A Look Back at Mel Farr, Superstar

By Jeffrey Bellant August 19, 2021 241
Mel Farr's 1972 Topps Football Card. Mel Farr's 1972 Topps Football Card.

I was not familiar with the term “buy-here, pay-here,” until I covered my first BHPH conference as a journalist in the early 2000s.

Coincidentally, that first event featured keynote speaker Mel Farr, a man I did know from my television.

As someone who was born and raised in the suburbs outside Detroit, I grew up watching Mel Farr’s auto dealership commercials on TV.

But before becoming a car dealer, Farr was a football player.

He was an All-American halfback at UCLA and the Detroit Lions made him a first-round draft pick in 1967, the year I was born.

Farr was named NFL Rookie of the Year and went to a couple of Pro Bowls before injuries cut short his career.

He obtained a Ford dealership in 1975 after retiring from football.

Farr built that franchise into a mini-empire, becoming at one point the largest black auto dealer in the country. The Detroit Free Press reported the Mel Farr Automotive Group had sales of nearly $600 million

My memory, however, starts with his iconic TV commercials, fitting for any car dealer.

Farr would stand at his lot wearing a suit with a Superman-like cape attached.

He billed himself as ‘Mel Farr, Superstar.’

The jingle was so addictive, it still sticks in my mind: ‘Mel Farr, Superstar, for a Farr better deal.’

Farr also had his own financing arm, Triple M. Financing Co. (named after his children) and became a pioneer in the use of starter-interrupt devices.

He was sued over starter-interrupt devices in the late 1990s, but eventually, those suits were settled in Farr’s favor. That paved the way for widespread use of starter-interrupts, which are such a big part of the industry today.

Farr eventually got into financial trouble and sold off his last new-car dealership in 2003. He died in 2015.

But his early success can’t be denied. Also, as a Ford dealer and as someone who financed the unbankable, he had great insight into the busines.

In 2002, when Farr spoke at that National Alliance of Buy-Here, Pay-Here Dealers conference, he commented on the industry.

“You can make a lot of money,” he said. “You can do a lot of good.”

He warned dealers against trying to squeeze the highest interest rates out of every sale.

Farr was also prescient about the future involvement of franchises in BHPH. 

“More new-car dealers are getting into the buy-here, pay-here business,” he said. “New-car dealers know there’s a lot of money to be made here, if you do it right.”

This was in 2002,

I wonder what Farr would think today.






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Last modified on Tuesday, 07 September 2021 18:12