Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Max Hoffman

I'm going to make a bold statement here: Max Hoffman was more important the to US auto enthusiast than any other person ever involved in the auto industry.

If you've ever owned or lusted after an Alfa Romeo, BMW, Fiat, Healey, Lancia, Aston-Martin, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, MG, Lagonda, Porsche or Volkswagen (among others) you have Max Hoffman to thank. Hoffman was the original distributor of all these marques.

It was Hoffman who encouraged Mercedes to build the 300SL (Gullwing) coupe. It was Hoffman who, in the early seventies, persuaded BMW to put a 2.0 liter engine in their 1600 2 door sedan, thereby creating the BMW 2002, the car that, arguably, created the sports sedan market, and, unarguably, gave BMW its modern reputation for building some of the worlds best sport sedans.

As a kid and a budding car geek, I would read almost any book, magazine, brochure, whatever I could get my hands on, that pertained to cars. Max Hoffman's name kept coming up as the distributor of almost all of the cars I admired the most.

Hoffman did business the old fashioned way. It's been said that he did most of his deals with a handshake and few written contracts. He made his money the old fashioned way, too. He would find a niche in the automobile market and fill it with a quality car at a fair and reasonable (but not necessarily inexpensive) price. (Hoffman made quite a bit of money, too. Enough to have Frank Lloyd Wright design his house and his Manhattan showroom. Hoffman once bragged that one year he paid more taxes than anyone else in the US - A fact he was proud of and did not look at as a burden)

What got me thinking about Hoffman was a recent post I wrote. I mentioned going to a car show in Vermont this past summer. While there I talked to a man who casually mentioned that he bought his first Jaguar directly from Max Hoffman. That caught my attention. I asked him what he remembered about Hoffman. He didn't remember much. He did remember that he traded in a Ferrari on the Jag, a move he has regretted ever since.

I thought I'd write a little piece about Hoffman. I went to the internet to do some research. Unbelievably, there is very little info about him. The 3 or 4 articles I found were teases, giving us glimpses but nothing solid. It's kind of sad that characters like Malcolm Bricklin and John DeLorean have article upon article (and a book in DeLorean's case) written about them, but a man like Hoffman has so few... I guess in order to be really famous you need to steal money from a government, bankrupt a company or two and get caught with a pile of coke. Hoffman never did any of that. All he did was have a great career introducing some of the worlds greatest cars to America. He deserves more acclaim.

Click on the links below for more info about Max Hoffman

Automotive Hall of Fame Article

2007 New York Times Article

Hemmings Motor News 2006 Article

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