Dealership’s Sale Ends Era of Cal and His Dog Spot

Worthington’s family sells the last car lot still bearing the quirky salesman’s name.

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Make no mistake about it, bub, Southern California is car country.

So automobile dealer Calvin Coolidge Worthington decided to have a little fun, attract attention and empty his lots with “My Dog Spot” TV commercials featuring a live, snarling gorilla.

The commercials, in which he also used other animals as a dog named Spot — a penguin, camel, elephant, bear, lion, hippopotamus and tiger — helped him build an empire of 27 dealerships that sold more than 1 million cars.

Many of those commercials were filmed under the large “Worthington Ford in Long Beach” sign at the dealership he bought in 1963.

Now that sign has come to mark the end of an era. Worthington’s family said they have sold the 3-acre business, 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 40-plus years. It’s a part of everyone’s childhood and life growing up here. It’s hard to close that book for everybody.”

On Saturday, Shawn Abdallah, finance director at the dealership, said news of the sale “came as a shock, although there had been rumors for a couple of months that something like this was in the works.”

“The rumors were confirmed on Thursday,” he said, “when Nick had everyone gather in a conference room here for an important message.

“He said, ‘You probably heard the rumors, and today I am here to confirm them,’ ” Abdallah recalled. “He was very emotional. And yeah, 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 blue “Worthington” sign overlooking Bellflower Boulevard, Abdallah said, “won’t be taken down until March 1.”

In the meantime, visitors don’t have to go far to see reminders of the stunts used by the Oklahoma transplant to make the hard sell during a 65-year career that made him an icon of quirky Southern California culture.

The showroom of gleaming new Ford models, for instance, features a floor- to-ceiling photograph of Worthington cheek-to-cheek with a tiger: the most personable of all the animals that helped him build a cult following.

It’s a reminder of a quirky era when automobile salesmen here, in the capital of car and freeway culture, dressed like Napoleon, wore halos and adopted exotic animals for a sale.

Worthington’s signature gimmicks were the “Dog Spot” ads, which first appeared on-air in 1971. They were originally intended to be spoofs of two competitors: Ralph Williams and Fletcher Jones.

Williams had launched an ad campaign with a German shepherd named Storm, and Jones appeared on TV cuddling puppies.

“I decided I’d mimic them,” Worthington recalled in an interview. So he borrowed a gorilla, chained it to a car bumper and let the cameras roll.

Trying to appear unruffled, the lanky pitchman with a cowboy hat and ear-to-ear grin launched that characteristically folksy tactic with welcoming words: “Howdy, I’m Cal Worthington, and this is my dog Spot.”

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times




  2. Richard Cathcart says

    Cal, what a salesman! My all-time favorite was the docile tiger he led by leash. The BEST live TV ad ever: as he led the leashed tiger down a line of “fine” cars, the tiger leapt from car hood to car hood. At 600 lbs. that tiger had every auto doing the up & down Mexican car dance for several minutes. It was funny beyond funny.
    Cal himself, the always amiable “Country Boy” in a cowboy hat left viewers awed and amused hundreds of times!!

  3. It was always a smile bringer when going down the freeway back to CSULB. I was driving back from a sports medicine convention in Oct. and sure enough there is was. We loved his various “dog spot.”

  4. “Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal.” Anyone who lived in SoCal during its golden age (1950s to 1980s) could not avoid being amused by Cal Worthington’s antics, hopefully with no abuse of the many animals he used as props. He sponsored many a late-night movie on local television channels 5, 9, 11 and 13 before they were bought out. He certainly came a long way, in true California fashion, from a small South Gate storefront on Firestone Boulevard. However, my family never bought a vehicle from him, as the reputation for high pressure tactics and lots of add-on costs were not attractive.

  5. Soon there will be one dealership and one choice.

  6. john kindseth says

    Who did “Ol Leather britches” Pitch for in the 1950-‘s ???

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