Confessions of a Car Man


Selling Iron, Selling Dirt

Back in the day, many Car Men referred to the car business as selling iron. I’m not sure if this term has survived the years, especially since there is so little iron in modern cars, but you get the picture. Selling iron has a ring to it; kind of like aluminum siding guys say they their selling tin.

By the way the best movie I ever saw about Car Men was not about the auto business at all. The movie “Tin Men”, with their dynamic closers and the shenanigans they would get themselves into reminded me a lot of the high-flying closers of old. If you’ve never seen it, it’s worth checking out for the suits these guys wear alone!

Back to the point. I’ve always said that cars are nothing but iron with paint on it. The point being that no matter what the make of car or where it is built it is all essentially the same thing. You are selling iron and paint. The secret to success is being able to determine which iron to sell depending on fads and the economy. Ford Expedition iron, bad. Toyota Prius iron, good—though you have to put up with the extreme stuck-up assholes that buy them.

When I was a kid, there was a breed of car man that had dual careers. They sold iron; they sold dirt. Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s when the big thing was getting back to nature, large companies such as Boise Cascade bought up large tracks of land in the Sierras. The land was divided up into lots for vacation homes and such, but these companies didn’t sell cabins. They only sold the dirt.

There was a fairly large contingent of salesman that held both car sales and real estate licenses. In the spring and summer when the weather was agreeable they sold dirt. In the fall and winter (or when real estate sales were down) they sold Fords. I worked with several guys that did this, and what a crazy bunch they were!

I’ve mentioned before that all good car men were a little nuts, or extremely nuts in some instances. The type of guy who can easily move back in forth between two very different industries had to have a large amount of testicular fortitude. A drinking problem helped a little too. Correct timing was an essence, because if you didn’t time the market correctly it could cost you a lot.

What happened to the dirt guys? They’re still out there, or course, selling golf course lots at Lake Shastina and other developments. This type of selling is not easy and often requires a very heavy close. They make high-pressure car guys look like rookies.

A lot of car men think that CSI has taken all the fun out of selling cars. You can’t beat people up like you used too even if they deserve it. The high rollers of yore, the legends of our business can no longer operate with a free hand to impress the troops and disgust The Others. Sad, really.

And the refuge of selling dirt is no longer a viable option. That business has gone to crap, along with selling Fords. Car men hiding from a faltering economy have to find something else to do. Like selling annuities—

--and writing blogs.

Talk to you later,


In Memory Of Hayward Ford

I was very sad to learn that Hayward Ford has shut down. Built in the early 60’s Hayward Ford one of the iconic car dealerships in the Bay Area. In its time it was the Big Leagues, one time one of the top Ford dealerships in the country. And now it’s gone.

My connection to Hayward Ford goes back over 40 years. My older brother, Danny, went to work there as a salesmen in 1964. By the end of the decade he was the sales manager, and was part owner in the mid-70s. I started working there in 1969 when I was 19. I washed cars, did dealer trades and any other odd job they would throw my way. On October 20, 1970 I started work there as a salesman. I was dumber than dumb, but I managed to sell a car on my first day!

To hundreds of Bay Area car salesmen Hayward Ford was the mother ship. It was the place where many learned their trade. It was home for many pros whose abilities still astonish me to this day. It was a place of good times to be savored for a lifetime. It was also a place of incredible stress and long hours. In other words it was a real big-time place to learn and work.

Many of the stories I have told on this blog occurred at Hayward Ford. In those first heady years of my introduction to the world of a Car Man, everything seemed bigger than life, and for the most part it was. There are many stories I have never written about Hayward Ford. Some of these stories I wouldn’t dare tell you; others I will surely tell in time.

In its lifetime Hayward Ford had many owners, but at its soul were two men: Lionel “Sully” Sullivan and Art Brabant. They were the two men who built the facility and set in place the careers of so many people. I believe that much of what I know about selling cars emanated from Sully who taught my brother, who then taught me.

Random memories: For many years Hayward Ford had a huge tower out front about a hundred feet tall with a revolving Ford emblem at the top. In the early 70’s Ford standardized its signage, so the tower had to come down. There was once a huge fountain in front of place. When a salesman was having a bad spell, my brother would gather all the guys around, take him out to the fountain and splash water on him to change his luck!

The service department was in back of the dealership separated from the parts department by the length of a parking lot. The parts guys used to run parts out to the mechanics on these three wheel electric carts. On Saturday mornings we would go into the shop, take the carts off their chargers and race around the huge T-shaped building. Lots of fun!

Hayward Ford was one of few Shelby/Cobra dealers in the United States. I have memories of a gray 1964 A/C Cobra on the showroom floor. Damn I wish I had that car! As a teen my brother let me drive a ’66 GT 350, the first stick shift I ever drove! If you were a performance car nut, Hayward Ford was like going into a candy shop.

I know I speak for many that Hayward Ford is kind of like an automobile shrine, and it seems almost sacrilegious to see it go. But as George Harrison used to sing, “All things must pass. . .”

So here’s to you Hayward Ford! Thank you for giving me a start in my career. Thanks for making me learn and stressing me out to the max. Working for you was like going to a boot camp, but I will always remember you fondly.

One last memory. Late one evening in December 1970 I remember my brother giving me a “wash out” check for $480. (I had received a $300 draw earlier in the month.) It was the most money I had ever had in my hand at one time. I remember that feeling to this day. Thus is the magic that is the car business. I hope you have a similar memory too!

Talk to you later,


The Popeye Syndrome



I have a list in my wallet with blog ideas that have flashed through my mind over the last few months. When an idea comes to me I’ve got to quickly write it down because at my age ideas don’t hang around too long. Many a brilliant thought has come to me while taking a shower only to disappear by the time I’ve turn off the water reached for a towel.

Most of the time I’m able to write an entry from these ideas, but even though all are given equal time to gestate among the dollar bills and gas receipts in my Lord Buxton, some of them never develop into the five hundred words I need to justify your attention. Here are a few of my problem children.

“The Bee Back Club”. Back in the day Car Men were obsessed with customers who told you they’d be back. If saying this to a salesman had been a capitol offense, thousands would have died. A cleaver printer even offered “bee back” cards. It had a bee flying around it and said, “I promise (write your name in the blank space here) that I will be back. It offered $50 off the purchase if they presented the card. I gave way tons of these cards; no one came back.

“454 With An Attitude”. I thought this was a really clever title, tying in the legendary GM big block displacement with a lousy credit score. The entry would have been about flakes with an attitude. How this tied in with a big block I have no idea. I did end up writing about flakes in another entry but not exclusively about their attitudes, which in many cases is shitty.

“Sales Trainers” I have touched upon these maggots in the past, but not with the vitriol I had planned as a full out assault on their integrity. The basic premise is if these guys are so good at selling cars, they should be selling cars not jacking gullible green peas. You know, just thinking about them pisses me off, so maybe I will write about them in the future.

“The Popeye Syndrome”. This little ditty is an old favorite of mine. It has to do with the Popeye cartoon saying, “I’ve had all I can stands, and I can’t take no more”! Car men experience this state of being all the time especially with sales managers, but I’ve been unable to flesh the thing out. Maybe I’ve had all I can stands.

“Black Girls” I would love to write an entire entry on my experiences selling cars to African-American females, but I fear being branded a racist. All I can say is sometimes the truth hurts, and I’m afraid to say more.

“Dealership Personalities”. This could be an entire entry; I just don’t feel like writing it. It has to do with a dealerships vibe being very close to that of the owners. You fill in the blanks.

“Bore and Stroke”. In the olden days, car brochures were full of technical information: compression ratios, axle ratios, and the bore and stroke of an engine. Not being a mechanic, I was never sure what bore and stroke actually was except for a vague idea that it had something to do with pistons. I have vivid memories of propeller heads with slide rules using this information to come up with some sort of efficiency ratio of the car. Car Men hated these guys because they were extreme mooches.

As a kid I remember an old Car Man explaining bore and stroke. “The bore is $1000 down, and the stroke is $200 per month!” Amen.

Well kids, this concludes my list. I can now throw it away and make room for more stupid thoughts. Hopefully they will come on a timely basis. I enjoy doing this. It keeps me from thinking about the real issues in life.

Talk to you later,