10 September 2013

Iconic Car Dealer, Dead at 92

Calvin Coolidge "Cal" Worthington, the charismatic car dealer and war hero made famous on the West Coast and in Alaska by his offbeat television commercials, died Sunday at his California ranch.

Worthington was 92. He died suddenly while watching TV football with family, according to their Sacramento attorney, Larry Miles. A cause of death is not yet known.

Worthington, a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service during World War II, at one point operated more than 23 dealerships in five states. More recently, Worthington Ford operated three dealerships in Anchorage and one in Long Beach, Calif.

But it was those commercials -- and the hard-to-forget "Go See Cal!" refrain -- that made Worthington a household name starting in the early 1970s.

"Cal Worthington and his dog, Spot!" they'd start. Then along came Worthington with anything but a dog. He'd ride an elephant or killer whale, once even a hippopotamus. He'd walk bears or tigers on leashes. A chimpanzee made frequent appearances, wearing a duplicate of Worthington's trademark cowboy hat.

1921 - 2013

 ... He was in Alaska about 10 days ago, fishing and visiting his stores. The Worthington family owns three dealerships in Anchorage: Cal Worthington Ford Lincoln on Gambell Street, Mercedes-Benz of Anchorage on East Sixth Avenue and Cal's Park & Sell on East Dowling Road.

Worthington discovered his car-selling skills after the war. He sold his used vehicle to another veteran in Texas for $500, the story goes.

He leased a dirt lot in Texas to sell used cars, became a millionaire by 30 and built an empire of dozens of auto dealerships and land holdings, including ranches in California, Nevada and Idaho, according to a report in the Sacramento Bee.

Worthington's Big W Ranch in Orland is one of the largest producers of almonds and olives in California, Miles said.

Go here for the whole article.


Well Seasoned Fool said...

Like many in the car business, I met him.
In the 90's he was sued for divorce. She asked for $40,000 a month in spousal support until the divorce was settled. The Sacremento Bee Business Section ran the following headline.

Zero down, $40,000 a month. Go see Cal!

Rev. Paul said...

That's a great headline. :)

Jenny said...

Oh dear....

And gosh that tune never leaves your head. Almost as bad as the mattress one. :)

Rev. Paul said...

Understood, Jenny. And ol' Ted is still dancing around the "ranch", with at least three stores now.

Brock Townsend said...

How well I remember.

Rev. Paul said...

Love 'im or hate 'im, he was a presence in the industry.

Well Seasoned Fool said...

In 1986, Cal was very rude, in public, to Fred Knack who owned the Sound Car and Truck stores (the system I worked in). Fred told his managers, in effect, "Don't worry about profit; don't lose a deal to Worthington." Three years later Cal was gone from the Seattle area.

Fred was a gentleman, but did not suffer fools or slights.


Stephen said...

When I lived and worked in California his commercials drove me nuts. I remember him now with fondness. Sad to say I never knew he was a war hero.

Well Seasoned Fool said...

Should have mentioned, Fred Knack was part of the Flying Tigers though not as a pilot.

Rev. Paul said...

WSF, none of the published stories make any claims about Cal being any sort of saint, which is refreshing. It's well-known that he got in legal trouble with Montana, for example, and had to close his dealerships there.

Stephen, I didn't know it, either - until the obituary came out.