[Editor’s Note: This piece comes to us from journalist, author and long-time friend of Hemmings Myles Kornblatt. He’s working on a book about the life of auto importer extraordinaire Max Hoffman, so we’re asking the Hemmings Nation to share any Hoffman-related stories directly with him.]
Mercedes-Benz was not too happy when they discovered one of their Maryland dealerships was a clothing store, where the only showroom was reserved for men’s suits. And they were equally displeased about a Florida outlet that was little more than a tent.
This was the 1950s, and Mercedes-Benz was just beginning to find their footing in the USA again. Max Hoffman was in charge of the distribution, and more than anyone else, the path to America led through him.
Hoffman represented Jaguar, Porsche, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Fiat, Lancia, BMW, and many other European car brands during the decades following WWII. He pushed for distinguished now-classics like the Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing, Porsche Speedster, BMW 507, and Alfa Romero Giulia Spider. There was glamour in his cars, even when business was sometimes done under a tent.
While Mercedes was less than impressed to find out some of their dealers were as permanent as a campsite, this was really more about locals acting as gateways, referring sales back to Hoffman’s main dealerships. A Hoffman-owned outlet was the exact opposite of roughing it. He sold cars with style, and even commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright for the famous Park Avenue showroom in New York.
Hoffman built a reputation as an effective middleman, and as the car companies he represented became more successful under his watch, the less they needed their go-between. When it was inevitably time to say goodbye to Hoffman, he showed his teeth with everything from lawsuits against his suppliers to allegedly threatening executives with a mob hit.
However, Hoffman also had a very good reason to be defensive. He understood the American market, and he pushed manufacturers specifically for cars that would strike a chord and make everybody involved richer. Hoffman was sometimes the hero, sometimes the villain, but more often than not, the unseen puppet master behind some of today’s best classics.
He has been gone for nearly forty years, and so his legacy will rely on those he touched. I’m on the hunt for all information for an upcoming book. If you knew Max Hoffman, if you worked at a dealership he supplied, or if your classic has Hoffman Motor Co. in its history, please reach out to HoffmanStory@gmail.com.