Sales Talk : Fuel the passion and plant the seed!

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

AROnline peeps behind the office door in the car showroom to see what skeletons lurk in the shadows:

Mike Humble pays respect to the many people who inspired and nurtured his young passion for the motor trade rather than kicking him out of the showroom, while reckoning some sales staff of today, could stop and think about what started their career. Money, the love of cars or maybe a little of both?


From little acorns

The slighty surreal Citroen GS - Ever since watching one rise to it's feet 35 years ago, I was hooked!

In a previous middle-aged ramble, I mentioned how kids can sometimes be the horror of a car showroom. To set the scene, you are going through the options with mum and dad, but often they are never quite fully listening to the conversation as they are too fixated on, and rightly so, whether Billy is trying to trap little Jennies hand in the boot of a new car. So often and just as you are getting somewhere, one of the little cherubs starts crying and in a flash, they are all up and gone and you’ve lost them. But older kids from say around 13 years or so in the showroom are much different and here, many sales execs make the assumption they are there to cause nuisance or steal.

It is easy to forget what drives our passion for cars and where it stems from, for me, I could not even begin to think as I have loved all modes of self propulsion ever since I can remember, with every long term girlfriend having to understand or at least tolerate my passion for engines. A little while back, my current `er indoors was looking to off load her Renault Megane Cabriolet, and during a visit to a used dealer with a view to purchasing a Discovery, I noticed two young lads doing no harm looking at some motor on the front. As the flustered chap was making a pig’s ear of his sales pitch, he noticed the two young lads and seemed more concerned about them, rather than us.

They were doing no harm at all, yet the bloke quipped “f*** off” to the two lads and we made our excuses and left soon after. This had nothing to do with the use of language even though I would have been fired should that have been me, but more owing to the lack of respect, simply because some years back in the early-’80s, those lads were me and my school chum Dylan. We would cycle for miles around looking in car showrooms, collecting brochures and other related paraphernalia and even now, we still have the odd brochure somewhere in a box which we thumbed through in our bedrooms back in the days when sweets were two a penny or when Buzby told us 10p lasted three minutes.

Some of the sales men back then (and they were all men) were terrific blokes who actually fuelled our fire inside rather than give us a clip round the ear or a boot up the jacksie. Mill Garages Honda in Darlington now long gone, employed one chap called Ian Sale who looked like a blonde Nigel Mansell, he loved his cars and Formula 1 and providing he was not busy, spent many an hour chatting to me and my mate. He even treated us to a high speed thrash in a new 16v CRX and 2.0i-16 Prelude often, and even the dealer principle – John Wilkinson had time for us. On the other side of town right near where I lived was Mill Garages Faverdale.

They were Audi – VW and local quattro agents with the premises being clinical and pristine, as you would expect from V.A.G. Malcolm Longstaff was their Audi salesman – imagine Mr Chisholm from Minder with tinted glasses and you have a mental picture. To say mental, would be the operative word owing to the fact he is a bit mad but really, a terriffic bloke. He was, and still is a very witty and informed man who is now in the used car game, but back then in his Quattro days would take me out for a spin if they were due to close for the evening. If anyone asks me how fast the old 200 Avant quattro was, let me tell you…. They were bloody quick… even going backwards!

Down in the town, 100 yards from Honda, was Croxdale Service Station the local Citroen dealer with their sole salesman John Armitage. I first grew fond of Citroen nearly fainting in admiration over 30 years ago watching a teachers brand new GS lift its suspension one day, it was akin to watching a slumbering cat awaken, stretch and then raise to its feet. John was yet again, another thoroughly decent chap who never gave any hassle to two young petrol heads. To this day, I still secretly admire the boldness of Citroen cars especially the older generation of BX, CX & GSA models – utterly bonkers and often regarded as idiosyncratic nonsense, but get behind the wheel of a nice CX for example, and it all falls into place – with perfect clarity.

The awesome 200 Avant quattro - I can say from first hand experience. they were disturbingly rapid - even in reverse!

Other dealers included Sherwood’s Vauxhall where I had my work experience during Secondary school, employing top guys like Peter Rowe and Andy Clark working their charms in the huge used car showroom, inviting me to their works Christmas party in 1987 and subsequently getting me drunk – all at the age of 15. The following year seemed a decade away, but just 12 months later; I would have moved almost 200 miles and be working as an apprentice vehicle fitter. But not all the dealers had the same attitudes and welcoming manner, even if all your wealth related to your pocket money, and some were downright vile.

The local Daihatsu dealer was a dark dirty hole, and my mate and I adored the Charade Turbo (and still do) so we ventured into the showroom which was not far from another place of personal interest – the bus station. Entering the showroom we told to keep off the cars, so when we used ESP to look at each other, grab a brochure and split in silence – we were advised the brochures would be £1 each. We both somehow decided our like of the Daihatsu Charade GTti Turbo was not worth that kind of money. Dylan placed his brochure gingerly back into the literature rack, where I threw mine onto the floor with a spinning effect – and off we went on our resplendent 12 speed racing cycles.

Where is this leading? Some may wonder aloud, well, kids grow up, learn to drive and become consumers all in the space of a very short time and some of us develop very good memories. Now I’m not saying that mine or Dylan’s reason for never owning a Charade or recent Daihatsu model like the Silly on or Sirloin or whatever those daft little buzz boxes are called, stems from the attitude of a scruffy rotund salesman, but impressions last. Building up customer relations starts right from the first point of contact, even if that means the potential customer still has his / her homework to do before admiring the glossy pictures of the Manta GTE or Volkswagen Santana.

Real infectious attitiudes or a passion which radiates a love of the trade seems ever missing in todays rob and run dealer style, which is such a damn shame. A much missed former work colleague Gary Halliday, is similar to me; he can also work 10 hours a day in his Land Rover showroom and still sit in Curry House in the evening and extol the advantages and disadvantages between the Montego EFi and the Sierra 2.0iS. Simply because we either share a deep down passion or are plain sad middle aged men who have long suffering partners – you decide.

Answers on a postcard to:  Magpie – Thames Television PO Box 99…

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

34 Comments

  1. One of my old school teachers had the GS, and it was the most noisiest car i have heard, we always knew when he was on his way to school….. then we ran….LOL

  2. I recall as a youngster ( 6 or 7 years old ) going to the Ulster Motor Show, such delights as the ‘new’ Fiesta, the R8 and Dodge Viper prototype! Most stands were accommodating in giving me brochures and badges, but the Rover and Ford stalls stand out as being the best goodybags 🙂

  3. Another trip down memory lane Mike ! But while most of my mates at school were more into football, I was and still am a bit of a Brochure hunter, Most of them still at my Parents House, all in boxes ready to be err…. not sure what?

    Do I keep them for keep sake, or sell the lot? They have been sitting there some of which over 30yrs worth, A huge amount and even more whatcar/Autocar/Fastlane/Car/Motor, not to mention the classic car mags.

    But whilst there are slight remarks of “when are you going take them with you?” It is nice to waste some time reading the 1st ever road test of Metro’s/Maestros R800s and how they all appeared such promising stars! Incidentally now and then I pass Croxdale Citroen, still family owned still doing business!

  4. @ dontbuybluemotion

    I used to have 1000’s & I do mean 1000’s of brochures going back to the early 70`s. Some collected, some given by family members and a whole raft of Leyland truck gear which my dad got from work.

    I even had some lovely Leyland Bus & Coach stuff, but much of it got thrown away after a break up from a relationship some years ago. She knew I loved my brochures more than her and even though at the time I vociferously denied that…

    In hindsight, bloody right I did – the cow! LOL

  5. Memories memories.

    I strongly believe that if you hook the boy you’ve got the man.

    Mini, Land Rover and Jaguar dealers seem to be wonderful with kids in most cases yet those with mediocre cars are more precious – maybe they are scared something will fall off.

    The dealer names bring back memories too. What was the Ford dealer in the middle of Darlington called?

  6. LOL Mike ! Yes The Ball n Chain wouldnt have them back home thats why they gather dust in my old bedroom! I have a few Trucks and Leyland Buses! including a prototype Titan, must sort them out some day along with the task of scanning all the BL/AR stuff …. theres some interesting reading!

    As for visiting Dealers, we didnt have any near home so it was on Day Trips that I managed to get some, not sure where the holiday was back then but I managed to bag early 1980s BMW 3,5,7 series, I remember my Dad was a little worried as He stood outside looking at the Used items which was probably an easy 5 years wages!

    Reg Vardys was the worst to Blag a Brochure, I remember asking for the range item for my Dad (He couldnt drive and had no intention of doing so) A typical Handlebar Moustache and long hair Dark Blue Jacket with silver buttons and grey trousers with large pipe in hand said “Well if He wants one Tell Him to come down ! “.

  7. We had a Ford dealership in Dalkeith called Stewarts who used to be very pleasant when me and my mates used to go in and get the brochures for the new Escort, Cortina, Sierra etc and sit in the new XR3 when it came out. As your article says, you knew the salesman on pretty much first name terms, as generally they tended to live local anyhow.

    Keep the articles coming, Mike, they are a cracking insight into the car sales game!

  8. AndrewS

    The Ford dealer in Darlington town centre was pulled down the other year after having many different owners in recent years, latterly Evans Halshaw.

    You and I may remember the original incumbents….

    Skippers

  9. I remember sending off for the brochure on the new Escort RS2000 in 1991, I would have been 16 at the time. The brochure arrived and a salesman phoned from our local Ford dealer, Polar Ford of Barnsley. My Dad answered and said “Sorry mate, it’ll be our Steve. He’s car mad.” The salesman laughed and said “He sounds like me when I was younger. Tell him to pop in and I’ll take him out for a spin in it!” I was shy back then, so I didn’t go, but when I had my first car I always went back to that dealer.

    As an aside, it’s such a shame that these days no car salesperson would ever dream of offering to take a young car enthusiast out in a car for fear of being labelled as something unsavoury.

  10. When I was growing up, my local Ford Dealer (Malcolm Waite of Sandwich) were quite happy to give me all the brochures I wanted. I repaid the favour by buy lots of parts for my Fiesta from them when I learned to drive a few years later 🙂

  11. I have similar memories to Mike in some aspects. In the late 60’s/early 70s, I used to collect brochures from car showrooms and had many Vauxhall ones given by the dealer who supplied my dad’s VX4/90.

    On some occasions (when I was about 11,) my Mother would accompany me to look at new cars and prove that I wasn’t some troublesome youngster to the salesmen!

    In those days most dealers were willing to let you take brochures, apart from the Rootes dealer in our town who obviously didn’t view me as a future customer. Many years later they took on a Datsun franchise and I bought my first brand new car from them – I didn’t hold a grudge!

  12. I can remember one Sunday in the mid 80s, in the pouring rain biking round all the local car dealers in Castleford & Pontefract, which was about 6 miles from home. The only one who was a bit stuffy dishing brochures out was the Skoda dealer in Castleford surprisingly.

  13. @ Marty B

    Seems most ‘niche’ car dealerships were the same, possibly because their stationery budget was tight due to them not being one of the big players, so had to ration their brochures!

  14. I didn’t get the same treatment in the Lada dealer though, which was just up the road, or the Fiat dealer which was next door. The Skoda ‘brochures’ at the time were just A4 double sided pamphlets anyway. I was told by the salesman at Martins Ford to pop back later in the week, and he said I could have some huge A1 size posters. True to his word, I popped in the following Saturday whilst my folks were doing the Tesco shop, and I collected posters for the new gen Transit, and Ford Granada 2.4/2.9. I wished I still had them now.

  15. The best place to obtain brochures in those days, I found, was the Motor Show. I went with my mate when we were 14 to the first one at the NEC in ’78 and came back with several bulging carriers bags full. Kept us in reading matter for weeks! By the next one the manufacturers seemed to have got wise because they were starting to give out fliers and small leafelts, and if you wanted the full brochure you had to fill in a form and they would send it to you. That put us off, as we feared that as we filled the form in, we would either be talked into buying a new car (at 16!) or be exposed as wanting brochures but having no real interest in buying the car!

  16. I used to have a citroen zx 1.4, it was not fast but comfy, But the cx 2.2 was fast,comfy,strange self centering steering,weired indicator switches which were rocker switches on top of the speedo binicle,great suspension and great design.I know what you mean, i regretted selling mine.since ive had a peugeot 306d turbo sport, Land rover discovery td5 and a volvo 240 saloon. Belive me they were not as inspiring as the citroen 2.2trs, loved them since there launch in 1970’s….

  17. I remember as a teenager requesting info online in the late 90s on the Mercury (nee Ford) Cougar as I liked it at the time.
    To be fair to Ford/Mercury USA, they sent by airmail to the UK a brochure and a good sized poster of the thing.
    I remember Vauxhall sent a floppy disk of a screensaver in the mid 90s, I think it was for the mk4 Astra.
    Skoda did well, when the Fabia was first released sent a die cast OO guage well detailed model of a Fabia in green. I ended up I found it when having a clearout a few years ago, and gave it to a friend who had just bought a Fabia VRS.
    Citroen gave away a credit card sized CD for the mk1 C5.

  18. I can remember Harold Thompson Vauxhall in North Shields, I think it closed in 1990, who also sold Panther Limas as they used Vauxhall running gear and these were far more exciting than looking at a Mark One Astra. Actually he had a yellow one that sat there for months until a professional footballer, or so the salesman said, bought it. Actually an open topped car in the North East in the winter was never going to sell quickly.
    At the other end of Tynemouth Rd was a bombsite that sold FSOs, kind of made the Daihatsu dealership in the article look glamorous and few people seemed to be tempted by their family car for half the price of an Escort boast.

  19. It’s a shame almost all the old showrooms in town centres that were easily accessible when too young to drive have gone in favour of out of town showrooms that are hard to get to without a car. In Whitehaven, where I divided my young life with North Shields, going back 30 years we had SMT the Vauxhall and Citroen dealer( only in town dealer left now, it’s B and H SEAT), the British Leyland main dealer had a sprawling showroom near the library, Ford had a sixties plate glass showroom next to a supermarket, then there were smaller players like Walkingshaw Volkswagen and their cramped showroom and Nathan Steele, the Datsun dealer whose franchise was booming at this time and had outgrown the showroom.
    Over in Shields there was the aforementioned Harold Thompson and the vile FSO garage next to a filling station, joined by Pattersons Ford, Tynemouth Fiat, Monk Car Sales( Toyota, adjoining the notorious Meadowell estate) and Dutton Forshaw, the British Leyland dealer. Some of these businesses survive as second hand dealers, but all the rest were either bought out or moved to the Silverlink.

  20. I can’t remember Stockport having many showrooms near to the down centre.

    The closest in recent times was a Mazda dealers that also sold overpriced petrol, possibly because it was near to the Portwood Roundabout (M60 J27).

    Eventually the filling station part was removed, & the building is a carpet shop.

  21. This is the first time I have logged onto this site and whilst I left the area in 87, I remember many of the people mentioned.

    The world and trade have changed beyond belief and the passion as u say has gone. There are many factors for this and u can’t blame just the sales people.

    Gosh it seems a long time ago and Darlo is a place I have not been to for a few years.

    Thanks for this, really enjoyed the read.

  22. Oh how I loved going to the car dealers. This was back in the days when my Dad leased a new car every year. We also had Fords and Rovers. Not much changed now then!

    Anyway, the chap in the local Ford Dealer gave my dad the loan of a new sapphire cosworth back in ’87. I loved that.

    The other day, i decided for the first time in about a decade to go and have a look at a new kia venga 3 which for some reason i kinda like. Anyway. The salesman sold my dad many’s a citroen back in the day and gave me my appetite for a BX TZD by taking me many’s a run in one when I was about 11 or 12. He didn’t have the venga I wanted. It was out on loan. But remembering me from those years back, told me he would ring me and lend it to me for a weekend. Nice one!

    Just shows how long peoples memories are!

    I await my call about the venga!

  23. It can be interesting to see what the old car dealerships turned into. One near me is now part DIY shop, part funeral director!

  24. Never such a true word spoken. When I was little, I was no trouble in a showroom 🙂 I loved cars, and a car showroom was better than any theme park to me. In the 90’s the salesmen were still friendly to kids.
    I remember a Citroen salesman giving a balloon and a huge badge with a Saxo VTR on it (I still have it somewhere). A Volvo salesman GAVE me a model 850 Touring Car (which is still in its plastic display case, keeping my Grenada 2.8i and 535i company). Can you imagine them being that generous today?
    I don’t know if he paid for it, eager to show his gratitude for a non pain in the backside kid, or had about 20 under his desk to promote Volvo touring cars, but it was a very good move nonetheless. I’ve grown up with a sort of rose tinted view of car salesmen.

  25. Ever remember the dealerships that sold East European and budget far Eastern cars like Protons? For some reason they nearly always had a makeshift showroom attached to a filling station. Seemingly a Mitsubishi salesman told me some years ago that companies like Proton and Lada would approach filling stations with a second hand car showroom and give them incentives to sell their cars. While it is probably true there were many honest people selling these budget cars, it’s also true their showrooms seemed to have a cheap, Honest Frank Butcher edge to them that wouldn’t be found at a local Volkswagen dealer. In Cumbria, when Proton were at their height in the early nineties, there were four dealerships of this type lurking behind the petrol pumps.

  26. Absolutely – I spent most of my early teens wandering round car showrooms collecting brochures and there were some fantastic salesmen.

    Last June I was at a classic car event and a guy come up to – turned out he was a salesmen in my local Datsun showroom 30 years ago and recognised me. He’d always given me so many brochures.

  27. @ Glenn Aylett. I do remember them well. There’s a Proton garage ten minutes or so drive away from where I live. In this case they’ve taken over from the petrol station!

  28. Glen, your mention of Harold Thompson brought back memories of the Cavalier Convertible. Mid 80s they had a blue on in and I fancied a look around it. Aged 15 or 16. My neighbour seemed to keep Thompsons in business betting a new Cavalier every August 1 from them. I went in, mentioned I knew this chap and they couldn’t have been nicer. brouchures, look round the car, bonnet up etc.

    Where in Tynemouth were the other garages you mentioned? I only moved there in 1983.

    The FSO one I guess is now the Dial Motor Co. There was a garage on Queen Alex Rd which one of my old brochures tells me was a Renault dealer. Did you ever have luck at Priory BMW? I only did when my Dad went in looking for a new 3 series. I emptied the brochure racks and got a wonderful M635 pull out brochure.

    I still have my collecton and have to confess still get the odd one now, mainly on line.

    As well as tynemouth I lived in Stamford Lincolnshire between 1979 and 1982. I haunted Jessups Ford, Sycamore Datsun, AC Williams Renault, Forsythe ond Ferrier Vauxhall Opel and Colt and Tillies for Talbot.

    Jessups were the best, the sales guys knew me and I used to go in every month for the new Ford range brochure. They let me see the new MKIII Escort before it launched! Once when I wanted an out of print Granada special edition brochure, they asked me to come back next week and found me one. top blokes.

    Tillies were good – but they knew my Dad had a Horizon so kept me in business cards to leave round the house.

    Marshells BL had a branch in Stamford which was a good source of TR7 brochures which I still have. They had a Rolls dealership in Peterborough and I persuaded my Dad to take me in there. Again nice guys, no brochure but they gave me an address to write to. Rolls sent me the brochures out though I think my Dad got a few awkward follow up calls asking about a demonstration.

    Car dealers of old were great, enthusiastic nice guys who bothered to care.

  29. Dan
    Harold Thompson was the Vauxhall main dealer in the eighties in this part of Tyneside and I remember going from my grandparents round the corner and collecting brochures. It was one of those family dealers where customers and curious kids like me were always treated with respect as we were possible customers of the future. Thompsons is now a car valeting centre.
    The Fiat dealer in Tynemouth is now a Kwikfit and the FSO dealers opposite is some kind of builders merchants, they never shifted many cars and the garage was a tip. Priory BMW were indeed on Queen Alex Road and I can remember getting a few brochures there with my dad, it’s now a Subaru dealership. The other one further down did become a Renault dealership, but is now a second hand car showroom. I was never a lover of Renaults so never visited it.

  30. Glenn, I was in that very Subaru dealer just last weekend!

    Was the FSO garage called Robb and Weakfirds? The garage is now demolished abd is a kids nursery.

    Where was the showroom at the garage that is now Kwik Fit? I guess upstairs.

    Further afield, there was a Vauxhall dealer in West Monkseaton. I can never remember it’s name. Took my Dad there begging him to get a black Astra GTE MK II. He didn’t.

  31. Mike,
    I remember the events well. The racing bike may have been replaced by four wheels-no Charades but the memories remain. I remember asking at Ford for brochures and the guy in the cheap suit went by the current brochures-last throes of the Capri and came back with a Model T in it. A cheap shot that hasn’t been forgotten. The guys at Mill Honda got it right.

  32. Great article! I was a major Ford nut as a kid in the 80’s and my Mum wrote to the local dealer, Sandicliffe Ford and they very kindly gave me a VIP guided tour of the whole operation. It was 1986, i couldn’t buy a car, and my parents couldn’t afford one either, but Sandicliffe treated me and my Mum with the utmost respect, i got loads of brochures, and a free lift home in the Sales Manager’s Sierra XR4x4, which was better appointed than the inside of our house as I remembered at the time…

    Dan, if you read this post, can you remember where Marshalls was in Stamford?, there is still a Ford, Vauxhall and Peugeot dealerships which i suspect are still the same premises of thirty years ago, but they’ve all changed hands now.

  33. Ian Sale! The man is a legend. I worked with him for while in the early 90’s when he moved to another Honda dealer in the North East. The tales I could tell! All good/funny, non malicious, but still I better not commit them to writing. I hope he’s still around

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