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The Chrysler New Yorker and the Autobahn

1980 was a year of change for me. In those 12 months, I sold my stereo equipment business, my house, and all the cars in the Minnick stable. I was leaving the business and house behind in Buffalo to head east for a new life in New York City. The cars, well, I didn’t need my faithful babe magnets anymore as I was getting hitched, too.

By jeff mason

May 19, 2021

Given my work experience up to that point, I was basically unemployable. If I was going to pay my bills, I had to find something unlike a traditional job to fit my unconventional skillset. I briefly toyed around with the idea of opening a home theater business because I had some background to offer there. I reasoned that I could take advantage of the fact that surround sound, multi-channel amps and big screen TVs were just starting to come onto the market. That idea didn’t last long as the proposition of going back into retail just wasn’t appealing to me. Maybe leaving so much behind wasn’t just about the change of address. I wanted to find something entirely new and interesting.

I Find My Path Forward

My connections at Aston Martin gave me the lead I needed. I hooked up with a headhunter who was searching for a highly entrepreneurial candidate. Check. The position was brand new and I could create my vision as head of the company’s finance and insurance department for military sales. Check. I’d be based out of Woodbury, Long Island, but traveling to the U.K. and Germany. A lot. Check!

My new employer was Overseas Military Sales Group. OMSG provides cars, motorcycles, and recreational vehicles to our military, diplomatic, Foreign Service people and the international business community overseas. The organization is big, with locations all over the globe. My mission was to lead development and launch of the Army Air Force Exchange Services auto service contract program based out of Frankfurt, Germany.

The interior of my company car aNew Yorker Fifth Avenue

Image courtesy of Barrett-Jackson

I got my company car at the start of a two-week European orientation. They gave me the keys to a top-of-the-line Chrysler New Yorker, Fifth Avenue Edition. How should I describe it? Given the abundance of burgundy and plush but cheap textures, I’d have to say the designer’s inspiration came from a brief visit to Times Square when it was the city’s red-light district. Even the landeau roof was burgundy, and padded in somebody’s idea of luxury, but not mine. I wanted something different but this was different in the wrong way.

This was the autobahn for Pete’s sake, the holy grail of roads in the land of BMW, Porsche, and Mercedes! I felt like a joke driving a pimpmobile that was all pimp and no mobile.

True, I’d had cars who’s color just didn’t appeal to me but this one went the extra mile. Trouble was, every inch of that mile was an argument with the road. When I got the car onto Germany’s autobahn, I felt like I was riding a dolphin by holding onto its fin.

Instead of finding a zen-like oneness with the ultimate driving experience, I was forced to concentrate just to keep the car straight and in its lane. Cornering required patience and practice because the leaf spring suspension would have been very familiar to pioneers traveling by covered wagon.

When I got the thing to top speed—80 mph—the stamped metal hood rippled in the wind. I was surprised each time I reached my destination with the hood still latched because I was sure it wanted to pop up in surrender to end the whole charade of driving.

This was the autobahn for Pete’s sake, the holy grail of roads in the land of BMW, Porsche, and Mercedes! I felt like a joke driving a pimpmobile that was all pimp and no mobile.

Change is a Part of Life

In 1978, Volkswagen Westmoreland Assembly opened a plant in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, near New Stanton. That was the loophole for which I had prayed. OMSG could only sell U.S. built cars and I had to represent that mandate with what I drove. When that factory opened, our customers were no longer limited to Chrysler or AMC products. More to the point, I could swap the burgundy pimpmobile (I swear the undercarriage was also burgundy) for black on Targa plaid Volkswagen GTI.

Volkswagen GTI hot hatch.

Image courtesy of German Cars for Sale

I could also play with the newest thing on the market: the hot hatch. My GTI would go 120 mph instead of maxing out at 80. The little car went like a little rocket ship. I started arriving at all my meetings early.

Robert P. Minnick is founder and CEO of the Piston Foundation. The cars in his life and the people he calls friends because of those cars inspired him to create a national car charity to fund skilled trade education in the classic car industry. He’d like nothing better than to know future generations can have car experiences as memorable as his own.

Support skilled trade education for future auto restoration technicians.


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