Make no mistake, sweetheart, Southern California is car country.
So car dealership Calvin Coolidge Worthington decided to have a little fun, get attention, and dump its lots with “My Dog Spot” TV commercials featuring a lively, snarling gorilla.
The ads, in which he also used other animals like a dog named Spot – a penguin, camel, elephant, bear, lion, hippo and tiger – helped Worthington build a 27-dealer empire who have sold over a million cars.
Many of these commercials were filmed under the large “Worthington Ford in Long Beach” sign at the dealership he purchased in 1963.
Now, this sign has come to mark the end of an era. Worthington’s family said they sold the 3-acre business, with the last dealership still bearing the name of the legendary car salesman who died in 2012.
“It’s very sad,” Nick Worthington, Cal’s grandson, said in an interview with ABC7. “Our employees have been with us for over 40 years.
“It’s part of childhood and part of everyone’s life growing up here,” he added. “It’s hard to close this book for everyone.”
On Saturday, Shawn Abdallah, the dealership’s chief financial officer, said the news of the sale “come as a shock, although there have been rumors for a few months that something like this was in the works.”
“The rumors were confirmed on Thursday,” he said, “when Nick called everyone together in a conference room here for an important message.
“He said, ‘You’ve probably heard the rumors and today I’m here to confirm them. “recalls Abdallah. “He was very emotional. And yes, there were tears all around.
The buyer, Nouri/Shaver Automobile Group, plans to keep all Worthington Ford employees, but they will have to reapply for their jobs, Abdallah said.
The iconic large blue “Worthington” sign overlooking Bellflower Boulevard, Abdallah said, “will not be removed until March 1.”
In the meantime, visitors don’t have to go far to see reminders of the flashy stunts used by the Oklahoma transplant to sell hard during a 65-year career that made him an icon of the quirky culture of Southern California.
The showroom of gleaming new Ford models, for example, features a floor-to-ceiling photograph of Worthington cheek to cheek with a tiger: the friendliest of all the animals that helped him create a cult following.
It’s a reminder of a quirky era when auto salesmen here, in the capital of auto and highway culture, dressed like Napoleon, wore halos and adopted exotic animals for a sale.
Worthington’s signature gimmicks were the “Dog Spot” commercials, which first appeared on air in 1971. They were originally intended as parodies of two contestants: Ralph Williams and Fletcher Jones.
Williams had launched an ad campaign featuring a German Shepherd named Storm, and Jones appeared on television cuddling puppies.
“I decided to emulate them,” Worthington recalled in an interview. So he borrowed a gorilla, chained it to a car bumper, and let the cameras roll.
Trying to look unfazed, the lanky pitcher with a cowboy hat and an ear-to-ear smile kicked off this typically folksy tactic with words of welcome: “Hello, I’m Cal Worthington and this is my dog Spot.”
“Found this little guy at the pound,” he added with a smile, “and he’s so full of love.”
The new owners of the dealership will change the name to BP Ford.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.