Our sales team at Algar sold a good many automobiles through the remainder of January 1968, with some very good used car results, and a handful of new Ferraris, Maseratis and Lancias being sold. For Phil, T and I having worked together for less than a month we had done pretty damn well.
As to the Lancias, we could sell all the Lancia Fulvia coupes we could get. The high performance HF’s would go out at full list and the standard coupes would move along easily also.
Our Lancia “problem” was that the Lancia factory would send along 5 boxy little Fulvia sedans for every coupe, and 20 sedans for every HF. The sedans, though superb automobiles carried pedestrian appearing coachwork. Beautifully made, they were utter shoeboxes, and pricey compared to a comparable Alfa Romeo sedan. They simply weren’t terribly appealing visually, and they cost plenty of money,
We hadn’t quite cracked the monthly nut in January, but we were beginning to get it together, and building up a head of profit steam.
Coming into February it was becoming clearer what we needed to do to make this dealership machine roll. As I was now “in the business”, I was paying very close attention through the New York Times to the big New York dealer ads. Occasionally, an ad would appear for a dealer named: M.H. “Tiny” Gould located in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. Tiny listed some very exotic offerings. I made a note to get be sure and get up there.
I had bumped up the advertising that Algar had been running in the Philadelphia Newspapers, pushing the ads past merely listing the fact that we were Dealers for Ferrari, Maserati, and US Distributors for Lancia!!
None of the Philadelphia papers carried any exciting ads to speak of, with the exception of Rodney Scattergood III, who continued to have any number of tragic estate situations that required rapid liquidation of an exotic automobile at distress pricing!
In perusing the New York Times, I began to think,
“Why not? . . ."
Ed Jurist at the Vintage Car Store far outdistanced any of the other dealers with his superb ads. He published well written, highly descriptive classifieds. Often his column ads would run to a half page in height. He would stack “The Vintage Car Store” in triple caps, then his first car in double caps centered, followed by an amazing set of words, that should surely lure anyone straight up to Nyack, New York! Generally two or three spectacular offerings were in each ad. The cars were “fresh” each week.
Algar’s showroom, going into that month of February, 1968 was the stuff of dreams in today’s world. A brand new deep chocolate brown Ferrari 330 GTC, with a saddle tan interior, an exquisite Ferrari 275 GTB/4 in a brilliant metallic blue with scarlet leather interior, and a number of bespoke features, a Lancia HF, and a yellow Maserati Ghibli coupe! Oh and of course the requisite Lancia Fulvia sedan . . .
So, I decided to take a crack at composing some substantial ads for The Sunday New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Sunday Bulletin.
I went to Al Garthwaite with the plan, and he thought it was an excellent idea. We certainly had some fine automobiles in the place. And, yes he recognized that the advertising costs would increase substantially.”
Grant, Tegtmeier, and I concentrated on getting the deadwood off the used car lot. We purchased some cars that we knew would move along quickly. We bought two to three year old Mercedes Benz sedans, Porsches and two Alfa Romeo spiders, a Giulia, and a Giulietta Veloce.
THEN, A PAINFUL LESSON LEARNED
During that month of February 1968, I bought a US spec ’66 Ferrari 330GT from Ed Jurist at the Vintage Car Store at an exceedingly fair wholesale price!
A simple perusal under the hood would have quickly revealed that both options were not in place. I’d never even looked.
So, now I’d spent a good deal of someone else’s money to execute a half assed purchase. That just ate away at me.
Phil saved my sorry ass; he sold the car to a terrific young man who was thrilled to death to be buying his own Ferrari. The fellow couldn’t have cared less about power steering and air. Such trivia had no place in a Ferrari Automobile, he said!
SELL WHATEVER MAKES MONEY. . .
One morning, smack in the dead of that 1968 winter, we had a local estate manager come by with a nearly new, top of the line Jeep just loaded with expensive options. Plus it had the fanciest snow plow rig I’d ever seen.
The man wanted to sell it; the estate owner was retiring to Florida. I knew I couldn’t get Art, our comptroller to write a check for a Jeep, so I took it on consignment. The man wanted almost no money for it and I knew it would be a damn good money maker!
The next morning when Garthwaite drove in he was stunned to see a Jeep on his front line! I was summoned immediately!
“What the . . . blah, blah . . . is a damn Jeep doing here? This is not a used car lot in Chester for God’s sake!!”
“It’s February, there’s snow on the ground, it’s got a plow, it’s nearly new, and we have it “on the arm” (consignment. . .) for no money!! It’ll sell quickly.”
Al didn’t know what “on the arm” meant . . . “I want that thing out of here!” he blustered.
The matter quickly became academic, as a man came in the next afternoon and paid our asking price netting the house $3,800 in profit. Just like that.
I never uttered a word; neither did Al.
The sales department was full of themselves for a few days as we coasted out of the month of February.
At that point in time, not nearly enough people in the Philadelphia area knew anything at all about Algar Enterprises, let alone the large inventory of exciting cars that were being offered! We were determined to fix that.
David Olimipi joined Algar, and he was a terrific salesman, and knew his Italian cars. Any time I was in a corner, Dave could gracefully save my bacon.
The Philadelphia ads were amazingly effective as all sorts of local people came to know what was inside that vast old Derham Body Works there in Rosemont!
People may have seen “European cars” in that foreboding giant of a building, but few had ventured in. It was amazing how many new local customers came to us after being “invited” via the ads! Al was always amazed that “so and so,” from Gladwyne, had just bought a car from us.
Why, “so and so’s” sister had gone to school with Al’s wife Ann!
I got around to that folder of possible prospects that Art; Algar’s comptroller had given me. There was a ton of 3X5 cards with quite a lot of notations crammed on them them and no one had followed up with any of the people!
So, I took a page or two from my life insurance sales efforts and put together this missive:
With those results came a surge in people wanting brochures!
I could give you hours of entertainment by just having you read the back and forth correspondence with Maserati and Ferrari, both companies attempting to fix an actual cost for additional brochures! Had the nonsense been carried to an end I expect that entire model years would have slipped by!
Let’s talk about some of the cars . . .
THE TALE OF THE TWO FERRARI 275 GTB/4’S
Late one afternoon, the distinguished Philadelphia architect, Vincent Kling came in to the showroom. He was part of the top echelon in the Garthwaite car group.
Phil was showing Kling a brand new, stunning Ferrari 275GTB/4. It was finished in a brilliant cobalt blue metallic, with a scarlet red leather interior. Kling seemed to truly like the car, but was concerned about the unusual bespoke features of that particular car. They included: small, beautiful, red leather headrests on chrome plated brackets, factory air conditioning, superbly done, and both the front fender, and the small cabin louvers had chrome plated insert portions!
In today’s world, that particular Ferrari, with a supporting build sheet, disclosure sticker, etc. would command an inordinate premium in its pricing. In 1968 though, you had to sell yourself straight through those cheesy JC Whitney add ons.
Kling stayed tuned with Phil and me through it all. It was well past closing time, when searching for a close to this sale, I ventured:
“Mr. Kling, this is a very special bespoke Ferrari. You’ll never see another one coming at you on the road!”
And, by George, he liked that. He agreed, and bought the car on the spot. He drove the car away and thoroughly enjoyed it. The 275 GTB/4s were, by far, the best balanced road Ferraris of all, and were stunningly superior in their day.
WTF??!! . . .
Less than three weeks later, I got a call from a dealer friend; he said there was, what was known in the day, an “abortion” doctor in Union City, New Jersey who had a nearly new Ferrari 275 GTB/4 that he had to sell “right now.”
The next morning I talked Art into giving me a check and we drove up to a decidedly sketchy area of Union City, New Jersey.
I met “a guy” in a neighborhood Deli. The “guy” was just what you’d expect in a dicey deal like this. He never uttered a word of greeting. Just like the movies, we ended up in an alley driveway behind two sets of run down row houses. Each place had a single garage below. We stopped, and he opened one of the garage doors, revealing a splendid Ferrari 275 GTB/4 in the very same metallic blue as the Kling car we’d just sold!
I asked the “guy” to get the car out as I could scarcely squeeze around it. He merely handed me the keys. I squeezed in, and dropped into the driver’s seat. The interior was nearly identical to the Kling car except it had just a single headrest on the passenger side, and did not have air conditioning.
The speedometer showed 400 some miles. I backed the car out, got out to survey it.
My knees almost buckled as I stood there looking at chrome inserts in the front fender louvers, the cabin louvers, and Holy Moses, the factory had put a set of three chromed tall air louvers on each rear fender ala a 250 GTO!!
Jesus, I didn’t want this thing on the showroom floor right after the other one. Kling’s car had been out of the place for less than a month, and here comes a damn twin sister out of the bowels of Union City, New Jersey!
Even though I’d been told the price, I asked the guy:
“How much is it?”
Finally a word from “the guy:”
“They a’reddy fuckin’ tol’ ya . . . $12,000”
“I can’t pay that; the car looks a circus wagon, with all that gaudy chrome, goofy extra louvers. Jesus, what was anyone thinking of when they built this car.”
“Put it back.” he said pointing back into the garage.
I got in the car, leaned in to start it; suddenly his face was right up in the window frame!
“What’ll you pay for it, no bullshit?”
“A dime. $10,000.”
“Ya gotta’ check with ya?” (Everyone up here asks that same damn question!!)
I had a suspicion that the guy had been told, get money today on that Ferrari and get it the hell out of town. $12,000 was a steal price for the car, but I figured the arrival of a virtual twin sister to Vincent Kling’s car in the agency was an awkward proposition at best, and Garthwaite could easily go off the rails trying to absorb the irony of it all!
It was just too cruel to settle well among Al’s social gang, which certainly included Vincent Kling!
But at $10,000 the car was stupidly cheap, and no amount of childish reaction could deny the wisdom of buying the car. Terry Keenan had come up with me, so I paid the guy, got the title, and started back for Philadelphia.
“T” Grant, who, by the way, had become an enormously competent salesman, had had a prospect on the GTB/4 that Kling had purchased. I stopped at the first service plaza on the Jersey Pike, and called Grant.
Yeah, “T” thought his guy would stand up for the car, and he’d get on it right away. By the time I got back, “T” called and he’d sold the car for a walloping amount of money!
We were getting pretty good at selling Ferrari “circus wagons!”
Very early the next morning, I drove the Ferrari around to the rear entry of the agency and into the service area and told them to get it ready for delivery late that day. “T” seamlessly delivered the car late that afternoon.
Garthwaite never laid eyes on the second car!
A day or two later, I looked at the paperwork on the deal. The customer lived within seven or eight miles of Vincent Kling!
It didn’t take long before the two Ferraris passed each other in opposing directions, on Montgomery Avenue in Ardmore.
Mr. Kling, good naturedly, asked me if he should expect to see many more of them in the future!
GETTING CAUGHT IN THE SWITCHES
“T” was still very locked into the idea of opening his own place, and had been in talks with Fiat regarding a dealership. He and I were still spending a lot of evenings and off time planning and scheming.
I was being paid by both parties which was becoming awkward. It was becoming increasingly difficult to straddle the two opportunities. As time went by, it became more and more difficult to think in terms of leaving behind the strength and the franchises at Algar.
Then, it got very tough: Grant unexpectedly secured the old Flourtown Firehouse which he would be able to pretty easily convert into a terrific automobile showroom. His stone barn facility across the street could become the service facility.
So, here I was within the first 60 days of my coming into the business, jammed up against a ‘go or no go’ decision!
To top it off, Fiat had approved a new car franchise for Grant at the Flourtown location. (. . . In the late sixties Fiat may well have granted a franchise to anyone standing on a street corner that expressed the slightest interest in selling their automobiles in America!)
Grant was hell bent on getting the Flourtown operation up and running by May; less than 60 days out.
I was just grasping the parameters of the European automobile sales business in the altogether and not really ready to cross any additional major bridges just yet.
Algar was beginning to pick up steam, and I liked the fact that I was selling something that people actually lusted after. I was no longer a family’s fiduciary representative for the period immediately following the death of a loved one.
And now, I found myself in an occupational position where everyone I knew couldn’t believe I was doing such a neat thing for a living. Good God, dealing all day with selling Ferrari, Porsche, Jaguar, and Maserati etc. was just too good to be true!
Certainly, calling someone on the telephone to discuss business became a most rewarding endeavour for me. Telephone calls in the classic car business went swimmingly! Witness:
“Good Morning, Vincent Kling Architects…”
“Good Morning, Mr. Kling, please . . .”
“Mr. Kling is not available; may I ask who’s calling, and what this is regarding. . .?
“This is Kirk White, and I’m calling about a Ferrari automobile . . .”
“Oh, one moment Mr. White, Mr. Kling . . .”
And then, any one of the following:
“. . . will be with you in a moment . . .”
“. . . waved to me; he’ll take your call. . .”
“. . . Let me interrupt him and tell him you’re on
the wire . . .”
After all the years of suffering every sort of “go away” in the life insurance business, suffering the slings and arrows of “cast iron” secretaries, and endless excuses, it was now a huge pleasure to call “car” people!
That bit of fun aside, with less than sixty days in the European classic car business; I was buck up against another major career decision. But, for that moment, it was simply get on with the job at hand. Put out a strong February for Al Garthwaite, and learn as much as I could as quickly as I could.
THE HOMELY LANCIA FULVIA SEDAN
Late in February, on a Friday morning, Al Garthwaite pulled a dark navy blue Lancia Fulvia out of stock and had it prepared for delivery. It had a dark tobacco interior, and as Lancia Fulvia sedans went, it was really handsome.
Late Friday afternoon the car was driven out the driveway with a chase car behind it, and that seemed to be that. It was sure OK with me; one less Fulvia sedan to worry about.
Saturday mornings, I would always get to the agency at the crack of dawn to enjoy the peace of it and write upcoming advertisements. That Saturday morning after the Lancia delivery, I pulled in past the showroom down to the service area, and there was the dark blue Fulvia sedan nose up against a service bay door. An enveloped note to Al was neatly tucked under the wind screen.
“Uh oh, don’t touch that Whitey,” I thought, no good can come of it.
Al’s sister had blistered Al for having thought for one moment that she would be seen driving such a “silly little automobile” and on and on it went.
I never saw the note with my eyes, but I heard different versions of how she had totally berated him. I seemed to be the only one who felt badly for Al.
The Lancia may not have been a glamour girl, but the Fulvia sedan was an engineering masterpiece, and the damn automobile was brand new!
I went over the scheme with George on the phone, and he said he’d come and have a look. Well, he checked the car over carefully, and deemed it possible. Sure it could be done, but then George could do almost anything. Could he take some time and come over and help us out?
“Sure” he said. George loved challenges.
I turned to gather everyone in the shop to go over how we could get this deal underway, and found them all bunched up at the service desk. Their collective look said who the hell is this arrogant sales kid, and what the hell is he doing in our shop.
I was meddling in an area far outside my realm as sales manager, and realized I’d better stop right where I was and make sure it wasn’t just me wanting to take a brand new Maserati Ghibli and knock it into a street fighter hot rod.
I made my way to Garthwaite’s office to gain his input. He was standing at his window as I came in. I launched into a complete outline of this whole deal and the further I got into it the more it took on a life of its own and I began to feel like a hot rod punk kid with a wild ass scheme, which might have worked at Bash’s Speed Shop in Germantown, but not necessarily in a Maserati dealership, in Rosemont.
To my surprise Al thought it was an interesting challenge and green lighted the deal! After all, the customer was paying the tab straight through.
I’d like to say it ended well; it was a stone bitch executing the switch out. Everything had to be changed. The GM automatic gearbox being greater in length and width set off a chain reaction of heroic proportions.
The motor mounts had to be altered, which changed the angle of the front of the engine in relation to the radiator, the exhaust system had to be modified, the drive tunnel extensively reconstructed, the driveshaft shortened, welded and rebalanced.
Even two frame members needed to be widened. There seemed to be no end to it all. It took two full weeks that included an all night stint on the Friday before delivery.
When I came in early that Saturday morning Algar’s little Gino and George were wrapping it up after a trouble free road test.
I was persona non grata in the service department at that point.
The customer showed up, went through his paperwork, eased out the driveway and drove off. Work commenced to clean up the area around the lift that had been tied up for two weeks.
Suddenly the Maserati reappeared in the driveway.
The guy drove down to the service area with a serious look on his face.
I walked out to face the music: “Everything OK?”
He frowned and pointed under the dash. “That wire with the bulb dropped down from the dash, as soon as I drove away.”
He got out and I crawled up under the dash; it was the lamp for the oil pressure gauge. I popped it back in, and asked him:
“How was the car, I mean out there on the road?”
“Good . . .”
A man of few words; I stepped back, and he rolled up his window, eased up the driveway, and nosed the Maserati east on Lancaster avenue. As he fully turned onto Route 30 he hammered the throttle and laid rubber with that damn Ghibli all the way down Lancaster Pike!
Shades of Pastorius Street!
Maybe we could turn this place into a speed shop after all. (Don’t worry; I got over that thought before I was back in the building . . .).
I stayed wide of the service department for awhile.
Phil was the seller so I told him to go down to service and get Penske’s guy, Roy Gane to come up and have a look. He was to tell Roy precisely what we needed to do. “Axle” Gane was the only guy in the place who wouldn’t be star struck and promise something he couldn’t deliver.
Gane came up, peered up at Chamberlain, pushed his glasses back on his nose, walked over and peered into the cockpit. Roy dropped down on his knees, and looked carefully into and under the cockpit area of the Maserati.
Then Roy stood up, pushed his glasses back again and did something he almost never did; he smiled. Casting his gaze around the group of people all huddled up against Chamberlain and the Ghibli, Gane said:
“You’re fuckin’ kiddin’, right??”
Only Roy could have pulled it off; I quickly stepped forward guiding Roy off to the side.
“No, Roy, Mr. Chamberlain would like to purchase this car; let’s have him get back in the driver’s seat, and Roy, you have a good look at actually doing this, OK?”
At that point I was in Roy’s face with a look of “quit fucking around with this Roy; it’s not a joke!”
Wilt got back in, and Roy merely stared at Chamberlain a bit more, looked back at all of us, and said:
“Yeah, I can do it,” turned and went back down to the service department.
And he did do it, and fairly easily. Early that following Saturday morning we watched the great Wilt Chamberlain fold himself into the cockpit of that gorgeous Maserati and drive off, just as happy as he could be. We filed away in the back of our minds, the fact that we could sell a Maserati Ghibli to any basketball athlete in America, no matter how tall he was!
CLOSE OF BUSINESS, FEBRUARY, 1968
The entire sales department through the month of February had absolutely steamrollered the cars out the door. Dave, Phil, Dave, Grant, and I had really sold just about everything that was put in front of us. New cars, used cars, two motorcycles; if it wasn’t nailed down we sold it to someone.
We hired Tony Cappadona, a young, noisy, enthusiastic young student from Villanova University, who took to automobile sales like a duck to water. And, Terry Keenan who was kind of “there” when I arrived in January, always seemed to be around when you needed another pair of hands.
Through it all Dave Olimpi was the most “landed” guy with the sales team.
All the rest of us were, to one degree or another, out there where the buses don’t run!
We sailed out the back door of the month of February flat flying. We were totally full of ourselves, and with some good reason, I might add!
When I started with Algar, some had said;
“It’s a lethargic operation, a boys club, there’s no real interest in the place becoming a profitable business . . .
“That place has never made a dime, never will.”
I went to Art, our comptroller and asked him to work up a statement reflecting our P & L for the month of February. I don’t think Art fully realized what we’d done.
The next morning Art came into my office, and said: “Look at this, you guys really did a great job last month.”
We’d not only busted the nut for the month, we’d made $24,000!! It was stunningly good news . . . I called Phil, Dave and T in. It was decided that I should take the news to Garthwaite personally.
Al wasn’t due in the office till the following morning; I would talk to him then. I asked Art to keep a lid on the news until we’d had our moment of glory the next morning.
This was the first month in the company’s history that a profit had been turned. The showroom must have looked like a Peacock farm for the rest of the day, what with the sales staff full of itself.
AARRRRGGGGHHHH . . .
The following morning, Garthwaite arrived mid morning and I allowed him time to get settled in. The sales guys were all over me.
“Go on, get in there . . .”
“What are you waiting for, go tell him, arredy’ . . .”
I took Art’s sheet of figures, and knocked on Al’s door. I entered with the sales staff almost falling through the door behind me. Al took his chair behind his ample desk and gestured for me to have a seat.
“I’m bringing you some pretty exciting news this morning!” said I, brandishing my instrument of profit. “Take a look at this,” and I sweepingly handed across the figures.
I then sat back in my chair, wishing I could adopt a more debonair persona under these proud circumstances, possibly an expensive cigar, a Patek Philippe watch on my wrist, a bespoke suit, something for God’s sake.
We’d turned the place around in under 60 days!
Al spent an inordinate amount of time peering at the figures. Art had broken it down quite carefully. Finally, Al looked up, and with a serious face, said:
“That’s pretty good, but you didn’t sell any Lancia sedans . . .”
(“What?? You couldn’t even give a fucking Lancia sedan to your own sister three weeks ago. Are you out of your fucking mind??”)
Instead, I said: “Mr. Garthwaite, look at the bottom line. These guys out there hustled their fannies off and took this place straight into the black. Check out how many new people came through the doors in the last 60 days and bought automobiles from us.”
Garthwaite simply said: “We need to be concentrating more on Lancia automobiles and less on some of these used cars. We don’t need to be wasting time with things like that Jeep that was here.”
I fired straight back that that Jeep had returned the greatest percentage profit of any automobile that ever been sold by this company! And then, I added:
“I’d fill this whole place with Jeeps if I knew we could pull in those figures!”
(Better hold up there, Whitey; this ain’t your fuckin’
place! You work here, and you’re dancin’ with the Devil. . .)
Garthwaite’s face turned to stone and he said very slowly:
“I am the United States Distributor for Lancia automobiles, and I want to see our Lancias sold!!”
I rose from my chair slowly: “Yes sir, sorry to have taken your time . . .”
(Cut it out, Kirk . . .)
I could scarcely turn the door knob to leave the office to tell the others the news . . . No one out front could believe the reaction.
We had all gotten ourselves so pumped up about the whole thing. A voice way in the back of my mind reminded me of what someone had said not so long ago:
“ Algar’s a rich boys club; nobody’s lookin’ to turn any big profits there. ”
A DECISION MADE . . .
Grant and I went to dinner that night. The day’s events had pretty much laid the path for us. We quickly agreed that we would take the idea of an Algar Enterprises East to Garthwaite, thereby utilizing the name recognition, and be able to ride on the coattails of the Ferrari and Maserati franchises.
At least for the foreseeable future I would split my time over the two agencies. I’d be spending half of my time working with Grant in getting his operation up and running, and then overseeing the sales department at Algar the rest of a given day.
(I know, at this point it isn’t easy writing the above words. It was a preposterous scheme, but we really felt we could pull it off. Stick around, it gets quite interesting. . . .)
The cold light of the following day brought some really chilly reality down on me and I began to realize, if nothing else, just physically getting myself from one agency to another would eat up a third of a day!
Nonetheless, that morning I took the “Algar East” idea into Garthwaite’s office, fully expecting him to blow it to pieces, thereby forcing me into one camp or the other.
After his lackluster response to our performance the previous month I didn’t whitewash the plan in any fashion. I merely laid out precisely what we were hoping to accomplish.
To my astonishment Al thought the whole idea was terrific! I went over it a second time in a slightly more emphatic fashion to make sure we were truly on the same page, and indeed, he thought it was a good idea.
When did Grant plan to open? Asked Al.
“A little over two months, mid May” I said.
That brought a slight furrow to Al’s brow . . .
“That soon; really?”
“Yes, his facility is well underway, and Fiat has given him a new car franchise.”
Garthwaite said it all sounded “swell.”
So, now I was really betwixt and between, totally in the trick box! And, I’d been in the business, how long? Just over 60 days it seemed.
As I was at the door, leaving Garthwaite’s office, Al said:
“You probably won’t have to be over there in Flourtown all that much . . .”
It was a statement, not a question.
Enough of the heavy handed Garthwaite/Grant/White machinations; let’s take a moment for one of my very favorite Ferrari tales that took place at Algar just a few weeks later.
SPOT DELIVERY OF A NEW FERRARI 330 GTC, CIRCA 1968
Quite late on a Friday afternoon in March, I was in my office going over the classified ads for the New York Times, when the front door opened, and a young man walked in.
I scanned the showroom floor; none of the salesmen were present.
The young man was having a good look at the new cars on the floor, spending a fair bit of time with each car, and then carefully studying the disclosure stickers. I went to my office door and said to him:
“If there is anything I can help you with, let me know”.
He just wanted to browse. He was quite tall, well over six feet, dressed well with tailored grey flannel slacks, necktie, and a tweed sport jacket that was obviously bespoken. Nice looking young man, glasses, and a very pleasant, but patrician air.
I’d nearly forgotten he was in the building, when he appeared at my door, and tapped lightly. I looked up from what I was doing, and noticed that two of the salesmen were back on the floor, and no one had approached him.
Had I turned him over to one of the salesmen at that point, the following would have never transpired . . .
“Could you tell me something about the dark brown Ferrari GTC; the features, details of the engine and the transmission, which I see is mounted in the rear.”
Okay, I had a very bright young man in my office who was exceedingly polite, and he wanted to talk about our brand new beautiful Ferrari 330 GTC. So, I went over the car in detail with him and he gathered it all in, asking additional questions as we went along.
“Would you mind unlocking the car, so I could sit in it; see if I fit in it?” He said.
Hmmm, maybe I should have had one of the salesmen step in, and let him go through these motions…
But, he was an engaging young man, bright as hell, and I was enjoying the “selling.”
“Certainly, let me get the keys.”
As I returned to the car, he extended his right hand, and with a slight smile, said: “My name is John Burden. I’m a student at the University of Pennsylvania”. John went all around the car, and then through all of the interior appointments, asking about the various controls. He then spent a good deal of time under the hood asking intelligent questions along the way; same interest in the trunk, tool bag, etc.
At that point I was thinking this was getting to be work.
“Could I take the car for a drive?” John asked.
It was virtually 5 o’clock, it was Friday, and we were closing in just a few minutes.
“We could, John, it’ll take a bit of effort; we’ve got to move some of these other cars on the showroom floor and get the Ferrari over to the freight elevator which is around the corner there. Or John, if you wanted to come back at the beginning of next week, I could have the car downstairs and ready for you to drive when you got here,” I said.
“I’d like to do it now if we could,” he said pleasantly.
A tiny switch way in the back of my head clicked and said… “extra effort, Kirk, just do it.”
So at the stroke of five the entire company went home, and John and I moved the cars, ran the elevator downstairs with the GTC on board, and went for a forty minute, very comprehensive drive.
John was extremely comfortable in the car. If he ended up with a Ferrari, he would be an owner who knew how to drive it. We came back to the agency, and went into my office. As I was sitting down at my desk, John said:
“I’ll take the car, I really like it.”
“Terrific, we’ll get it ready for you first thing on Monday.”
“I’d like to take it with me today, if I can . . .” he said.
“Well, sure. How would you like to pay for it?” I said.
“If I may use your phone, I’ll call my sister in Rumson, and she’ll have a check brought down to you tomorrow.”
I handed the phone to him and he rang up his sister. His sister told him it would be fine, she’d send the check down tomorrow.
“Could you talk with my sister for a moment?” John said.
I took the telephone and listened intently as John’s sister assured me in no uncertain terms that it was perfectly fine to give John the brand new Ferrari this evening and that she would positively have a check brought to the agency before noon the next day!
I then chose to take leave of whatever bit of common sense I possessed! I never, not even for an instant, considered doing anything other than precisely what she asked me to. It was, and remains, one of the most remarkable transactions I’ve ever had!
So, John, the 19 year old college student, drove away in a brand new 330 Ferrari GTC! And my life hung on the thread of a telephone promise from an incredibly charming lady who had said she lived in Rumson, New Jersey, and was John’s sister!
The next morning, Al Garthwaite, came in through the showroom which was unusual in itself. He almost always came in through the service department, which would have given me a fighting chance to get the money into the agency before he noticed that the GTC was not on the floor!
“Where’s the Brown GTC?” Asked Al.
“I sold it late yesterday afternoon.” I replied.
“Great.” said Garthwaite. “What did you get for it?”
“List”, I said.
At that point I had followed him into his office. He peered at his desk, and looked up at me: Where’s the paperwork? . . . The check? Al asked.
At that point I had to wheel out my ridiculous tale of yesterday’s transaction. Garthwaite cocked his head in total disbelief. Surely his ears had failed him. I was forced to repeat my ludicrous story.
He merely looked straight at me and said: “Well it better be here by noon; what is their telephone number?
“I . . . uh, didn’t actually get her number . . .” I mumbled.
I sat in my office still as a stone for what seemed like days.
To my considerable relief, an older Bentley arrived at 11:40 Saturday morning and the Burden’s chauffer delivered the check!
Not so many years back, John called me; he still had the Ferrari and was considering refinishing it. Did I know how he might turn up the exact paint code for that deep rich chocolate brown color, which he still loved.
THEN AGAIN, . . .
One chilly very early Saturday morning, I drove into Algar’s, turning down the driveway toward the service area. There, tucked tightly up against a corner of the building, was the most bedraggled, clapped out Ferrari racing car I’d ever seen: A two seater berlinetta so gutted out and derelict, that it looked more like a backwoods local stock car! Something you might see in the far back pages of an issue of National Speed Sport News: “Zeke Davis takes another Feature at the “Wayback Half Mile” might have been the caption for that rolling wreck.
I stopped my car smack in the middle of the driveway, and got out to peer at this gem. It was still a bit dark and I couldn’t tell if the car was a muddy brown or the worst dark red I’d ever seen. Backing away and squinting very hard, I could see it bore the overall vague shape of a 400 Super America, but good lord, what a sorry sight.
The wire wheels were rusty, and the side “glass,” what there was of it, was plastic. The body was a very thin aluminum, covered with dents, no interior to speak of, and the grille was wire screen! The engine was a six carb 250 or 4 liter V-12.
This beast was so run down that I decided to not speak of the car at all . . . I’d merely behave as if I’d never seen it. Possibly it would never be mentioned to me. Maybe it belonged to someone, and they’d be ‘round to get it off the premises.
Nah, that was never going to happen, was it?
But it did! It was gone by Monday afternoon!
Click here to continue reading chapter 10
(How about the last couple of paragraphs in those letters?!
“. . . our search for cars takes us to the four corners of the world. Hell, I don’t think any of us had been to the four corners of the state of Pennsylvania, let alone the world!
“. . . knowledgeable in all tax and leasing advantages . . .??!! The other day someone in the showroom noticed there was a sales tax mistake with their Pizza order!!
Oddly enough those letters were effective! We put a good number of them out each week with quite good results. It wasn’t so much that cars were flying out the door but those letters did ignite interest with people who had the means and never really realized that they may well be interested in a fine European automobile!
But, shortly thereafter I quickly learned a sharp lesson from one of our regular wholesale dealers, Bob Dimmerman. Bob had come by and asked if I had anything for him. I told him to look at the Ferrari 330 GT. I had bought the car so reasonably, there was no reason why I couldn’t flip the car to Dimmerman for a damn good wholesale profit. The car was gorgeous in silver with black leather and dark red carpeting.
Dimmerman walked outside, opened the driver’s door, flipped open the hood, and just as quickly closed both, and walked back in:
“Nah, not for me.”
“You didn’t even look at it; the car runs new and has 5800 miles . . .”
“No air, no steering, I can’t use it . . .” he said.
I could feel the heat rise into my cheeks. I was such an asshole rookie!
In buying the Ferrari I had failed to exercise even the simplest pursuit of the car’s options. I knew the ’67 and ’68 US cars carried power steering and air conditioning, But I was so dazzled by the price on that Ferrari, that I never exercised an ounce of due diligence to learn that only the latest ‘66’s carried those very desirable options.
GETTING ALGAR OUT THERE. . .
Part of the plan was to get Algar Enterprises out in front of the public to a much greater degree. In the process of reaching out to the public, I turned to “Gloria” Who was working with me in the classified department of the New York Times.
She patiently worked with me on composition and wording and taught me how to really lay out a major classified ad for the Sunday edition of the “Times,” or any other newspaper for that matter.
I began to put Algar out there with some seriously engaging advertisements. After all we had an amazing array of automobiles through Al’s franchises, and a good grouping of used sports cars. The ads were also run in the Philadelphia Inquirer at a fraction of the cost of running them in the in the New York Times.
SURE, WE CAN DO THAT . . .
We had a customer come into Algar who wanted to purchase a new silver Maserati Ghibli with an automatic transmission that we had in stock, but he wanted the Maserati factory automatic replaced with a worked over GM Hydramatic, ala the “Jack Kulp” drag racing gearboxes of old.
The customer would pay all the expenses, and provide the “wound tight” Hydramatic transmission. The guy was clever enough to know that the Borg Warner automatics that came in a Ghibli were very sluggish.
I liked the guy’s thinking.
The shop thought the idea was nuts, and that it would void whatever lacy warranty Maserati was handing up with the car. The guy couldn’t have cared less about a warranty. He saw a way to harness that 4 cam V-8 with a seamless, tight automatic gearbox.
As the guy was basically building a hot rod I was totally in his corner. The Algar shop plain and simple didn’t want to touch it. The customer was prepared to pay whatever it took to get the job done.
No dice; too many unknowns, this is not a hot rod shop I was told!
The more they said no, the more determined I became. This was definitely one of those times where George Hughes should be called in. George could accomplish the most amazing automotive engineering trickery.
Hot Rod Masquerading as a Masterati Ghibli
SURE, WE CAN DO THAT, TOO . . .
Within a week I was introduced to the great basketball player, Wilt Chamberlain who was right there in our showroom. An unbelievable encounter; talk about one of life’s grand characters, he was delightful to meet and easy to visit with.
By craning my head upward I was able to speak almost directly to his belt buckle.
Every employee in the building was either with Chamberlain or in the wings.
Chamberlain too wanted a Maserati Ghibli and very much liked the one sitting on the showroom floor. It was a beauty alright, finished in a rich metallic burgundy, with a stunning terracotta leather interior. It was stick gearbox, and he was fine with that; it was merely the matter of fitting him into the cockpit!!
(Jeez, I thought, maybe I should back these new ads of mine off a bit as suddenly we were overwhelmed with customers requesting whacko modifications!!)
Backing myself away a good bit from Wilt, I was able to capture an image of his awesome height in the altogether. I re-approached his belt buckle and asked him to try the cockpit as it was. I was astonished that he damn near folded into it.
Wilt Chamberlain & Muhammad Ali (whom we'll meet later!)
“T” Grant was really moving forward with his operation in Flourtown. He was gutting the firehouse and had hired a builder to set the building up as an automobile showroom.
He and I would meet at night and go over what we hoped would be all the necessary elements to get the business on its feet swiftly and effectively.
I personally was ducking the fact that I was working in two different camps that were soon to be at cross purposes with each other. As each day went by my one foot on the dock at Algar and the other on Grant’s boat were growing further and further apart. I couldn’t see a good end to it at all.
Then very early one morning, the tiniest seed of an idea hatched; suppose Grant was to open an “Algar Enterprises, East!”
That idea may well appeal to Al. Think about it. At no expense to Garthwaite, a top notch satellite facility would open on the other side of town carrying his colors.
I could split my time between the two facilities. I approached Grant with the idea, and he liked the concept also.
It gave the Flourtown operation instant recognition, and though it would not be able to bring the new car franchises over to “Algar, East,” it could access the new cars, parts, etc. “T” and I agreed to take the deal to Garthwaite. But, we wanted to brainstorm it from every angle before we laid it out in front of him.
We’d wait until after the end of the month.
TIME TO GO . . .
Grant was immersed in developing and setting up the dealership in Flourtown. He was scarcely in the Algar Rosemont showroom at all. And, I was finding myself over at the Flourtown agency several evenings each week. Grant lived within two miles of the place, so we’d often end up at his home scheming out a future without any solid idea of exactly where we were headed.
As I’ve mentioned, “T” was a hell of a salesman, and he was beginning to put real pressure on me to base myself out of Flourtown, not Rosemont. But, in the cold light of day, we both knew it would be damn hard to keep the two of us fully engaged, five or six days a week in this “scratch” operation.
Garthwaite was relentless in his pursuit of my selling those exquisitely built, disproportionately expensive, largely homely, Lancia Fulvia sedans, (I know, it’s the thirty seventh time I’ve mentioned Lancia Fulvia sedans.)
The idea of buying and selling used cars as a strong revenue source did not appeal to Al. Yet, left to his own devices, Al would often bring some amazing “used” donkeys on board, almost always from some pal who had bamboozled him into the car.
(Years later, leafing through one of the fabulous Ferrari reference volumes we have available today, there was that same old Ferrari in a book! It was racing for the factory at Sebring. How little I knew in the winter of 1968, and how quick I was to judge the car as an irretrievable hulk of a bastardized Ferrari!)
(Then at Amelia Island in the spring of 2008, there sat the car again, beautifully restored and residing in the Bruce McCaw collection. That particular Ferrari turned out to be one of the handful of short wheelbase “Le Mans” Speciales - #2643 to be exact. And, those “Speciales” were the true forerunners to Ferrari’s fabled GTO . . .)
That Ferrari GTO Speciale aside, the squeeze from all sides was really getting a little cockeyed, as Garthwaite bore down on me to essentially forget the idea of the Flourtown opening and concentrate my efforts in Rosemont.
Al was not so subtlety saying: Why would anyone want to wander away from these franchises, the established location, the tie to Derham, the “in place staff,” and a seemingly bottomless well of money?
Dear Mr. . . . . . . . :
Knowing your interest in fine automobiles, I am taking this opportunity to invite you to visit Algar Enterprises and inspect our selection of high performance new cars that include Ferrari, Maserati, and Lancia.
We have further taken great care in selecting an offering of previously owned cars and believe we have the ability to satisfy the most demanding customer.
Since our search for cars takes us to the four corners of the world, we can also offer you the unique service of locating and securing the unusual car of your choice.
Our staff is fully knowledgeable in all tax aspects and the leasing advantages of prestige automobiles.
We sincerely invite you to visit us here at Algar Enterprises.
We look forward with pleasure to seeing you soon.
Ferrari #2643 somewhat later