!979 – 1981 Bill Ellis Datsun to General Instrument
I arrived in Tucson Friday afternoon and was immediately paged, “Will Chuck Diaz please report the XYZ Airline counter?” With that I went to the counter and they had keys to a car that were dropped off for me. I went to the parking lot and got in to my brand-new Datsun 280ZX.
I got in the car and headed for Tucson not knowing where I was. As I got closer to downtown Tucson I stopped at the first hotel I came to. I spent one of the loneliest nights of my life that Friday night.
Not knowing where to go, I went to down to the bar and had a few drinks. There were only a few people in the bar and I got mad at myself for leaving Torrance that day. I thought I could have left Saturday morning or Sunday, but no, Bill wanted me there Friday.
The next morning I found my way to the dealership on South Stone Avenue, I parked the car and they already knew who I was. The new GM.
That morning I met who was who, the new car manager, the used car manager, the body & paint shop manager, the vehicle maintenance manager, the head of accounting, the whole gang. Everyone was on their best behavior and treated me with respect.
By noon I was ready to go look the town over so I said I was going to lunch. One of the managers started telling where the best places were and I stopped him in his tracks when I said I was going to look for a place to go out later that night. With that I left the dealership, I turned south on Stone and drove to Speedway and turned east.
I had no way of knowing where I was or where I was going, but I was looking for the right place.
As I drove east on Speedway I passed many bars, but they didn’t look right. Then as I crossed Wilmot and there it was. Smuggler’s Inn.
I knew of a Smuggler’s in San Diego so I decided to stop and take a look. As I walked into the bar I stood at the doorway that had two steps down to enter the bar. As I stood there, I looked around. There was a bartender and a couple of people at the bar. As I looked around I said to myself, “This is it.”
In 1979 Smugglers was it. What a hang out! I went there that night and every night for a year. When I was told the drinking age in Arizona was 18 I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I couldn’t believe it. Eighteen-year-old girls were legal in a bar? Drinking? Talk about a target rich environment.
At work one of the first things I did was send for my partner deskman from Westchester Ford to start our system. I then hired Bobbie as a Closer from LA, but Bobbie wasn’t up to the job. The one who was, was Adam and he came from Los Angeles and joined us as a Closer.
Remember that in 1979 President Carter’s policies were running us into the ground, so sales were not as great as they could have been. BUT, because we were using our same sales system as Westchester Ford, we were doing well on the average gross profit per car.
When Bill Ellis arrived the first time, he started a tradition that would last while I worked for him. I was having a sales meeting with all the salesmen when he arrived. He opened the meeting room door and gestured for me to go to the door.
I excused myself and walked to the door and he said,
“Let’s go for a ride.”
I told him I was in the middle of a sales meeting and he answered to let someone else handle it. When I refused, he said,
“Follow me, NOW!”
I followed him outside and he pointed up at the sign and said,
I responded with, “Bill Ellis Datsun.”
He then asked, “Who am I?”
I of course said, “Bill Ellis.”
“Who owns this place?”
With that I returned to the meeting, turned it over to one of the managers and Bill and I went for a ride.
We went to Dairy Queen.
Bill loved to go to Dairy Queen and try different concoctions he would make up. He wanted me to try this or that, but I beat him at his own game. I introduced him to my favorite ice cream shake.
Take about three scoops of ice cream, add about four ounces of orange soda (must be carbonated) and about a large scoop of crushed pineapple. It doesn’t have to be crushed pineapple because the mixer will take care of blending it. In a later business, you will read about, I called my concoction an Arizona Sunset. Or maybe an Arizona Sunrise, I can’t remember, but he loved it.
When Bill bought the dealership. he did so without his wife’s approval and that was to change things later. The deal included a beautiful home north of Skyline in Tucson. A very high end home that said, “This owner has a lot of money.” It was huge house with two kitchens, about three or four thousand square feet. His wife didn’t like it.
I mentioned that the Tucson house said the owner had a lot of money, it’s because when I visited Bill and his wife at their San Bernardino home that one said, “I mean it.” It was a mansion.
It had a drive way that was a long U shape with each leg of the U about one hundred yards long. Yes, their front yard was the size of a football field. The main house had to be six to eight thousand square feet. It had eight refrigerators. That may explain why I have four in my home today.
Behind the main house was the swimming pool and deck area about another fifty feet deep. Behind the pool area was a game building with all kinds of pin ball machines, pool table, a bar and one of the refrigerators.
Behind the game/bar building were the garages and storage buildings and behind that about a quarter mile of farmland. Yes, farmland. Bill’s wife had everything from a backhoe to a tractor and she planted all kinds of fruits and vegetables, as a hobby.
Bill would come to the dealership, from California, about once a month and once a month we’d go to Dairy Queen. Bill wasn’t a drinker, that is, he wasn’t a man who went out much. I, on the other hand was out every night and drinking was part of the job in seeking a nightly bed mate. No, I didn’t pick up girls each night. I would plant seeds of friendship by just getting to know them and after a while the seeds would blossom.
Bill was a pilot and he owned a beautiful Beechcraft Duke, a twin engine and really nice aircraft. He liked the fact that I was also a pilot and actually took me under his wing. He was probably the most influential man in my life.
He taught me how to buy clothes, in bulk. Why I should have more refrigerators, I have three. How to keep a suitcase in the trunk of my car in case I had to go somewhere quick. My wife and I have ours today, in the trunk of my car, with enough for a three day stay. He introduced me to the higher echelon of the Tucson rich and famous. He showed me that eating Crab wasn’t as bad as I thought. He was my mentor in many ways, but not in my true career filed. In that, I had/have no equals.
He took me to a fortune teller outside of Los Angeles that many rich and Hollywood types went to. She read my fortune and pretty much nailed my personality and life. I thought he had told her about me, but then she said that one day I would be richer than Bill. I knew she was full of crap, but nine years later, 1988, I was rolling in dough and he had lost it all. His wife took him for all he had and one day he called me for a loan.
I gave him the loan and about a year or two later he died. I’m not sorry I did, he was far more important to me than the money could ever be.
Towards the end of 1979, Bill decided to buy a Twin Commander. A Twin Commander is a high wing beautiful and expensive aircraft. Around $500,000 in 1979 dollars. He had gone to Florida for about three weeks of flight training in the aircraft which was a requirement before he could take delivery. No one knew what he had done, including his wife.
On his way back to California he stopped in Tucson, picked me up and took me to the airport to show me his new toy. It was a beautiful aircraft. When he finished his visit, he took off to surprise his wife. That’s when the trouble started.
When he arrived in San Berdo his wife was so pissed off she couldn’t see straight. She immediately gave him an alternative. He had to sell Bill Ellis Datsun, the Tucson house and the plane. If he didn’t, she would divorce him. He agreed to sell everything.
Bill came back to Tucson and put the dealership up for sale. Selling a car dealership is not an easy thing to do under the best circumstances, let alone a pissed off wife giving you a deadline.
It took a few months. But he found a buyer and all seemed as though the deal was done. His wife was happy and I was worried.
All of a sudden, as deal was about to close, something happened and the sale fell through the floor. Bill had actually fixed it so it wouldn’t happen. When the deal went sour he told me he wasn’t going to let me lose my job.
I felt safe until about two or three days later. His wife got even madder than before. She gave him one alternative or a divorce the following week.
I’ll never forget the look on his face when he came back to Tucson to tell me he had to get out of Tucson within a week. I was really not happy.
His son was also a car dealer in California, so Bill turned the dealership over to him. I was crushed because I knew what that meant. I had been through regime changes before and knew I was gone.
The day his son arrived he met with me and was as kind as he could be. He had his own team and that meant I was out. He told me how sorry he was and that he knew how much his dad liked me. He gave me six months’ pay and let me keep my 280Z for the same amount of time.
I had only been in Tucson for just over a year and I didn’t know what I was going to do
When I first arrived in Tucson I moved into a one bedroom transient apartment complex that catered to people who needed everything, electricity, furnished, the works. It was rented weekly and much cheaper than a hotel. I had to find a place like that to get my bearings until I learned what was where in Tucson.
When Adam arrived, we decided to share a place again. We ended up getting a two-bedroom condo right at El Dorado Estates on the third green of the El Dorado Country Club. It was a rental that was only available until about November when the snow birds would return and pay a ton for the place.
It was the perfect spot only about a half mile from Smuggler’s so we could establish ourselves on our nightly outings. We never rode together, we always took our own cars. That is, the cars the dealership provided.
After I was relieved as the GM of Bill Ellis Datsun I took a trip to Los Angeles, in my 280Z. The first night I went to the Raintree. I don’t know why I attract such lame people, but I ended up in a fight in the parking lot. This one I won.
Someone had called the police and they showed up at the end of the fight. I had only been away from Torrance for about a year and a half, but the police remembered me. They decided to search the car and found a snub nose 38 pistol under the driver’s seat, I thought I was screwed. I told them I had just arrived from Arizona where it was legal, and forgot that it was there for my trip.
California had not yet become the huge anti-gun state it is now and they confiscated the gun and basically gave me a ticket. I appeared in front of the same judge who gave me a slap on the wrist for serving an underage Vietnam vet a few years before and he knew the Torrance Police Department didn’t like me.
He again decided, because I was an Arizona resident with an Arizona driver’s license, he would dismiss the case and have the gun dropped in the ocean off the shore of Redondo Beach. That’s what they used to do.
I returned to Tucson, but I didn’t think I could find a job. I didn’t want to move back to the L.A. area and I was a bit lost as to my future. So, when my money and the six months was getting close for my 280Z to be returned I ended up calling the general manger who I worked for at Westchester Ford. He had bought a Ford dealership in San Diego and hired me as a closer over the phone. I packed my stuff and headed for San Diego.
I don’t remember a lot about San Diego, I took a small condo right on the boardwalk on Mission Bay. It was ten steps to the boardwalk and then some sand and the water. Normally that would be an ideal spot for a guy like me, but my heart wasn’t in it.
I had moved to San Diego because I thought it was the only place for me to get an immediate job making good money. I had left all my old friends in Torrance about a year and a half before and I had just left all my friends at Smuggler’s now and I really missed Tucson. I was changing.
It got to the point that when I was closing a deal I would ask the people if they had ever been to Tucson. I would be happy if they had and if they hadn’t I would give them reasons why they should visit. All this didn’t make my boss very happy.
I knew I was losing my edge as a car man. I wasn’t willing to get down to the closer level and be a closer. All this also didn’t make my boss happy either.
Finally, he told me if I didn’t stop all the Tucson bullshit I would have to go. So I decided to go and was back in Tucson by February of 1981.
A friend drove out to San Diego and helped move all my stuff back to Tucson. She was a real pretty Greek girl with whom I had had an affair with before. By that I mean she knew, she wasn’t the only one I was seeing. We had remained friends and that was that.
She put me up in her apartment until I could decide what I was going to do. Because she worked a day job, she would let me use her car at night. I went back to Smuggler’s
I had returned to Tucson wanting to get out of the car business, but I got a job the next day as a new car sales manager at Sundown Datsun. The former Bill Ellis Datsun.
They were owned by the same bunch who owned Westchester Ford and they had been looking for me for a while. It was easy to start making good money immediately. But after a while I became more and more miserable and I still wanted out of the car business.
I started sending out resumes to local companies that were involved with some form of manufacturing. Each Sunday I would go through the Want Ads in hopes of finding something.
After a couple months, I finally received a response to one of the resume’s I had sent out. With that I got an interview with General Instrument in Nogales, Mexico (G.I.) and to my delight I was hired. I had to take an enormous cut in pay, but I wasn’t worried about that, I was back in the game.
That’s next 1981 – 1984 General Instrument