“If you need a better car, go see Cal,” are a few lyrics to a jingle that’s likely still burned into memories en masse.
The iconic automotive dealer Cal Worthington died at 92 in 2013, and now his family will mark the end of a five-decade era as they finalize the sale of the dealership. It’s where many of Worthington’s zany (and convincing) commercials were filmed beneath the “Worthington Ford Long Beach” sign.
About 30 years ago, Nick Worthington remembers “awed and confused” reactions from his third-grade class when his grandfather presented his famous “My Dog Spot” commercials on career day (note: Spot was never a dog).
Recently, Nick said he showed them to his marketing class at Cal State Long Beach.
“They were equally awed and confused, so that feeling continues to this day,” Worthington told the Long Beach Business Journal, chuckling, as he remembered his grandfather.
“We’ve been in the news a bit lately,” said Nick, who is serving as Worthington Ford’s president for a few more days before it closes to transition to new ownership under another family-owned dealership chain.
The shop will officially close as Worthington Ford on Monday.
“Long Beach has been synonymous with the family name longer than I’ve been alive,” he said.
Many of the employees have worked at the Long Beach shop longer than he has.
What made Worthington a national, albeit offbeat, sensation were his wacky commercials in which a Stetson-sporting Cal—looking like he walked right off the set of “Dallas”— introduced a cast of animals from a tiger to a hippopotamus and beyond as “My Dog Spot,” drawing viewers off the couch and onto his lot.
“Worthington Ford in Long Beach—open every day ‘till midnight!”
Those commercials, which poked fun at other competing car salesmen, helped Worthington build his car dealership chain, which started in Los Angeles in 1951 and spread throughout the Southland and southwestern states.
Many might remember a commercial in which Cal balanced atop a small airplane. Nick remembers sitting on his grandfather’s lap as he flew his plane above the Worthington’s ranch in Orland, California, where Nick was raised.
“He had a Lear, he had a Mooney and the Cessna,” he said. “He would kind of trade through planes like he did cars, dealerships and ranches.”
Nick said his grandfather used the Learjet to commute between his various businesses and dealerships in Alaska and around Southern California.
But what made Cal a local sensation was his charm and genuine kindness, his grandson said.
“When his blue eyes focused on you, everybody was normally quite captivated,” Nick said. “But he really cared for the people around him, the employees will tell you.”
“Just the most loving caring person you could ever meet,” he said.
Many of the employees at Worthington Ford have been with the dealership since around the time it opened in 1974, he said.
So, Nick said it was nonnegotiable to transition to a buyer who would rehire all of his employees and treat them well. The Nouri/Shaver Group, family-owned since 1935, checked off all of the boxes he deemed necessary to be entrusted with the people who have worked for his family since before he was born, he said.
Since the news broke, the phone has been ringing off the hook at the store, he said.
“Just people calling in sharing memories … and favors that grandpa had done for them, you know, he let them use this or that or borrow this or that … or just that they love the commercials and will never forget them.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the number of years Worthington Ford has operated.