He wanted to sell you a car.
For television viewers in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, Del Spitzer was the smiling face of the Spitzer auto dealerships on commercials. His trademark line was, “I want to sell you a car now!”
Spitzer died May 2 at 86 in Dallas, according to attorney Anthony Giardini, who represents Spitzer Management Inc.
Giardini, who began representing Del Spitzer and his older brother, John Spitzer, in 1979, said the commercials were innovative for their time. Most car dealers advertised solely in newspapers then.
“They were pioneers,” Giardini said. “It was quite a breakthrough.”
Del Spitzer said in a 1972 Chronicle-Telegram interview that the commercials made him famous locally.
“It’s a strange thing. Three or four people will recognize my voice in a crowd and come right up and shake hands with me,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘You don’t know me, but I know you. I’ve seen you on television.’”
Del Spitzer told the Akron Beacon-Journal in 1984 that some people told him it was dumb to appear in ads for his own business, but Spitzer said it worked. “When something works, we keep doing it,” he said.
The Spitzer family has been selling cars since the birth of the American automotive industry when cars were known as horseless carriages. Their father, George Spitzer, founded Spitzer Hardware in Grafton in 1904.
Giardini said Henry Ford traveled through Grafton by train and said he wanted a dealership there. In 1914, George Spitzer, who died in 1945, began selling Ford’s Model Ts out of a two-room showroom.
“It was a very, very small, very, very humble beginning,” Giardini said.
The Spitzers opened a dealership in Elyria in 1946. By 1984 they had the largest family-owned dealership in the nation with a combined 20 showrooms in Ohio and Florida, according to the Beacon-Journal. About 50,000 cars were sold annually.
Del Spitzer was president of Spitzer Management Inc., while John Spitzer was chairman of the board. Del Spitzer said John was the boss.
Their brother, Stewart , ran the Grafton dealership. Sidney , the fourth brother, died in a 1956 plane crash.
In addition to being one of the pioneers of television car advertising, the Spitzers also made in-house films outlining their 10-step sales procedure, with John playing the customer and Del the salesman, Giardini said.
The films stressed developing customer rapport and were a model for the Ford Motor Co., which asked them to produce the films. “They’re several hours long and still a classic to this day,” Giardini said.
Giardini and Tom Wolfe, service manager at Spitzer Chevrolet in Amherst, said Del Spitzer was down-to-earth and outgoing. Wolfe said he first met Del Spitzer when Wolfe was hired in 1982.
Wolfe said Del Spitzer would hand out dollar bills to children at the dealership, and pick up cigarette butts in the parking lot. Spitzer always shook the hands of employees, including mechanics with grease on their hands.
“They’d say, ‘Mr. Spitzer, I’m all dirty,’” Wolfe recalled. “He’d say, “That means you’re making me money,’ and kind of smile and shake their hand.”
Del Spitzer told The Chronicle he was opposed to hard selling and believed sales should be a happy occasion. “We like to think you can have a lot fun in this business,” he said.