I’ve got news, lots of news. I’m not talking about the pages and pages of new-car news this month, although I hope you appreciate the hard work and supersleuthing that went into pulling together this special issue. In fact, this will be the fifth year in a row we’ve beaten the competition to the newsstand by an entire month with the most important news, photos, and reviews of the new-model season. You’ve got it all in your hands. Enjoy your month in the sun as the person on your block who knows it all.
What I mean to say is, I personally have news, and it’s mostly old-car news. First, I have my thirty-year-old BMW 3.0 CSi rolling, thanks to the ministrations of Alex Vogel at AVA Restorations in Dublin, New Hampshire. And thanks to all of you meddling Dubliners who sent regular cards and e-mails, updating me on the status of my car in relationship to Vogel’s hoist. I knew when Vogel put it in his shop, I knew what hour the hoist was raised, I knew the moment he went to work on the brakes. And my special thanks to the guy who let me know it was time to send a plate so Vogel could take the BMW for a test drive. So thoughtful of all you tattletales.
In a week, my happy coupe will be joining technical editor Don Sherman’s 1979 Mazda RX-7 (“only 22,000 miles, original paint, one owner,” Sherman reminds you) in a streetside display in front of 120 East Liberty as part of the Rolling Sculpture Car Show, an annual Ann Arbor event that draws quite a crowd. Sherman’s RX-7 is a thing of beauty, the subject of the famous 1981 Car and Driver cover and of the story “Tech Director’s Toy,” and a technical marvel of Sherman’s mad genius. Executive editor Mark Gillies will not be bringing his Lotus 20/22 or his Brabham BT18, because he’ll be out of town. This is good, because last year, the crowd walked right past his Lotus to get a better look at my 1970 Fiat 500L. “It’s not true,” Gillies sniffed when he read what you just read. Online editor Matt Phenix assures me it was indeed so.
A FEW GOOD MEN. AND WOMEN. We like good car dealers, and we actually know a few. So few that we’ve joined forces with Motor Trend to sponsor the American International Automobile Dealers Association’s Dealer of the Year award. Among the candidates, we found a healthy number of dealers who think you should treat your employees well and support the community in which you do business. We, of course, picked one winner: the owner and president of Borton Volvo, Borton Volkswagen, and Borton’s Used Car Superstoreyall in South Palm Beach County, FloridayLoren Sheffer, the kind of guy you’d like to have for a friend. He was trained as an art teacher but couldn’t find a job, so he began selling cars back in 1977. This year, he is president of the South Florida Auto-Truck Dealers Association.
You would expect our winner to have an entire wall full of awards. Sheffer’s wall celebrates him as a dealer of excellence and his dealerships as paragons of business. He won the city of Delray Beach’s Business of the Year in 2000 and service recognition in 2002 from the Florida Automobile Dealers Association. He is appreciated by the American Cancer Society and the Leukemia Society of America and is a Partner in Business with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. He feeds the homeless, supports the local athletic program, and belongs to the Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Education, and the PTA.
On the business front, both of Sheffer’s new-car dealerships have customer satisfaction ratings in the 90s, and both were ranked first in the state of Florida last year. Does your car dealer list his home phone number on the back of every business card of every staff member? Or maybe the high ratings have to do with the fact that he gives five-year employees a gold ring, adding a diamond for each succeeding five-year stint. Or that he awards $1000 to a Staff Member of the Year. Or maybe it’s the monthly staff barbecue or the biweekly meeting where awards are given for outstanding customer service. Sheffer clearly understands that people who like to come to work make his dealerships places where people like to shop.
Our favorite is a charter automotive vocational school, started by two Delray Beach police officers and backed by $4 million from Sheffer. It isn’t just the money. Sheffer chairs the advisory board and actually holds classes within his dealership. All the students are high school dropouts with criminal records, and after two years in operation, crime in the area has dropped by 60 percent, and one of the school’s graduates has entered college. Need a car? Live in Florida? Check out Borton Volkswagen, Borton Volvo, or Borton’s Used Car Superstore, in Delray Beach.
UGLY NEWS: Among the mostly crackpot responses to our fervent request two months ago for a positive identification of the mysterious vintage one-off concept owned by Phil Topcik came two great notes, one from Laurence Loewy, son of the famed Raymond Loewy: “No self-respecting member of the Loewy staff would have ever dreamed up that damn ugly VW concept car in their most worst of alcohol-induced nightmares. Happy Motoring.” Alrighty then; the Ugly wasn’t spawned by Loewy.
But how about this one, translated from German: “At the meeting of the ‘Old Beetles’ at Lotterman’s [dealership] in Bad Comberg I asked Dr. Wiersch, expert for VW inquiries at the VW Museum, about the special body style on pages 31 & 32 of Automobile [Magazine’s] July 2003 issue. He believes with reasonable certainty that it was a creation involving the Wolfsburg body style designer Schwen. He was employed by VW until 195051 and then became independent. Further models from him have the ‘Thunderbird similar’ rear ends. I hope that this news further helps to clear up the history of the ‘ugly duckling.’ Keep the VW Beetle faith!”
A very excited Phil Topcik is on the Schwen case. Thanks for all of your ridiculous letters on the subject.