Real Stories From Life at a Dealership

People are the experience


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I know that speeding is illegal and unsafe. I say that readily. I just had not integrated those facts into my behavior for the first 25 years in the car business. I always considered 100 miles an hour to be the starting point of driving fast. Starting in 1983, I have gone fast in almost every Chevrolet, Ford, Pontiac, Cadillac, Hyundai, Toyota, BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Chrysler and Dodge car possible. For the record I have never drove fast in a Bentley or a Ferrari. Those were driven at reasonable speeds.



Driving so many different new cars is a direct result of having a career in car sales. Driving them fast is more a matter of personal preference. During the first month that I was selling, I was assigned a dealer license plate and given the keys to my first Demo. It was a 1984 Camaro Berlinetta. It was only the first month in the business and I already had money in my pocket and my first new demo to drive. I knew car sales was for me.


Manufacturers like General Motors would pay Dealerships to use vehicles as demonstrators. It was considered advertising. The dealership’s Owner and family, the department managers and the entire sales department drove new cars as Demos. Everybody had a dealer License plate, with the owner and his wife having plate number 1A and 2A.



The factory money was applied to the cost of the demos. When they were taken out of demo service they could be sold cheaper than new cars. Many car buyers sought out demos to get a lower price. Even though those programs don’t exist any more, a lot of old school shoppers still want to buy a demo.


While the Demos were in use, the odometers couldn’t go over 6,000 miles. They also could not be driven out of state. We had to have the oil changed at 2000 and 5000 miles, which the dealership paid for. Those were the only rules. We were to show the cars, which should increase sales. I was told an old saying; break them in slow, they won’t go: break them in fast they won’t last. Salesmen always chose fast.


Demos meant car guys never had to own their own car, but always drove a new one. We also constantly changed cars, as it never took more than three months to use up the miles. Then you would just get another one. Car after car, I always drove a new one, for twenty-five years. I never had a single one of them for even five months. Many times I’ve had neighbors ask if I was either a drug dealer or rich. And that’s how we start talking of new cars.


There are dangerous consequences to all of these cars. I can’t smell new car smell. To me that is what everything I drive smells like. The bigger problem was that my kids grew up thinking that always having a new car was normal. I don’t think it warped them as much as might have given them the idea that everybody should be driving a new car. Shouldn’t they?


A Ride & Drive is what the factory calls the event where the sales people would get to learn about and drive the newest models. Cadillac put on one of the best every year. They would have all of the competitor’s cars there also, as to compare side by side. We would take these cars out on a test track and drive them hard. Driving a BMW, a Mercedes, a Lexus and a Cadillac at full speed was great fun.



Drag racing at Pomona raceway was an experience. We were all in new Pontiacs. Thirty-six dealerships drag raced new Firebirds and then drove them back to the dealership, where they were sold. It was an elimination event. Because we all had the same cars it was won at the start. I finished forth. I recorded the best reaction time (start) of the day as I was off by only 4/100’s of a second


Hot Laps events were held with pro drivers. A course would be set up that covered the entire Pomona fairgrounds parking lot. A professional would take us on a hot lap in a new car and then we would see how close we could come to their speed and time. The pros would share driving tips like preloading the front-end for better tracking thru a high-speed turn. Drifting into a turn at over 100 mph in a luxury/performance sedan is hard to beat for a real car enthusiast.




In Fontana, California, my son and I had the honor of driving the parade lap at the inaugural NASCAR race. We didn’t go very fast but it was still amazing. Those high-banked turns are over three stories tall. They seemed very steep going slow. I am amazed that the drivers can go into them three wide at speeds approaching 200 mph. We also got to watch Jeff Gordon win that first California 500.



Willow Springs Raceway was in our vicinity. It is one of the premier road courses in the west. General Motors decided that the Chevrolet Corvette Z-06 should set a new track record there. They shipped a Blue Z-06 to our dealership. Chevy people said that it was completely stock. It was just tuned for the racecourse. They also said that this one is really fast. One of the things that I found most interesting about it was that it was plated. It had a manufacturers license plate from Michigan. Number 15. Every one of the thousands of plates that Chevrolet uses are all number 15. That meant it was pretty much untraceable. The other thing was that when they had finished at the raceway, they left it and the keys in my department’s possession for a month.


When an engine puts out over 500 horsepower performance really increases. The Dodge Viper and the Corvette Z-06 both perform like real racecars. Having that much horsepower is a big responsibility. It is almost too much power to be fun. Almost. I enjoy the feeling of being pinned to the seat, while mashing on the throttle. When you are accelerating like that, everything happens fast. Roadhouse Blues had it right; keep you eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel.


I had the keys to the Corvette and it was street legal. I drove it thru some of the canyons around where we lived. My pal Shaun called and had tickets to a San Diego Charger Football game. It was time for a road trip. We were on the 15 freeway going south. We were just cruising along. I checked my speed, we were going 138 mph. Have you ever gone on a trip in a car and not been doing anything legal the whole time? I’m not talking a fear and loathing in Las Vegas kind of road trip. Just never under the speed limit.




The very first set of 24” wheels that I ever saw were on my demo Denali. It was all black and chrome and shiny. The company that sold wheels to us always made sure that I had the latest new set. The first place that I went was to Staples Center for a Lakers game. As we were pulling into the parking lot, the attendant waived me out of line. He had me park next to a Porsche and a Massarati. Right in front. Another benefit of a nice looking ride.


When the Demo program ended it was a sad day in the car business. The tax laws changed and demos are now considered income instead of advertising. The Factory no longer has any reason to subsidize the program. They are taxable income. Demos aren’t any cheaper. And I haven’t been over 100 at any time in the last two years. When the latest, greatest Camaro arrived on the lot, I did not drive it. I knew that nothing good would become of it, if I did. I just looked at it.


I enjoy cars. Dealing with people suits me. I love the business that I am in. Even though I am the General Manager of the store, when I meet someone, I still like to say that I sell cars. I just don’t drive like that any more. (wink) I am, as always, your friend in the car business.




August 2, 2009 - Posted by | demo, fast, sierra motors. eric prothro, speeding | , , , ,

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