Whenever somebody asked me what I did for a living during the summer of 1994, I would tell them “I sell Infinitis”. That was a lie. My actual job was to lease the Infiniti J30 at $399/month to second-tier suburban wanna-bes and a wide variety of credit criminals. That was what paid for our owner’s impressive coke habit, and that was what earned me as much as three thousand dollars per month.
In the interest of strict factual accuracy, I should point out that we did, nominally, sell two other models. The 1994 Q45 was an overpriced brick with a Park Avenue-style facelift. Over the course of six months, we sold two of them, one to a former salesman who was simply in the habit of driving that particular car as a demo, and one to somebody who owned a 1990 example and was only vaguely horrified at the “updates” performed that year. Looking back, I think he used to snort coke with the dealership’s owner. It would explain a lot.
The other unwanted Infiniti, the G20, was the very definition of “showroom poison”. Everybody thought it was a jerked-off version of the Sentra. This was highly ironic, because the car which was murdering it in the segment was a jerked-off version of a Camry. Allow me to recapitulate for you the typical conversation I would have with someone unfortunate enough to be my “up” for the afternoon:
JACK: This is the G20. The European version of this car is commonly regarded as the best-handling FWD car in the world.
RUBE: You mean the Sentra?
JACK: Sir, this car shares nothing with the Sentra except the award-winning two-liter powerhouse nestled snugly beneath the bonnet. It was designed by a team of European Nissan engineers.
RUBE: So it’s basically a Sentra. And I don’t want to pay $25,500 for a Sentra. Hell, you can buy a Lexus for $25,000.
JACK: Sir, that car is nothing but a Toyota Camry with an aesthetically offensive, lopsided psuedo-badge conceived in a focus session to appeal to easily-impressed people whose parents, no doubt, attended community colleges.
RUBE: That’s a damn lie. Don’t look anything like a Camry. You must think I’m a fool, to buy this Sentra.
JACK: Sir, I do not normally mention this to any but the most elite members of the Dublin auto-connoisseur community, but we have a limited program for this particular automobile in which you can avail yourself of the many privileges of Infiniti ownership, from our bamboo-lined showroom facilities to the complimentary loaner-car program which covers the statistically nonexistent times during which your motorcar could potentially find itself in need of the most minor service imaginable, for the negligible sum of $249 each month.
RUBE: New Sentras lease for $149 at the Nissan place.
Can you believe it? The people at Nissan North America had managed to figure out a way for us to lease these sleds, stickering at $25,500 or more, for just $249 a month, 36/36,000, less than a G out of pocket, and we still couldn’t sell ’em.
The sad part was that the Infiniti G20, particularly in “G20t” five-speed trim, was just a flat-out wonderful car to drive. It was fast enough, it handled beautifully, it was built with painstaking attention to detail, and it never, ever, ever broke. My brother received one for his 18th birthday, drove it for 40,000 miles around the jazz clubs of the Midwest without changing the brake fluid, tires, or engine oil, and never had a single problem. I wish I had the chance to buy a new one now, instead of that obscene-looking G37 thing with its truck engine and “Jersey Shore” cast of reprehensible owners.
You get the idea. People hated the car and you couldn’t even give them away. Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw a slight, meek-looking, distinctly professorial fellow examining our rather meager G20 inventory one Saturday morning. I nearly broke my ankle getting out to the fellow.
“Sir,” I said, “this is our G20, a European-designed…”
“Yes,” he replied, “it’s a Primera. I taught overseas and drove one as a company car.” We shook hands and I was impressed at the way his dislike of touching other people nearly matched mine. He didn’t even want to hear the lease pitch; the university credit union would be happy to cut us a check for, shall we say, sticker price less a $500 discount?
There was one slight issue. We had the plain five-speed car in green (the car that would later on find itself being whipped along by my ungrateful brother, as a matter of fact) and a G20t “touring model” in black. He wanted the touring model in green. Not a problem; our sister dealership, down in Louisville, had the green one in stock. He signed a purchase order and I sent him home for the night in our black G20t. He asked me one question as he prepared to go home:
“How many miles do you suppose it will have on it?” Most of the cars on our lot had a few hundred miles on them from our spectacularly unsuccessful “24-hour-test-drive” program. I figured that, given my luck, the Louisville car would have every bit of 200 miles plus the long drive to Cowtown.
“It’s a long drive, but we use skilled professionals who follow strict break-in procedures. There is a possibility the car could have…” I thought about this for a moment. “…three hundred and fifty miles.” The professor’s face fell. “Not to worry,” I cheerily stated, “it will be in perfect condition.”
When the “skilled professional” arrived approximately two hours late the next day, unwashed, stinking to high heaven, and clutching a very suspicious-looking satchel which almost certainly contained hard liquor, I immediately grabbed the best of the lot attendants, a Chris Tucker lookalike named Chauncey, and slipped him twenty bucks to take care of the car, pronto. Chauncey got in the car and said,
“Baruth, you ain’t gonna believe this, this motherf***er got nine hundred and eighty-one miles on it!” Christ above! Nearly a thousand miles! On a brand-new car! With our lease customers we could simply swallow the mileage charge on the front end, in this case eighteen cents a mile, and allow them the full 36,000. But this was a purchase! I saw the professor pulling up and courteously parking his loaner in the line of lonely G20s at the back of the dealership lot. I ran in to tell our assistant sales manager the problem.
This assistant sales manager was a pixie-ish, insanely attractive woman in her mid-thirties who could manipulate middle-aged men without the slightest effort. This was a bad situation, but I felt good that she could work it out. I met the professor at the door and walked him in, explaining that his car was in “the final stages of detailing”. If you consider “removing distinct aroma of human feces by using WD-40 sprayed through a 36″ industrial fan and across the passenger compartment with all four doors splayed open” one of the “final stages” of any solid detailing job, this statement was true.
His first question was the one I did not want to answer. “How many miles did the car have?” For once in my life, my composure utterly failed me. I simply walked him into Miss Thing’s office, assured that she would know just what to say.
“Professor,” she purred, “your car is here. It’s not a problem, but your vehicle has more mileage than we expected, and we will compensate you for the inconvenience.”
“How many?” It was a direct question from a very restrained man.
“Approximately nine hundred. Now, you see…”
“HOW COULD THAT HAVE HAPPENED?”
“Well, as you know, you enjoyed our loaner vehicle last night, and it is likely that someone else enjoyed the car, perhaps a few people…” Oh my God, she is somehow equating the car to a woman that somebody else has gang-raped. I exited the room so as to not have to watch this particular sausage being made.
There were accusations; there were recriminations; I believe there were even tears, but in the end we sold this ragged-out hooptie, complete with a 4-inch scrape on the left rear quarter-panel and rash on the nearby alloy wheel, for invoice price minus all rebates, holdback, and incentives. As I recall, the final price was somewhere in the neighborhood of $19,500.
Our professor ended up being so satisfied with his deal that he told his neighbors. They came in two weeks later: quiet, unassuming, professorial as well. “We want to see the car Raymond bought for $19,500,” they said.
“Well,” I replied, pointing at the gleaming G20t on the showroom floor, “that was a very special deal, but it was similar to…”
“That looks like a Sentra,” the wife said.