Credit a teen-age “labor dispute” involving weeds leading to Cabral Motors being Manteca’s oldest dealership in the same family entering its 61st year as Manteca celebrates the centennial of its incorporation as a city.
Founded by the late Bill Cabral in 1957, his son Don Cabral and grandson Grant Cabral are carrying on the traditions of customer service and fair deals that has prompted a number of families in Manteca and surrounding communities to be third and even fourth generation customers of the dealership at Yosemite Avenue and Union Road.
“He had a way with people,” Don said of his father, noting how easily Bill out people at ease.
Bill also had a great work ethic.
“When he started the dealership (Bill) would travel to farms in the area and talk to farmers about their needs to sell them cars,” Don recalled.
Many of those farmers were immigrants from Portugal. Bill, who was also of Portuguese heritage would converse with them as much as he could in their native language allowing him to build solid relationships allowed him to sell more workhorse International Harvester pickups in many years than pickups sold by the Ford or Chevrolet dealerships in Manteca.
Part of the loyalty that Cabral enjoys is because his son and grandson do exactly what he did — work even more diligently than other dealers would to get buyers into cars. Don said his father even carried his own paper on vehicle loans at times when banks wouldn’t lend to customers.
Yard care customer’s
refusal to agree to higher
price led to auto-related
job in Escalon for young Bill
Bill Cabral related in a 2008 interview how a labor dispute put him on the road to owning an auto dealership.
Bill was an industrious 13 year-old in Escalon back in 1945 where his family had moved from Oakland a year earlier. Bill had 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, Bill replied “a dollar.”
That was too rich for Mrs. Brayton’s blood. So Bill 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 Bill’s 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 during the Korean War.
It was there — after being sent for two weeks to sales school by Standard — that he got hooked on commission sales. He got commission on everything he sold — tires, wiper blades, and such — except gasoline.
After the service, Cabral figured he might try some of his skills acquired in the Army to go to work for PG&E
“Dad always wanted to be a mechanic,” Bill said.
PG&E, though, 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.
Sold first car to
Bill 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 Bill learned 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,” Bill recalled in a 2008 interview.
So Bill walked out to the curb and started talking to the man who didn’t get out of the car. He told Bill that he wanted a car just like the one he had but a newer one. Bill said he had a new 1954 model.
Bill recalled back in 2008 that the buyer said he’d take it without even asking the price.
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?
Bill’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 Jeep dealerships adding Chrysler in 1994, then Ram trucks and Dodge, and just recently Fiat. They are also an original Global Electric Motor (GEM) dealer with a solid reputation that brings them business and even service from locations often more than a 100 miles from Manteca.
The dealership also has one of Manteca’soldest signs.
The long expansive billboard-style sign on the eastern side of the lot has a modern wrap over that covers the original sign of the cowboy along with the Western Motors name — complete with a large cowboy lassoing a giant “W” — that greeted motorists driving West Yosemite Avenue for years.
“When he opened the dealership there were several builders across Yosemite Avenue that were building homes and one went bankrupt,” Don said. “So he went over and bought all the wood he could to make the sign.
The sign served a dual purpose as it blocked off cars from view that needed work.
Growing up, Don said wandering around the cars behind that sign was one of his favorite things to do.
Grant, like his father Don, started out in the family business detailing cars. But unlike his dad he didn’t go directly to work for the family business after college. Instead, he wanted to blaze his own path
He headed to San Francisco where he worked in various sales jobs before landing a spot on the sales force of the Van Ness Avenue Audi dealership.
While he enjoyed success as a salesman, he decided if that was what he was going to do it would make more sense being part the family business in Manteca.
And it is a family business in more ways than one. The dealership has many employees in service as well as sales that have been on the job for years.
Don noted that in an age of big dealers customers like dealing with a throwback such as Cabral Motors that is a family business that is more personable with customers, employees, and ownership spanning multiple generations. Cabral Motors at the same time has the latest service technology and offers express lube for oil changes and such.
Grant, just like his grandfather and dad, believes getting to know customers and going out of his way to understand their needs and wants.
Don is a 1974 Manteca High graduate. Grant graduated in 2005, also from Manteca High. Both are California State University at Chico graduates.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com