Unlike many of his Chicago car-selling colleagues, Al Piemonte didn’t offer a catchphrase at the end of his TV ads.
Instead, the auto pitchman put the focus on promises of the best price and best selection. And if his flurry of hand gestures wasn’t enough to attract viewers’ attention, then perhaps his steady supply of colorful sweaters might have caught their eye.
Mr. Piemonte, 83, died at Lake Forest Hospital early on Christmas Eve, his family said Friday. About a month ago, the Lake Forest resident came down with pneumonia and spent some time in the hospital.
“It was a natural death. He beat pneumonia, but his heart wasn’t strong enough,” said his son, Marco Piemonte.
The Melrose Park Ford dealership that bore the Piemonte name has ranked among the area’s best-known for nearly three decades, owing in part to the ubiquitous TV commercials starring Mr. Piemonte and his pledge of hassle-free car buying.
“I don’t know a dealer anywhere who didn’t look up to Al and admire what he did for the automobile business in Illinois. He brought new ways of advertising on TV and radio that helped all of us,” Bob Rohrman from the Bob Rohrman Auto Group told WGN News. “We were competitors, but we were friends. My heart goes out to his family. He was fantastic to the community and to the industry.”
Mr. Piemonte bragged about being on TV longer than other Chicago-area car dealers. In a mid-1980s ad, he made an appeal to those who couldn’t afford a $5,000 used car, talking about the 30 or 40 used cars he’d take in a week and sell for $300 to $2,000.
“If you need just basic transportation, cars that maybe have some dings and bangs but will run through the winter, come to Al Piemonte Ford in Melrose Park,” the younger-looking pitchman said.
In another ad, he offered a “peace of mind” guarantee on used vehicles. A few years ago, a spot featured an animated version of Mr. Piemonte touting sales at his Chevrolet dealership in East Dundee.
Price was a common theme in his commercials, including one that aired about five years ago and started with several video clips, Mr. Piemonte wearing a different loud sweater in three of them.
“Some things never change. You still won’t know you got the best price, until you get the Al Piemonte Ford price,” an older-looking Mr. Piemonte told viewers as a female announcer went on to tout a “special purchase” of 2010 Ford Focus cars, all for $100 down and $159 per month, plus the usual disclaimers found in fine print, of course.
Mr. Piemonte had six children, including a son, Gregory, who died of kidney cancer at age 3, said Marco Piemonte. He is also survived by two daughters, Mary and Alexandra, and sons Jeffrey and Patrick. Mr. Piemonte had six grandchildren.
“He was a man’s man,” Marco Piemonte said. “Ten people called me today and said he was like a second father to them.”
His third wife, Rosanna, was at his side when he died, his son said. “His only regret was leaving my mom behind.”
According to a March lawsuit, Mr. Piemonte had suffered ill-health in recent years. The suit, filed by business partner Todd O’Reilly — who said he owns 44 percent of the Melrose Park Ford dealership — accused Mr. Piemonte and his wife of using dealership funds to uphold his family’s lifestyle. O’Reilly contended the couple were trying to freeze him out of the business so Rosanna’s son eventually could run it. The suit was pending as of earlier this month, court records show.
On Friday, friends and family were remembering Mr. Piemonte and his passion for selling cars.
“He was a legend in the car business, and I know his dying wish was for us to keep the business going and make things happen and make sure all the families we employ stay employed,” Marco Piemonte said.
A wake is scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday at Cumberland Chapel, 8300 W. Lawrence Ave. in Norridge, and a funeral for Tuesday at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, 991 S. Waukegan Road in Lake Forest.
Source: Chicago Tribune