More than a few of you had a simple question (or statement) regarding my Infiniti G20 Capsule Review, namely,
“Why didn’t you check the mileage of the dealer trade?”
The answer is simple: I wasn’t even permitted to call other dealerships, much less arrange trades. At that particular shop, salespeople weren’t even permitted to see the final numbers at deals. We were intended to be “product specialists”, not wheeler-dealers.
In fact, our rather idealistic general manager believed in specifically hiring people with no experience in the industry. His boss, the dealer group manager, had deep roots in the buy-here-pay-here biz. The conflict between these two philosophies occasionally led to trouble…
“AND ANOTHER THING,” the group manager boomed in our monthly meeting. “NOBODY, AND I MEAN NOBODY, DRIVES THAT F***ING MAZDA RX-7 WITHOUT MY APPROVAL. YOU F***ING CALL ME IF YOU HAVE AN UP ON IT!!!! NOBODY DRIVES IT!!! YOU IDIOTS WILL WRECK IT!!!” What was he talking about? I was always half-asleep on Saturday mornings. We had an RX-7? I walked out to the lot afterwards and sure enough, it was up on a metal display ramp: a 1993 RX-7 Twin Turbo, dark green, 8,900 miles.
Where did it come from? Nobody seemed to know. The other salespeople gathered around the car. We were: two recent liberal arts graduates, one middle-aged former trophy wife and one twentysomething current trophy wife who would later on both become representatives for the local upscale homebuilder, a former yacht salesman, and a trim, impeccably preppy African-American fellow who had just arrived from the only Brioni retailer in Columbus, Ohio. The group manager hated our guts and loved screaming at us about how we were suburban candy-assed homosexuals.
Everything we did was wrong in this dude’s opinion, so he prevented us from doing anything. We weren’t permitted to truly work deals. We were not allowed to quote any price to the customer but MSRP. We couldn’t make dealer trades, we couldn’t even book cars into the detailing shop without manager approval. The store had two sales managers, a general manager, and this “group manager” who worked in Louisville but made a monthly trip up Route 71 to scream at us. They “did the work”. We were expected to be like the shoji screens around the cars: upper-middle-class set dressing.
I was ambivalent about the job, to put it mildly, so the moment I saw this RX-7 I started out figuring out how I was going to get behind the wheel. In terms of raw acceleration, it would be the fastest car I’d yet driven, not that much slower in the quarter-mile than my tired old Ninja 600R. It was sexy. Years later, Jeremy Clarkson would call it the “Japanese E-Type”, and that’s a fair description.
After some thought, I decided on the simplest approach. Since everybody knew that death and fury awaited anyone who drove the car without permission, it followed naturally that anybody seen taking the car off the rack would be assumed to have permission. I therefore went back to the key box, grabbed the appropriate tag, and ten minutes later I was beeping the horn at my house as my seventeen-year-old brother ran out the door towards me.
“Dude,” I said, “let’s thrash this bitch”. For half an hour, we zipped around our square-mile subdivision like crazy men. I floored the throttle and the brake on entry to each corner, as I had read was the practice of the late great Mark Donohue, and exited each one sideways and smoking. Sure, we were doing fifty miles per hour at the most, but it was awesome fun. Then my brother had an idea.
“I should drive.”
“Why not?” I replied. After all, he had six months’ of experience driving a 1993 Jetta. After a few false starts and one very slow-speed bump up a rounded-off curb, he had the hang of it and was going crazy. We were looking at somebody’s lawn through the windshield, totally crossed-up, the tach bouncing wildly around, beeping, buzzing, when BANG! something went wrong. The Mazda coasted to a halt, smoking.
“That’s gotta be bad,” he said. We swapped places and I started the car. It ran, but it was slower than my 1990 Fox and it was smoking copiously. I dropped him off and considered my options. Nobody had actually seen me take the car off the rack. It was possible that nobody would see me put it back on. It was even more possible that nobody would see me pull it into the detail shop. I called Chauncey over.
“Hey man, a bird shit all over this thing.” Chauncey looked at it.
“How should I know? Group manager says clean it, I didn’t look.” That was enough for Chauncey, who cleaned an already clean car and drove it slowly up the ramp. If anybody saw him doing it, they didn’t seem to care. We were not encouraged to take an interest in the operation of the dealership.
I walked up to the front desk in what I believed to be an extremely nonchalant fashion. Our new salesperson was industriously composing a letter to be sent to his contact list of over 600 Columbus bigwigs. He’d created this list one whale at a time as he humbly measured our city’s bankers, judges, and newspaper owners for their 52S three-pieces. It was a killer contact list, believe me. Not a single five-figure loser on it. He walked away to answer the call of nature and I looked at the screen.
My name is (blah blah) and I have recently left (name of clothing shop) to work at (name of Infiniti dealer). As you are aware, I have been associated with the finest in men’s clothing for over a decade and have now chosen to bring my unique perspective to the world of luxury automobiles….
Quick as thought, I replaced “clothing” with “pimping” and stood back to admire my handiwork. Wait ’till he saw this! This was so good, I decided to retreat to a nearby couch and watch as he walked up, scanned the letter…
…and hit PRINT. Six hundred letters, all on creamy paper stock chosen for the occasion, started to roll off the printer. Well, to misquote Harry Chapin, another man might have been sorry, and another man might have been regretful, but another man wouldn’t have replaced “clothing” with “pimping”. I hopped on my Ninja and went out for the second lunch of the day.