GETTING WHACKED IN THE HEAD WITH A BOARD . . .
In 1980, late one afternoon, I had come back to Blenheim Motors to collect an additional Dealer tag that I needed for my trip to New York the following day.
Three very good cars in the city were being held for me.
I was halfway across the showroom floor, when the agency owner, appeared at the top of the stairway that led to his rooftop office.
“Kirk, come up when you have a moment. I need to see you . . .”
A somewhat odd request, but I hadn’t seen the owner in the place for weeks. There was talk that he was spending a great deal of time in Atlantic City for all the wrong reasons.
I had just stepped into his office when he said:
“Kirk, I’ve got a big problem, and you have a small problem . . .”
“The bank has shut me down. I am way out of trust. I haven’t been paying off the new cars as they were sold, and Jack at Provident has pulled the plug!
Almost as an afterthought, he said:
“They grabbed your bank account too, Kirk . . .!
WTF??!!! . . .
I didn’t say a word. Somehow I knew he was going to say precisely that. I turned on my heel and literally shot down the stairs and got on the telephone.
The banker who had overseen the Blenheim Motors automobile “floor plan” and all of the agency accounts was a longtime friend of mine. He had actually been our banker all the way back to Auto Enterprises.
I called the bank and asked for Jack.
“He’s on the phone sir; may I have him call you back?
“No, I’ll hold, and if you all go home tonight without my speaking with him, I’ll still be on the line when you open in the morning!”
He came on pretty quickly. . .
“Jack, you knew our deal. You knew I was an independent here. I have no tie to the ownership chain of Blenheim Motors! I said. Why the fuck did you grab my account. You knew it was my money!”
“Kirk, I knew it was your money, but it was in a Blenheim Motors account, and I had to grab everything within sight that was not nailed down. The owner was way out of trust; and Mercedes has had it too. They want the agency sold to another owner.
‘But Kirk, Mercedes Benz wants to move very carefully. Blenheim is an old established Benz agency, and the company wants the transition to go as smoothly as possible.”
‘So, here’s what we’ve agreed to do, Kirk. . .
We cannot give you your monies back, but through this transition period, as the new cars continue to arrive at the agency, the sales force will be given 24 hours to deliver a car to their customer. Those cars will require payment by certified funds! Failing that, the car will be passed to you to sell within a two week period.”
I listened carefully and had only one question . . .
“What about the RDR cards, do I get the RDR if the car comes to me?”
“Absolutely! Yes, you do get the RDR’s.”
(Remember, we went over those precious RDR cards in the last chapter. Any agency within the Mercedes Benz dealer network who filed the actual RDR card on a given car would receive a similar model each year in the future!)
Suddenly things were looking a tad brighter. This could develop into a bit of a bonanza.
THE SALE OF BLENHEIM MOTORS . . .
Blenheim Motors was located in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, just past the furthest western neighborhood of Philadelphia itself. The neighborhood had been slowly, but steadily, deteriorating and that, along with the fact that the Philadelphia, Delaware Valley area had a disproportionate number of Mercedes dealers, meant the agency may not be so quick to sell to a new owner.
Once sold, Mercedes Benz would surely require the new owner of Blenheim to build an expensive, state of the art, facility and commit to a walloping number of automobiles.
Hence, it may take a fair bit of time to find that buyer . . .
But, that was looking down the road. I needed to get the money trolley back on the damn rails and running down the track, lickety split!
All I had was whatever money was in my pocket.
And, now I had to tell Marilyn what happened!
“MY BANK ACCOUNT WAS CONFISCATED TODAY . . .”
(. . . .Oh my God, we’re not going to go through another one of those: “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out! You’re all finished here, Bud . . .” episodes are we??
No, no that was issued by the fire breathing dragon of an ex-wife from the past . . .)
Marilyn was somewhat stunned, but supportive. Early the next morning I re-realized that I was busted, and I had to ask Marilyn for $100 to open a new bank account.
(. . . Every time I hear that 1958 song by the Big Bopper: “. . .ain’ got no money honey . .” I smile.)
After I took care of the bank, I drove straight to Blenheim and looked over the used cars they had on hand. Slim pickin’s. I went straight int0 the bookkeeper’s office.
Edith was the quintessential strict, matronly bookkeeper.
“Good Morning, Edith. I’m sure you’re aware of what transpired with me yesterday afternoon.” She was, and she was very saddened by the whole deal. She had been with the agency since it had opened.
“I need all of the titles for the used cars that are on the premises, I said.”
I expected some serious kickback, but she handed me all of titles. Boy, the owner had just about stripped everything out of the place. Just a few bones, four to be precise, remained.
I went to my desk and called Ronnie Tzirlin. I skipped the fact that Blenheim had imploded the day before.
We settled on $18,000 for the four clunks that I had the titles for.
AT LEAST I COULD BREATHE . . .
But, I’d have to work plenty hard and not let the pedal up during this upcoming debacle. It was going to be a very tenuous, dicey period.
My greatest concern was that Mercedes Benz might step in and stop me from firing RDR cards out with each sale. Without those “future allocation” cards my “getting rid of all of the new cars quickly” would be nearly impossible.
As the big new car carriers would come in, the 24 hour clock began to count down.
And, the sales people had to be visualizing . . .
(“There he is, over there, in that dark showroom corner! See him? He’s on that low hanging branch. . . . That’s Kirk White, “The Vulture” with his stopwatch spinning, just waiting for the 24 hours to transpire and then snatch the plums away from the sales department. . .”)
If a customer did burst through the door within the 24 hour span with his requisite certified funds, then he’d get the car and off he’d go.
But, particularly with a high-line Mercedes the customer who may have waited months for a car, would often would bristle, and many would simply say “No” to the 24 hour “get out here with certified funds” edict. If a customer was leasing or financing their new Mercedes, the logistics were nearly impossible to finalize within the allotted 24 hours.
At the end of the sales force’s “24 hours,” my two weeks commenced, and the remaining new cars disappeared into the cavernous basement, which had become my storage garage. I would pocket the keys and commence getting the cars sold.
As you might imagine my little joke about “the vulture” at times became an ugly reality. I remember a couple of times when I was watching the clock on, say a 450SL roadster, waiting to see if the retail customer’s sale would go through with the sales force.
All of the men in the sales force were my friends, and if I saw a salesman in real “pain” as the 24 hour period came to a close, I would say: “Let’s give your guy till late tomorrow.”
Still, in the altogether, an unpleasant, tedious environment all the way around.
SO HOW DID IT WORK FROM MY END. . .
Rather splendidly, thank you . . .
Very rapidly word spread up and down the east coast about Blenheim’s debacle. I took the next day to brainstorm the most efficient way to handle my being a “new” Mercedes dealer, albeit for a very short time.
Having recently gone through the Mercedes Benz strike, I had dealt with a good many of the dealers east of the Mississippi. I began this new adventure by calling the one’s I had found efficient to deal with and found a strong interest from several. Some purchased cars right away.
WHERE THE HELL ARE ALL THESE TRUCKS COMING FROM??!!
“This is really great, Kirk you’re sellin’ me this fuckin’ new SL at full list plus $5,000 and I might be able to bang the car for another $300!”
Don’t feel sorry for him. I knew where the vast majority of the cars were going, and Eddie and Ronnie would do just fine down the road.
THE MANHEIM WHOLESALE AUTO AUCTION . . .
My first fresh endeavor was heading up to the Manheim Dealer Auction each week, which entailed arriving early each Friday morning and staying until the last car of interest to me had gone as far as I could push it.
I often took Geoff, my oldest son, who was 14, with me. (I can’t imagine his mother allowing such a thing, so I was probably just heisting him away from his school bus stop!) Geoff loved Manheim and the frenetic atmosphere. He struck up a friendship with the gal who ran the sundries counter and she saved all her empty cigar boxes for him.
No, I wasn’t bidding and buying.
Rather I would watch for vehicles coming through the gate that gave every impression they were outstanding for my purposes. If a Killer car came through the gates, I would stalk the car to its parking spot and go over it thoroughly.
Then all the usual: After introducing myself and padding gently around the edges of it I’d ask . . .
“How much would you sell the car for right now?”
It was always more than I had in mind. So, I’d move on, but the car joined a small list in my pocket each Friday. Cars that I would work through the day to wrest away from the seller.
There was no point in trying to accomplish anything with the “big” guys. If they were high volume, savvy sellers at Manheim or high line dealers from a major metro area, forget it. It didn’t matter; they were six ways to Sunday ahead of you.
But if the seller was a small country Chevy dealer who brought a damn fine Mercedes 280SE on the grounds, he’d definitely want to go back home with a check.
He did not want to return home with that foreign car that his father had told him not to trade in the first place!
The seller might possibly see that comparable cars weren’t fairing as well going through the auction lanes as he had expected.
I’d try to simply see him in one of the lanes from time to time:
“Boy, it’s worse than I thought. Everything is off today . . .,” I might say.
It may have been quite the opposite, but I was hopefully getting “the grind” underway.
I only touched base with the seller when the time seemed right.
Maybe a loud announcement had come over the booming loudspeakers for four or five dealers to report to “Arbitration!” That was chilling every time you heard it. To boot, the guy on the loudspeaker made it sound like you wouldn’t be coming out of “Arbitration” alive!
Long story short, more than a few times, in the end, I’d get a nice automobile.
“Rookies” at Manheim would almost always cave in. At the time, Manheim had six lanes running simultaneously, and it was like a three ring circus. The new players could scarcely sort it all out.
Hopefully they’d think:
“Where’s that chubby guy with the wallet stickin’ out of his back pocket?”
TIMES WHERE YOU SIMPLY STOP AND WONDER . . .
Just as I was preparing to clear out of Blenheim, two remarkable incidents came to pass. Both would take my life in new directions.
ANTIQUE TOYS & ANTIQUE GAS ENGINED RACERS . . .
Earlier I mentioned how both Marilyn and I had become thoroughly enamored with the early nineteen hundreds children’s European clockwork automotive tin toys. Actually all transportation toys from the early days of the 20th century.
By and large the best of them were made in Germany, and the very top of the early toys were made by such makers as Marklin, Bing, Gunthermann and Carette.
Marilyn and I had bought some antique toys, and then bought some more, quickly selling off the “dumb” early purchases as we became somewhat more discerning. As a point of interest, we were able to sell those toys easily and at a profit. During that period of time, I studied every article, auction catalog and definitive book that I could get my hands on.
I’ve probably, over the years, worn out four or five copies of David Pressland’s magnificent “The Art of The Tin Toy.”
A THOROUGHLY STRANGE OFFER . . .
Just before leaving Blenheim, the sales manager told me that he’d seen what he thought might be the type of antique toy that we were looking for.
He was quite cryptic about the whole thing, (like he controlled the whereabouts of a trunk filled with gold bullion).
“If you buy it, I want $2oo. . .”
“Uh, okay,” I said. “Where is it and what is it?”
“It’s a tin or steel toy boat, and it’s six blocks from here in a second-hand thrift store. You want to see it?”
“Well sure, being just six blocks away, why not?” I was sure it wasn’t going to be anything for us, but I was willing to take a ride for six blocks . . .
The thrift shop turned out to be right in the midst of Philadelphia’s “69th Street” area.
At the far western edge of Philadelphia, it seemed like everything ended at 69th Street!
Philadelphia’s famed, (make that notorious), “El” terminated at 69th Street. So did the ‘Red Arrow’ trolley line and every street/road/ footpath from twelve surrounding counties ended up at 69th Street.
Marilyn and I returned Thursday morning, arriving at 7:30 in the morning, anticipating an 8 AM opening. Our “agent” joined us a bit before 8 o’clock. There had to be fifteen people waiting for the thrift shop door to open.
I knew every one of them was there for the boat!
The door finally opened and everyone rushed in. The 69th Street area was scarcely an affluent neighborhood. The people waiting, of course, were there for clothing, bedding, furniture, everything but a silly child’s boat.
I said to the woman at the cash register: “I understand your toy boat is $8o. Is that correct?”
The gal was swamped by people asking about clothing, bits of furniture, etc.
Barely glancing at me she said “Yep . . .”
I handed her four $20 dollar bills and that got her attention.
“You’ll have to wait for me to wrap it,” she said, and there was a $4.00 tax due. (These delays were killing me.)
I said it did not need to be wrapped, gave her the $4.00, and scooped the handsome liner out of the window. It was nestled in the original Marklin cradle!
Once safely back in the car, I paid my friend his finder’s fee of $200, and we were on our way!
(. . . So, okay we seem to have burned up a lot of words on an old tin boat. Are we missing something here??. . .)
Yeah, actually it was quite a “strike”, as it were. Our $280.00 tin vessel was easily worth $15,000 at that very point in time. And, we were just moving into the period where all antique toys would move rapidly up in value.
Malcolm Forbes would shortly pay $25,000 for a similar Marklin boat and that sale became newsworthy coast to coast.
NO, WE’RE NOT QUITE DONE WITH UPPER DARBY . . .
As we were leaving the 69th street area, I drove past a hobby shop called Todd’s. It looked like a thriving business. I made a note to return there and check if they had any old gas engined tether racers which had also developed into a growing cross-country storm of re-kindled interest.
In their heyday (1938-1958) there were dedicated paved race tracks all over America for these cars. Over seventy manufacturers were actively building race cars and a great many incredibly well done homebuilt cars were built and raced.
I went back and met Larry Todd whose Dad had opened the hobby shop in 1937. They had a broad selection of hobby wares.
I had a nice visit with Larry who was a very engaging guy. I asked him if he had or knew of any of the old tether racers from the late thirties through the nineteen fifties.
Guardedly he indicated he might have something “downstairs”, but it was clear he wasn’t going to dig around for anything that day.
I said I was in his neighborhood at least twice a month. I’d stop by and say hello again . . .
And, I did. Larry had come up with a 1939 Dooling racer. Needed a fair amount of work to get it “four square” again. And frankly most of the gas engined racers were raced hard and “put away wet. . .” or their engines had been yanked out to power a model airplane.
“How much would that car cost, Larry?”
“Thirty dollars,” said Larry.
I paid Larry, and in looking the car over to see what it needed, I asked him:
“Larry, do you know anyone who could, or would, do some work on these old tether racers?”
“I know someone,’ he said, ‘but I’d have to talk with him and see if he would consider doing work for someone other than himself.”
A few weeks later I stopped in to Larry’s. Yes, he had talked with the guy who said he would interview me and let Larry know his thoughts following the “interview.”
Hmm, I thought. Well I didn’t have any other prospects so an “Interview” was setup ten days down the road!
“Peter Canner is his name, Kirk. US Navy officer retired. Here is his address and phone number. I can tell you this, Kirk, he does incredibly fine work.
Good Luck, said Larry.
Larry kind of made it seem like my chances were mighty slim . . .
On the appointed late afternoon, and precisely on time, I mounted the steps of a very neat, semi-detached home which ironically was just a few blocks behind Blenheim Motors.
Peter’s wife answered the door. She was a lovely older lady who invited me in and went to get Peter. As soon as Peter came in the room, I was reminded of my Dad.
Mrs. Canner served coffee and cookies. Pete took me downstairs to the basement to see his shop. It was immaculate and like my Dad’s shop, he had the ability to do just about any damn thing you could dream up. Every nook and cranny was utilized. The neatness and organization was incredible. Pete’s interest was HO Trains, but he knew an amazing amount about tether cars. In fact he knew a heck of a lot about everything.
We discussed what I was seeking, then he put out his hand and we were underway.
The result was superb. Just what the Dooling race car needed, nothing more, nothing less. Pretty quickly I learned Peter could do just about anything. Machining, fabrication, painting, lettering, including gold leaf!
WANT TO SEE HOW GOOD PETER CANNER WAS?
One early Sunday morning, while wandering through Renningers antique market, I breezed past a table and my eye caught a scant glimpse of what appeared to be a tether car rolling chassis. I stopped and turned back, eyeing the table from a distance. Yep. It was a raw cast aluminum race car pan with axles, wheel and tires. Period.
No one had ever finished it and essentially it was a slab of machined aluminum with four good quality wheels and tires. Edging back toward the table, I saw the seller had a handful of useful post-war tether car bits and pieces.
I looked up at the vendor. Vaguely familiar, overweight, sour expression shirt buttons straining for relief . . .
( . . .Wait a minute I’ve written that description before . . .!!)
Holy Bananas, it was Bill Sowers!!
( . . .You remember the infamous four Ferrari’s including a quite good 250 GTO that I purchased from Algar Enterprises in 1970. I had plunked a grocery bag on Sowers desk with the purchase sum of $29,000 in small bills!! . . .)
He remembered me. But this was 1980, and it was OK. He sold me the rolling chassis for $50 and the parts I wanted. Turned out he had been a tether racer in the sixties when the racers were running well over 150 MPH at the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania tether car track.
Sowers showed me an amazing shot of a corner of a substantial Bethlehem barn with what appeared to be a clean, high-up “bite” out of the corner of the barn building itself.
“That’ll show you how quick they were runnin’! That son of a bitch snapped the wire and clean took that corner out of the barn!”
But what came to pass fairly rapidly was that the seven car haulers, loaded with the new cars, were arriving at Blenheim more frequently than I had anticipated. Being an independent wholesaler, I hadn’t had occasion to note the frequency of the trucks. My time clock of two weeks per truckload was getting squeezed.
The big metro agencies in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Boston were obviously where the cars needed to go. I called Ronnie Tzirlin at Grand Prix in New York.
“Kirk, you’re tellin’ me all the new cars you’ll sell me come with the RDR cards? “Yes, without question . . .” I answered. “You really know what you’re talking about, Kirk? “Any Mercedes you receive without an RDR, simply don’t pay the check, Ronnie.”
He said they’d essentially take all I could get. We established my fee on each model from the lowly 240D’s up through the SL and SEL models.
We’re not going to go on forever with this saga; we’ll let Ronnie Tzirlin’s statement one afternoon while we was toting up the next load of cars headed his way:
As is invariably the case with these Cinderella deals, the Mercedes people and the bank grew weary of filling Kirk White’s pockets with cash, as a good many of the cars that were coming down the pipe landed in my lap.
Past that, Mercedes was having a tough go of finding a buyer for Blenheim Motors. Word started to spread that the new owner would come out of the Mercedes Benz corporate structure.
So as the transfer of ownership at the agency was underway, fresh money arrived and I prepared to move my “Dog & Pony” show not only in new directions, but I would need a new base office.
I had already opened up two new avenues. They weren’t “cute” or “fancy” but they were more a case of pursuing fresh opportunities.
But, first things first. I had to hang my hat somewhere with a desk and a phone.
I had become friends with a colorful leasing company owner in Villanova, Harry Wolfington. Harry’s offices were on the same floor as my travel agent, Avery Fielding. During the Mercedes labor strike, I had been in Fielding’s office almost every day, flying drivers everywhere to pick up new Mercedes.
Harry said, sure come join us! The office was five miles from home which was terrific.
The only known image of Ronnie Tzirlin
And, sure enough, there was the “thrift shop”, literally facing all of it! And in the front window of the shop was an early, hand enameled, antique Marklin ocean liner in superb condition. It was easily 30 inches in length. Everything was there, the “rope ladders,” the tiny lifeboats, railings, smoke stacks, all of it! It was a top of the line boat with twin screw propulsion. I could see the substantial winding key for the heavy duty clockwork motor through the window.
We were there late in the afternoon on a Monday.
The store was closed. At that point my friend said: “They’re only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday . . .”
Great. I’ll get to suffer the suspense of it all the way through to Thursday morning. Worse, the damn boat is front and center in the Thrift shop window and it fairly screams:
“I am a quite valuable antique toy vessel!”
Manufacturers Trackside Display Circa 1940
Opening Day, Lafayette, Indiana
World War II put a dent in the hobby with manufacturers either doing war work or facing a lack of available steel and aluminum.
Another nail was driven by the housewives of the “racing” soldiers.
During the war volunteers came around to the neighborhoods asking:
“Any scrap metal, aluminum, steel you can spare for the war effort, Maam’?
Just prior to saying “No . . .” Muriel might well remember that dirty loud metal race car in the garage. Her husband was always tuning it up at the house, and he disappeared every weekend to race that silly car.
“I think I just may have something for you out here in the garage . . .”
When Harry came home from the war and hit the ceiling she said:
The “Government” came, and I had to give it to them . . .
Hence today the “real” miniature gas engined racers are sought after.
This car not only involves Peter’s superb workmanship, but here’s a real twist as to the source of the car you’re looking at.
A FINAL TALE . . .
We’ll finish up this chapter with an example of how you can get blindsided, time and again, from time to time.
Oh yes, through all of the above I was buying and selling some great European automobiles as the market was beginning to edge up and appeared to have a decent head of steam . . .
THE JAGUAR XK 150 3.8 LITER CABRIOLET . . .
I got a call from a Philadelphia body repair establishment named Karosserie in King of Prussia. It was a very high-tone facility run by a Richard Von Medicus.
They were an authorized repair facility for Ferrari and a good many other very high-line automobiles. Actually. Dick Medicus had worked for us at Auto Enterprises and had been with “T” Grant before that.
Things happen and some folks slide “uptown” a bit. Dick Medicus married Princess Grace Kelly’s niece and he became Richard Von Medicus.
He rang me that day and said he had a really clean Jaguar XK 150 Drophead for sale. Was I interested?
“Sure, I’ll take a ride. I picked up a friend and off we went.
The car was outside when I arrived. The Jag was terrific. Beige in color with a dark red interior, four speed, the desirable late production 3.8 liter engine and quite low mileage at 32,000.
It had never had any paintwork and the chrome was lustrous. There wasn’t anything to not like about that Jaguar. We took it inside and put it up on a lift. The underside of the car was very tidy, as was the engine bay.
For me, the perfect car. Unmolested, as the factory built it.
“Dick, how much do you want for this Jag?”
“$55,000” he said.
“Okay, I’ll take it along. Make the check out to you?” I said.
No, he said, and gave me the owner’s name which pulled me up short. The owner was the same man that I had bought Marilyn’s Ferrari Dino from not that long ago . . .
(. . . What’s that?? Oh yeah, we were well clear of the ditch, and, we were doing just fine, thank you . . .)
I gave him the check and got in the car to take it along, when Richard loomed in the driver’s window and began to unload some additional information.
“When we went through this car, there was a bunch of crayon notes behind the kick panels up under the dash, behind door panels, lots of places saying stuff like:
“Last one, thank God”
“End of the 150’s!!”
And he told of a few more sign-offs.
Nothing that he said led me to blowing up the deal.
With a final wave I left and took the car back to the house. I lifted the hood and wrote down the serial number and ran it through the Porter books and every other reference book I had.
The serial number ran way off the charts. It was simply too high for any reference I could find for an XK 150.
No, we didn’t have the “speak to no one, internet.”
I had an overseas operator connect me with Jaguar’s Head office. No, they did not have a historic department, but I was put through to “so and so” who was the Jaguar company historian. I told him that I had this wonderful XK 150 with a serial number that ran straight off the page so to speak.
“What is that number, sir?”
I gave him the number and he repeated it an excited tone . . .
“That’s it sir, you’ve got it! That is the very last XK 150 built.
He must have been waving the number at the others in the room, because there was lot of cheerful noise in the background! And, yes they’d send along confirming paperwork. Could I send over a photo of the serial number plate . . .?
I wound up that call and rang the guy I knew would simply be the perfect fit for this Jaguar.
“The car is $125,000.
“Fine, I’ll take it.” said the gentleman.
Two or three weeks went by. Then one evening I got this explosive phone call:
“You took total advantage of me. You knew that Jag was something special, but you never shared that info. I never would have sold that car for what you paid had I known the history.”
He just walloped the hell out of me on the phone and would not speak to me for two years! Which was Okay, as my name was not “Von” White, and we rarely travelled in the same circles . . .
That’s it for now . . .
Stick around, I gotta million more . . .
A few of us killin' ourselves at Mainhein
Marklin - Antique Toy Boat
Please Note . . .
TWO (2) CHANGES COMING!
We have a great deal more material coming, including the Hot Rods.
That said, I am moving away from using "hard" dates for Publication. The chapter dates will remain essentially as they are at two to three weeks.
"Leonard" our rude company dog will notify any and all of the upcoming chapters through his mailings and we will post notice on Facebook, and both email@example.com and www.dontwashmine.com
Of course those of you on our Mailing List will be notified by e-mail and we welcome anyone who would care to join the mailing list! Simply write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Still a lot of fun to be had going down the road!
Thanks for your indulgence,