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Chapter 50

Repo Man

A recent story about a wrecker driver accompanied by his fiance being chased and shot by a car load of gang members reminded me "but for the grace of God go I." He wasn't trying to repossess any of the gang member's cars, he just drove on the street they considered their "turf." The frantic 911 call to the Dallas police was played several times on the news as the fiance tried to get help. The wrecker driver died of gunshot wounds.

In November 1968, I returned to the automobile business at Bill McDavid Pontiac in Fort Worth. I was hired as Owner Relations Manager and charged with keeping customer's happy. A good Sales and Service Department made that part of my job easy and I was given other assignments which included collecting hot checks and recovering cars. One of the first involved two school teachers. They had a car repaired in our body shop but refused to sign the check from the insurance company and they had the car. I spoke with the man several times on the phone and he agreed to return the car for some additional work not related to the wreck. He also wanted a loan car while his car was in the shop. It was a sizable check, the repairs would only take a couple of days and I agreed to his terms with the stipulation that he or his wife were the only ones who would be driving the loan car, a new Pontiac Catalina Demo.

The repairs were finished in a couple of days, and I called to ask him to bring our car back and sign the check. He agreed but several days passed and he didn't show. He also failed to answer the phone or reply to my messages. He and his wife taught school on the North Side but lived in the little town of Crowley in far South Fort Worth. Just by chance I found out from a friend that he and his wife were in the habit of stopping for beer after school. I took a driver with me and staked out the beer joint where they were supposed to be but they had changed places because they were a no show.

I had other things going on and after three or four days, the body shop manager informed me that he thought the children of the couple might be driving our car to school in Crowley. I made a set of keys, grabbed my trusty driver and headed for Crowley. Sure enough, the car was in the school parking lot. I opened the door and noticed a sack from a drug store that contained some toiletries, the only personal property I saw. On the way out of town, I stopped by the Police Department in Crowley, told them what I had done and left the sack with the desk Sergeant. The officer told me he expected a big problem because it seems the teachers had a reputation for trouble making.

After lunch my phone rang. It was the teacher and I sure hoped he didn't use that kind of language in his classes. I hung up on him and the phone rang again. He started to repeat his first conversation only this time he got personal. My turn to be mad. I told him if he ever wanted to see his car again, he had better come to the dealership with the check and be prepared to sign it. This was Friday and early Saturday morning he arrived with a man he introduced as his attorney. He was furious, I think mostly because he had been outwitted, and demanded to see his car before signing the check. I assured him the car was ready for delivery and I would produce it as soon as he endorsed the check. He started to argue again but the attorney told him to sign the check, that he had other things to do. With that, he scribbled a signature on the instrument and I handed him the keys to his car which was parked on the wash rack at the front of the building. He walked around it a couple of times, got in, roared out of the parking lot and misjudged a turn. He hit the concrete base of a lamp that ripped a large gash in the side of the vehicle and blew out a tire. Yes, I had the last laugh.

A second experience during this time involved a new car that had been delivered by an over zealous salesman. He had delivered the car late Saturday afternoon without the sales manager's permission. Too late to verify the check and when it was presented for collection, it was insufficient. Not only that, the credit report indicated the buyer was a bandit. Here we go again. I made a set of keys, took the salesman with me and we started looking for the address on the check. When we found it, the car was parked on the lawn none the worse for wear. I told the salesman to get the car and I would follow him back to the dealership. He was so nervous he broke the key off in the door. Back to the dealership, make another key and back to the house. This time I opened the passenger door, slid across and started the engine. I expected to see the salesman waiting for me but he had already left. Good thing the car started because I was pretty vulnerable on the man's property. I made it back to the dealership without incident and was in the middle of a cuss fight with the salesman when the buyer walked in. He had brought the cash to pay for the car and wasn't upset that we had "popped his wheels." That was a happy ending.

I became the dealer in Weatherford, WORDEN-McDAVID MOTORS, in 1971. I was in my office in 1973 when the Service Manager rang and said he was sending an irate customer to see me. I had no sooner hung when the door burst open to reveal a very good looking young lady who was mad as a hornet, and a mouth like a drunken sailor. I just sat there while she unloaded all the venom against car dealers everywhere. When she finally stopped, I asked, "What's your problem?" She told me she had been in at least five dealerships and they had all told her the same thing. She owned a new Bonneville convertible that she said was using oil and she wanted a new motor. A note here. It is common practice to change the oil and filter, note the mileage on the repair order and have the oil checked at any authorized dealership to determine how much if any oil the car is using. I tried to explain this but she informed me she had heard all of it before and that she knew when a car was using oil. Furthermore, if I didn't replace the engine, and furnish her with a car to drive, she was going to drive her car through my beautiful plate glass window. "And what do you think of that, Mister Know it All Dealer?"

I thought a minute and then asked if she knew of a good bail bondsman because the next phone call she would be making would be from the County Jail. That and the car would remain in my possession until all repairs had been made to my satisfaction. No one had ever spoken to this pretty young thing like that and she asked if she could call her father in Dallas. I had a Metro line and dialed the number for her. When her father answered, I identified myself and told him his daughter was threatening to drive her car through my show room window. "Let me speak to her please," and I handed her the phone. I could not hear what was said, but from the volume I felt that he was giving her a dressing down that he should have given her long ago. She turned beet red, handed me the phone and said, "Daddy said I was to apologize to you so I'm sorry." With that she turned on her shapely heel and left.

I called the dealership where she had purchased the car. They knew her well. A few months later I happened to be at a meeting with the Service Manager. She had finally agreed to the oil consumption test. The car used less than a pint in 3000 miles. I think it is excessive but a quart in a thousand miles is considered within limits. That is the factory standard, not mine. A quart in three thousand miles would be the norm had I set the rules.

Glad I am not in that business anymore.

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