Bill Cabral — a man who parlayed a trust in people, an outgoing personality, and a work ethic second to none to found Cabral Motors in 1957 — has passed away at age 84.
Customers don’t simply have fond memories of Cabral who was in his element whenever he was on the dealership floor. Many have fierce loyalties spanning decades given how he would work with them to obtain a vehicle when other sellers wouldn’t.
He went the extra mile to make deals work and to make sure owning a vehicle bought from his dealership was a positive experience.
“He was a pistol,” son Bill Cabral recalled Friday of his father’s engaging personality that was accented with a quick wit and genuine concern for customers.
Bill Cabral related in a 2008 interview how a labor dispute put him on the road to owning an auto dealership.
Cabral was an industrious 13 year-old in Escalon with a long list of clients who he weeded yards and cut lawns for using a push mower.
One client, a Mrs. Brayton, paid him 35 cents an hour. He figured since he worked harder and faster than other boys who cut lawns that he should be paid on a per job basis.
When Mrs. Brayton asked what he had in mind, Cabral replied “a dollar.”
That was too rich for Mrs. Brayton’s blood. So Cabral did what labor does when it thinks it can get a better deal elsewhere — he quit and looked for a new job.
That was when Cabral and Ray Sciaroni — who remained lifelong friends — were shown how to detail a Roadster owned by Harry Lafayette who paid them $10 to do the job. They took their newly acquired skill and headed to the two Escalon new car dealers— a Ford and a Chevrolet store — and promptly got hired on a contract basis to detail new cars. That was the start of a 69-year auto career.
The Escalon High graduate worked at the Standard Oil station that once stood on the northwest corner of Yosemite Avenue and Main Street in downtown Manteca for 18 months prior to serving in the military.
It was there — after being sent for two weeks to sales school by Standard — that he got hooked on commission sales.
“I got a commission on everything I sold — wiper blades, tires — everything but gasoline,” Cabral recalled in 2008.
After the service, Cabral figured he might try some of his skills acquired in the Army to go to work for PG&E. But they wanted all new hires to work as straight laborers before working on electrical lines and such. The pay and work didn’t appeal to him so he went to work at Mike’s Ford owned by Mike Picinini who ended up founding the SaveMart supermarket empire.
Cabral went to work detailing cars and handling various tasks including watching the used car lot while the salesmen went on their coffee break. It was during the time he covered for a coffee break that he sold his first car — a 1946 Ford to Dale Mueller.
That opened the door to a salesman’s job with a $300 a month base pay plus a $5 commission for every new car sold, a $3 commission for every used car, and $15 for every truck deal he closed.
It was at Mike’s Ford that Cabral learned what makes a salesman successful — treating all customers with respect, knowing your product, and hard work.
One day an unkempt older man in bib overalls with a trashed 1941 Ford with several dogs inside pulled up to the lot at Mike’s Ford.
“I asked the other salesmen if they were wanted to wait on him and they said no because he didn’t look like he was worth the effort,” Cabral recalled.
So Cabral walked out to the curb and started talking to the man who didn’t get out of the car. He told Cabral that he wanted a car just like the one he had but a newer one. Cabral said he had a new 1954 model.
“He said he’d take it without even asking the price,” Cabral said.
He told him the price. The man promptly wrote a check that he took to Lucille Harris who handled Mike Ford’s books. Harris, along with her husband eventually founded Tuff Boy Trailers.
Harris called the bank to ask about whether the gentleman’s check was good. The reply came back — “what was he buying — the car or the business?
Cabral’s non-judgmental attitude and hard work is what he credited for repeat business and allowing what started as Western Motors used cars in 1957 ago to grow into the Northern San Joaquin Valley’s most enduring and successful Chrysler-Jeep dealerships that has since added Ram trucks and Dodge.
Funeral services are planned for Thursday, June 30, at 11 a.m. at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church.