Session No: 33 Part Two: Career change in your 50’s
My transition, from a “car guy” to a internet tech guy. If you like cars you’ll enjoy taking the ride….
In 60’s and 70’s there only a handful of used car dealerships operating in the city of New Bedford, and like the suburban new car dealer of today, it would have been desirable to have a car lot located on a busy street, preferably a main artery.
Ralph’s was, it was located on Allen Street, a very busy west end street that ran from east to west. About a half mile to the east of Ralph’s, Allen Street ended at the intersection of County Street, right at the steps of St Johns the Baptist Church. To the West it ran clear out of the city in a near a straight line, about two and a half miles intersecting with Tucker Road in North Dartmouth. It was a common route out of suburbia, one would barrel east, down Allen Street, destination- downtown New Bedford. On the path, and on your left was Ralph’s, a block east of St Luke’s Hospital.
On on Sunday afternoon many people would walk the car looking for nice clean late model used car, having passed by our lot earlier in the week, they would come back to browse.
If they had any brains they would bring back the El Camino, with a 4 cylinder turbo charger and 1,000 pounds less weight!!!
Let’s see… in 1972 you could buy a new Chevrolet El Camino for about $2,700 with a 4 barrel 327engine. What do you think this car is worth today? 1972 was the last year for the “Big Block” engine. Just one year prior to the Oil Embargo in (1973)?
A whole lot of metal in this lot. 1970 Cadillac Coupe De ville, 1970 Chevy El Camino, 1970 Dodge Charger, 1972 Chevelle SS to name just a few.
This photo was taken in 1973, right about the time of the Oil embargo, the US’s first experience with an Oil crisis. OAPEC initiated the embargo in response to US involvement in the Oct 6, 1973 Yom Kippur War.
At that time as some of you may recall we watched gas prices go from 29 cents a gallon to 55 cents and the new national speed limit would be set to 55 miles per hour. 55 cents, what a rip off thinking back, that cost me nearly $12.00 to fill up the tank on my GTO!!
The repercussions were immediate, I can remember customers coming into the car lot and trading their Lincoln Town cars and big Cadillac’s for anything with a six cylinder. And they didn’t care what the heck they were loosing on their big cars.
What I learned at 22: Timing is everything, and also being quick to react to changing circumstances, with a focus on the future. One final thing, some habits are hard to break.
Then 3 years later, they were back again… for the big cars!
Average fuel mileages in 1973
- Ford Wagon about 8 MPG
- Olds Cutlass Wagon 8 MPG
- Chevy Impala about 12 MPG
- Ford Pinto about 21 MPG
In 1975 you couldn’t Google Mazda, and get a rundown on the company, news traveled at a stagecoach pace back then compared to today. This (acquisition) proved to be bad news for us… at least in the beginning.
We opened the Mazda dealership in 1974, at the same location on Allen street, it would be 9 years later that we moved to our new location on route six in Dartmouth.
GM wasn’t the first manufacturer to offer rebates. This Advertisement ran in January 1975, we were advertising one year old (which actually were 18 month old but new Mazda’s) with a factory rebates!!
In those early days Mazda’s Rotary engines were having serious issues with engine seals. They were using… or as we were told to say “metering” a quart of oil every 900 miles. This was required for lubrication of the rotor housing. People were not sure of what the heck a Rotary engine was and didn’t necessarily want to be the first one on their block to own one, that is until the first RX7’s.
I can remember that meeting like it was yesterday. Frank Santos (our accountant), called a meeting with my father and my brothers.
He made it very clear to us… you have about six months to turn things around or your going to be out of business!
It was around January of 1977 we had about 30 new Mazda’s in stock, mostly Rotary engine models, still with heavy rebates, one model the 808 was a gas engine, but few people knew about it as Mazda had very little money to market with. They too were suffering, but they had something up their sleeve that would mark a change for Mazda and propel them and us to the new heights.
My father didn’t like banks period, he purchased most all his cars cash, so the bulk of his money was tied up. We finally convinced him to get a floor plan with the local bank and he did, that gave us a little breathing room, and then. The Mazda GLC came out.
The first generation Mazda GLC or “Great Little Car” sold for $3,495. with a 5 speed transmission, and a AM radio. Production on this model ran from 1977 to 1980. The second went from 1981 to 1985. It was a rear wheel drive subcompact and you had a choice of 2 or 5 door hatch back or station wagon. They were available with 1.3 and 1.4 Liter engines. Fuel economy for the GLC was 26 City and 29 Highway.
What, you want to order a GLC. You mean put money down and wait for the car?? this was unheard of.
Little did we know but another model was coming that would make taking orders a routine, the Mazda RX7 had a waiting list of over one year!!!
What I learned: Inventory miss management can put you out business, also don’t stock losers, manufactures love to bury businesses with stock that doesn’t move- don’t get suckered in.
Ralph’s was growing or should I say outgrowing the neighborhood at a feverous pace. We purchased a house across from us on the dead end street and made a parking lot out of it. Then we purchased the plumber shop right along side and converted it to a reconditioning shop. That shop was directly across the street from our service shop. At the time buying tenements just to tear them down for 6 parking spaces didn’t make sense. We purchase the soda shop on the corner, and continued to rent it. That was about as much as we could acquire.
When the RX7 came out in 1978 Mazda was on the map, and that was the car to buy! Yes sir your car will be in around spring time next year!!!
Not only did the RX7 sell like hot cakes, it was the Rotary engine that made if perform and handle. And should I mention it was only $6,995.
I was a certified Mazda mechanic, trained on rebuilding the Rotary engine. In the early stages we would remove and reassemble the Rotary engines on customer cars, and there were a lot of them scheduled for this operation. As many of the older models were still using oil, in addition to a few other complications. Soon though, Mazda began to ship “rebuilt” motors which relieved the stress and the backlog. As the newer Rotary engines came out we experienced less problems, the RX7 had nearly “zero” defects, the Rotary engine had prove itself, but would soon succumb to the pressures of the convention gas engine. The RX7 would be the only model made with the Rotary engine.
I enjoyed being a mechanic as I said earlier in Part 1, you never stop learning and in the process you learn a lot about people. I often thought while I was rebuilding a carburetor, or replacing brake lines, rotors and all that stuff the average person didn’t know what the heck it all was all about or how these mechanical things worked, they just wanted their car fixed.
Most people could care less about all the technical jargon in their cars, or how it all works for that matter. What they care about is, when they step on the brake (after a brake job), the pedal is hard and the car stops? That’s what they care about.
From car technician to Service Manager… the wrench was replaced by the pen, and lets not forget the white shop coat!
Carol was nurse at Saint Luke’s Hospital. She came in late Friday afternoon to pick up her Mazda 323. She walked up to the counter and questioned if we had even moved her car ? When I asked her where it was parked she said it was out on the street? Where on the street I asked, she said about a block up toward the hospital? That’s when I realized we were out growing our old home.
What I learned at 24: Concentrate on what your customers “can see and feel” a clean steering wheel and carpets after service, and a hard brake pedal or good performance, these are things that matter.
We were running out of room, and out of neighborhood as it wasn’t practical to keep purchasing real estate for such little space gain.
in 1980 my father purchased two acres of land directly across the highway from the Dartmouth Mall.
The Mall opened in 1971 and like most Malls being built across the country it had an immediate effect on the cites downtown shopping districts. This was a pretty good size mall nearly 700,000 square feet with 72 stores. So as you might have imagined it was quite a draw, and we were to be located right across from it’s main entrance!
There was a home located on the property that we had purchased, it had to be moved. A professor from UMass purchased that two story home from us and had it moved about two blocks up the highway. He reconfigured it into a rental property which he later rented out to UMass students.
In front of that home there was a lot that a fence company had used to display fencing, there wasn’t any fixed structures on the property.
These parcels would eventually be our new home for Mazda, Isuzu and Peugeot, followed a decade or so later by Chevrolet and Cadillac.
For me the move from Allen Street to route six wasn’t just about moving the business it was also moving from my home which was located right next door to the business.
Good by to a place where everyone knew your name… Cheers!
This is ending up to be a much larger post than I had anticipated, there is bit of history here and much has been left out and condensed so has to shorten it’s length. I would say I’ll need two more posts after this one to complete it. I hope your enjoying the story!
Once again I appreciate you tuning into my podcast/blog, Career Change in your 50s Part two. Go to my website at 50plusmarketing.com to review the show notes under Podcast Number 33 titled: Career change in your 50s Part two.
Until next time. Take a deep breath, be thankful for what you have, and learn new things! See you around.