Conway-Heaton Ford, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and RAM is located at 810 North 3rd Street in Historic Bardstown, KY and is easily accessible from Louisville by Bardstown Road or I-65 via 245. Located only 35 miles south of Louisville, also servicing Elizabethtown, Sheperdsville, Mt. Washington, Springfield, and Lebanon Kentucky. Conway-Heaton is Kentucky’s oldest Ford Dealership. Founded in 1919, Conway-Heaton is owned and operated by the fourth generation of Conway and Heaton families.
Today’s Conway-Heaton Ford Chrysler is within a mile of the Conway Motor Co. that cranked up in 1919. And while the ways in which today’s cars are sold and repaired are light years ahead of what used to be, the owners say one key to success fits both eras: Continue to take care of the customer after the sale.
It’s a story nearly as interesting as that of Henry Ford himself, with an ending every bit as happy. It starts in 1914, six years after the first Model T rolled off the assembly line and cost $850.
Jim F. Conway was born in 1886 and raised in Richmond, Ky., the oldest of three children. Jim’s father died when he was young, so the boy quit school in the eighth grade to help support the family, finding work first in a grocery and then in a Richmond Dodge auto dealership, a field that was brand new.
In January 1914, Henry Ford raised the basic wage for his factory employees from $2.40 for a nine-hour day to $5 for an eight hour day. Jim heard about Ford’s great pay scale and knew there was an assembly plant in Louisville, where his uncle worked for the railroad.
So Jim moved to Louisville that year and got a job at the small Ford assembly plant on Third Street in Louisville. Over the years, Jim got to know the plant manager, who was also involved in managing sales for the region. In 1919, the plant manager told Jim he thought he had what it took to operate a dealership and said there were two territories open: Bardstown, Ky. and Rockport, Ind.
A Catholic priest in Louisville urged Jim to visit Bardstown, telling him that as soon as he got off the train he should find the church and introduce himself to Father Pike. Jim did just that and liked everything he saw and everyone he met.
While Jim had plenty of enthusiasm, he was short on cash. An aunt in Louisville had faith in him and loaned him the $2,000 required to start a dealership in Bardstown.
So in November 1919, Jim Conway moved his family to Bardstown and opened a Ford dealership in a small storefront at 213 N. Third St., a little more than a block from the Courthouse. The building still stands today. A shed outback provided space to service the cars.
The cars came in on rail, knocked down, and they had to have the wheels put on. They put those on at the depot, where the dinner train is today.
The success of Conway Motor Co. was no doubt being watched by other area businessmen, including Con Moore and his father, Tom, the owners of what is now Barton Brands 1792 Distillery. In 1922, Con Moore realized that Conway’s needed more space, so he offered to build a suitable structure and rent it to the dealership.
A deal was struck and Moore erected a building at 209 W. Stephen Foster Ave. The building had plenty of room to service cars as well as a basement, and Conway moved in that same year.
The dealership continued to prosper and a few years later Jim Conway purchased the lot just northeast of the Courthouse. In 1928 Conway built on the site and moved in June, the dealership’s third location since opening nine years earlier. The Courthouse Square location is now the parking lot for Wilson & Muir Bank.
Besides selling Ford runabouts, touring cars, coupes and sedans in its early years, the dealership also sold Ford trucks and tractors. Mercury autos were added to the lineup in 1939.
World War II brought major changes to U.S. society, including the cessation of new car manufacturing from 1942 until 1946 so car plants could build jeeps, tanks, planes, and guns. It also meant military service for millions of young American men who were in school or starting careers.
Pike Conway, one of Jim’s two sons, was one of these men. Pike and 10 of his classmates at St. Joseph’s Prep School were given early diplomas in the second semester of their senior years, when they turned 18, and shipped out to various boot camps. Pike entered Marine Corps basic training at a camp near San Diego in February 1944, then was assigned to the 1st Marine Division.
During the war, one of Pike’s sisters, Jody, married a Bardstown Navy shipman named Bob Heaton. Eight years older than Pike, Bob was discharged and came home in late 1945.
Car dealerships had a tough time during the war since no new vehicles were produced and everything from gasoline to tires to various metals were rationed or collected for the war effort. Pike and Jody’s father not only kept the dealership afloat, but also served as Bardstown’s mayor for two terms during the war.
“Going through the war was tough (on Dad),” said Pike, and when VJ Day and peace finally arrived, Jim Conway was ready to leave the business he started 26 years earlier. Jim offered to sell the dealership to any of his four children who wanted to run it. Pike’s brother and two sisters were not interested but Bob Heaton, his brother-in-law, was.
Jim told the two young war veterans that if they wanted to be partners he would help them secure the financing. Jim retained a one-third ownership, selling a third to his son and the same to his son-in-law. The business retained the name Conway Motor Co.
Pike and Bob shared duties at the dealership, with Bob’s responsibilities leaning toward the accounting functions and parts department. In 1948 they hired their first full-time salesman. He joined the service manager and mechanics, bringing total employment to about 15.
By 1965 Pike and Bob were seriously looking for a new site. In 1968 they struck a deal to buy 10 acres on North Third, the current location. Ground was broken just after the Fourth of July and business began at the new site on Nov. 28, 1968.
Employment and sales continued to climb at Conway’s. Bob’s son Dick graduated from college and joined the team in 1976. One year later, Pike’s son Bill did the same. In late 1977, the firm changed its name to Conway Heaton Inc. reflecting the equal ownership and operation by the two families.
Bardstown’s previous Chrysler dealership had closed in 1979. Chrysler had approached Conway-Heaton about expanding its offerings. An agreement was reached in 1981 and the company became Conway-Heaton Ford Chrysler.
Recently three more family members representing the fourth generation joined the firm after completing their college educations. Bill’s two sons Pikey Conway and Michael Conway along with Dick’s son Nicholas now work at the store.
The key to Conway-Heaton’s 90+ year success story is their ability to offer great Ford, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and RAM Products and provide excellent service after the sale. People enjoy the hassle-free experience they receive when purchasing a new or pre-owned car or truck. In addition to a full line of Ford, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and RAM vehicles, Conway-Heaton always has an excellent selection of pre-owned cars and trucks. You also find a nice selection of Ford quality certified pre-owned vehicles. You can buy these vehicles with confidence because each certified pre-owned vehicle comes with a 6 year/75,000 mile Powertrain Warranty and Roadside Assistance. These vehicles also go through a 115-point inspection prior to sale.
Conway-Heaton’s commitment to outstanding customer satisfaction is evident by their designation as a Ford Blue Oval Certified dealership for sales and service. Take the short drive to Conway Heaton Ford, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and RAM in Bardstown. Located at the intersection of 31E and Highway 245 in Bardstown.
"You know it by the feeling."