilhelm Chevrolet, Buick GMC which celebrates its 60th anniversary in business this year. Submitted / Wilhelm Chevrolet, Buick GMC

Editor's note: This story is advertorial content that is part of the 2021 "Essential to Jamestown" special edition of The Jamestown Sun. The annual Progress Edition features stories on essential workers, agencies and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

The tradition of quality automobile sales and service has a long history in the Wilhelm family.

Don Wilhelm purchased Mickelson Motor Co. in 1960 and began operating his own dealership in Jamestown in 1961. That dealership has now operated as Wilhelm Chevrole Buick GMC in Jamestown, for 60 years.

"It is a way of life," said Rod Wilhelm, current manager of the dealership. "I get up in the morning and enjoy going to work."

Don Wilhelm owned a dealership in Bismarck, Courtesy Motors, for two years before starting his operation in Jamestown. He already had served as sales and general manager for Missouri Valley Motors in Bismarck and as president of the Bismarck Auto Dealers Association.


Initially, the new Jamestown dealership was located on 2nd Street Northwest under the name James River Motors and had the Olds and Cadillac franchises. During the early years it added the Jeep franchise and for a brief time sold the Mercedes-Benz line of vehicles.

During those early days, the dealership had about a dozen employees.

While the car lot was on 2nd Street Northwest, Don Wilhelm resided and maintained an office in the Log Cabin Motel. The motel, a collection of small log buildings usually rented to travelers, was located at the current location of the Wilhelm dealership at the bottom of Mill Hill in Jamestown.

Don Wilhelm consolidated the lots and offices at the current location in 1966. The move included removing a few small houses, a fruit stand and some evergreens which were known to drip sap on the parked cars. During its time of expansion, the company also sold Glastron boats and briefly held the Datsun franchise for the area.

Long-term expansions included adding the Mazda franchise in 1978 and Pontiac and GMC when Mellands ceased operations in 1984.

In 1986, Don Wilhelm acquired a Bismarck dealership which he and son Dan operated. Don Wilhelm retired from the automobile business in 2007. Prior to his retirement, Don Wilhelm received the TIME Magazine Quality Dealer Award for 2004.

Don's sons Jeff and Rod remained in Jamestown to manage the current dealership. In 2009, the dealership acquired the Chevrolet and Buick franchises giving it the full line of General Motors products.

Rod said he grew up helping at the dealership. Even Sunday mornings, usually after church, were spent at the dealership doing the chores needed to keep a public business clean and operational.


"I graduated from high school in 1974," said Rod Wilhelm. "I worked there (at the dealership) in the early 1970s. Cleaning the showroom, cleaning cars, doing anything that needed to be done."

Over the years the dealership has had many repeat customers, according to Stephanie Johnson, marketing and advertising coordinator for the dealership.

Johnson said Mike Rieker may be the all-time champion of car buyers at Wilhelms with "about 51" cars purchased.

"We think it is 51 or 52," Rieker said. "There are probably more but I can't remember all of them."

Rieker said his favorite would likely be one of the five Corvettes he has purchased over the years.

"They wouldn't decrease in value," he said. "Other cars are worth less as soon as you get them. The Corvettes would be worth more a year later than when you bought them."

Even when Rieker lived in Fargo, he traveled to Jamestown and the Wilhelm dealership to purchase most of his cars. He purchased a car about every year, trading in the previous vehicle when its value was high because of its age and the care he took with the vehicle, Rieker said.

"Great dealership and great people," he said. "Friends of mine."


Automobile dealerships don't rest on their histories, Rod Wilhelm said.

"The dealership is basically about family, the employees and their commitment to the dealership and the community," he said. "That is what gets us going and we are proud to serve the community."

One of the ways the dealership supports the community is its annual Car Show & 5K Walk/Run. Proceeds from the event are contributed to the Huntington's Disease Society of America. This year's event is scheduled for Sept. 25 at the dealership.

The benefit is dedicated to Dan Wilhelm, who died of Huntington's disease in 2012.

“I just feel really happy that we can do something to help support research and bring people together we never knew about until after we got involved,” said Rod Wilhelm about the event in 2017.

This year's grand prize drawing is for a 1982 Chevrolet Corvette or a $5,000 cash alternative. A maximum of 1,700 tickets for the raffle will be sold.

Moving forward, the Wilhelm dealership expects to have to add some new faces to the company.

"We have important people who have been here for years that are retiring or nearing retirement," Rod Wilhelm said. "Fortunately we have been able to hire well."


Wilhelm Chevrolet Buick GMC can be reached at The website includes inventories of new and used vehicles and a listing of open jobs available at the dealership. There is also additional information about the car show and Huntington's events planned for September.

The dealership includes the sales of new and used vehicles, repair services, parts and a body shop for all the customer's automobile needs. An on-site finance manager can help arrange vehicle financing for vehicle purchases.

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