Me, Spiro, a used Benz, and the crime scene van
It’s February, and you know what that means, but I don’t have any history to share with you. Just a story. The saga of Best Coast Motorsports was made up of many stories. Some of them dangerous, some of them mildly illegal, and some just plain fun. This one is mostly fun, but is also shows how connected the discount-luxury game is here in Charlotte.
It was a couple miles down Independence Boulevard, a couple buildings down from the Lexus store. A store run by a guy of incredible character. I’m going to use his actual name for a couple of reasons: because he’s deceased, and because it’s a story he’d love to hear retold. Spiro was just that kind of guy.
The story starts with business as usual. Spiro and my partner Gerald had known each other for years in the local Greek community. “Friend” is a word to be used loosely with Gerald, especially if money is involved, but they’d known each other forever. Spiro’s little building down the street was never intended to be glamorous and his inventory was a little different than ours. His thing was to hit the auctions and pick out vehicles that had the look but could be sold cheap.
Case in point: the W221 S550s he would buy typically had over 100k miles, so he was selling mostly $18-24K examples while we typically sold $27-33K examples. In 2014 that made a huge difference in the quality of vehicles for sale. What that also meant was his financing options were laser focused on buy-here-pay-here, deep subprime lenders, and the independent wealth of drug dealers with more cash than brains.
From time to time Spiro picked up cars that were decent, mostly so he could drive them himself, but when it came time to sell them his normal customer didn’t have the capacity to buy them. Most of the time this wasn’t an issue, because periodically someone would wander into the shop who had their own financing via mainline bank or credit union. But every once in a while he’d get customers who were looking for the whole solution from his dealership: better grade of car, better grade of bank. This is where Best Coast came into the equation. We had the banks with programs for people with prime credit, and Spiro had the car, and we mixed these two things together was lucrative for everybody.
What we’d do is enter into a wholesale deal with Spiro: on paper his store sold us the car for whatever they had in it. We’d secure the financing and other products for their customer. We’d then split the total profit of vehicle markup and bank kickback with them in exchange for our services. It was a simple recipe and it usually functioned pretty smoothly, covering some pretty cool cars that way from Z06 Corvettes to a W12 Audi A8.
One cold Saturday evening a call came in from Spiro’s right hand man Jason. The information sounded promising so we told them to make the trip up the street. Spiro, Jason, and the customers arrived in a black-on-tan S550 with a panoramic roof and sport package. Spiro had an interesting look to him; he was about 5’8” and kept a tan year round, and had strong features that would make Rocky Balboa’s face look soft. He and Jason both dressed the same: brightly colored oxford shirts, bootcut denim, and tennis shoes stereotypically worn by middle-aged Corvette owners.
The customer was a young black guy about 27 if I remember correctly. He had a good factory job in Hickory, about an hour outside of town. His father, who was in his in early sixties, accompanied him. This prospective used-S550 owner had very little credit, his home belonged to his parents, but his income was more than enough to afford a brand-new S550. Not going to bore you with the details, but Tom was confident as hell he’d get approved, even though all the bank calls were pending still. We signed him up at a rate about 3 points higher than we figured the banks would give us, allowing for plenty of profit margin on all sides, and let him roll away in the Benz. Everyone then went off to their respective corners of the world for the rest of the weekend.
Come Monday morning, I’m rolling into Best Coast like any other day. I cut on the coffee machine, the televisions, and finally my computer. I logged onto the Dealertrack system—and just like most Mondays I had bad news. No one had approved the loan on the Benz, at least not at a rate within the realm of human understanding. I was annoyed but not surprised. I called my partner Tom since he’d been the one to let the car roll.
“Yo, what do you want, putz?”
“Tom, are you near a computer?”
“Sure you are. Let me guess. You’re still at home with a needle in your arm?”
“What do you want?”
“Look nobody approved that wholesale deal we did with Spiro. Well [REDACTED] did, but the rate makes no sense.”
“Great. Just great.”
“This is on you, man. Get in here and fix this.”
An hour later, Tom strolls in after I’d got off the phone with the rep from each bank that turned our guy down. None of them wanted to touch his limited credit history no matter how squeaky clean he was or how much money he made to back it up. Tom fought it all week to get the deal done … well, that’s not true. In fact he just forgot about it then waited until it was too late to come up with a Plan B. Which mean that Plan B was gonna be on me. I ended up calling the customer directly and asking if his dad would co-sign so I could solidify the rate we signed him up at. After a bunch of honestly unnecessary back and forth, that Thursday afternoon we had the deal approved and ready to be signed up again.
Well this is where things went slightly askew. Hickory is about a 140-minute round trip from us, and the customer did not want to make it. He felt like the inconvenience wasn’t his own fault. He was partially right, so I spoke to Spiro, who decided we’d travel up to Hickory the next night and get this all over with.
Friday comes and after a pretty uneventful day, Spiro arrives in a S55 AMG and I get behind the wheel. We got to the house in Hickory by 8 o’clock and got all the paperwork together in 30 minutes. Spiro asked the customer what there was to do on a Friday night in Hickory and the response was:
“Well there is one place they’re always jumping on Friday.”
Me and Spiro got back in the old AMG machine and had an adult game of Peer Pressure. Spiro hit me with the “let’s have a couple of drinks and head back,” line. I caved and put the bar in my GPS.
I pulled the S55 in front of the bar between the full-sized pickups and away we went. I remember the first hour of us being there. I had a couple Yuenglings and listened to the local pop-country band play. Spiro went away and then reappeared with a local woman. He soon discovered the bar had Jägermeister chilled on a tap. The next thing I know, Jäger-bombs were sliding across the bar one after another.
My memory fails me at some point after that. I woke up the next morning in the passenger seat of the S55. Once I actually figured out where I was—on the shoulder of Route 321—I saw the flashing lights in the rearview mirror. Those lights belonged to a police crime-scene investigation van. My head was pounding like EDM music drifting out of a nightclub at one in the morning. I turned to Spiro who looked way better off than me even in middle age:
“What the … is happening?”
“We got pulled over a bit ago.”
“We’re on 321 … wait, what time is it?”
“I don’t know, seven in the morning? Calm down. He’s letting us off with a warning.”
“How fast were you going for that to pull us over?”
“I said … he’s letting us off with a warning.”
We pulled back onto US 321 after the officer gave us clearance to go. I stopped questioning anything and thirty minutes later I stumbled out of the Benz with the paperwork at Best Coast. I barely made it to the couch where I passed out face down the rest of the morning until Tom showed. I spent the rest of the day getting harassed by my partners who couldn’t care less how hungover I was, because it was Saturday and that’s the day we make money.
Spiro told me all the things I missed later. This is a family website so that’s where I’m going to pull the curtain across this tale … but suffice it to say that I still miss Spiro to this very day. For all the ups and downs, this is a business where no two days are alike, and you never walk out without a story.