By Geoff FitzGibbon…..
I encountered many unusual things when I sold Citroën cars in the early 1970s in England, but none more so than the GS sale I will never forget.
It started simply enough: a very nice couple came in on a Saturday to buy a GS Club C-Matic. He was a 40-something professional type, and she was a considerably younger and absolutely stunning blonde lady. The prospective purchase was to be a gift from her partner, while she traded in her old vehicle.
After our very positive test drive and run through of the car, I looked over her trade-in. It was an older Ford wagon that drove well enough, but it was not the sort of car we would resell: it would be sold into the wholesale market if we made the GS sale.
The three of us then sat down to figure out the final details of colour, trim, accessories, special add-ons, finances, etc. Fortunately, the colour of a car we had in stock, Bleu Camargue, was just what the lady wanted.
Every option I suggested to the lady was agreed to and enthusiastically encouraged by her boyfriend:
“A Sun-roof?” Sure.
“Under seal and rustproofing?” Why not?”
Top-of-the-line stereo?” Of course.
“Rear fog lamps?” A must have.
“Additional sound-proofing?” You bet.
And so it went, on and on.
This was a first for me: never had such a sale been so easy.
I was racking up the increasingly juicy commission in my head with every option she chose. Having run out of anything else to include, I calculated the final cost. This GS would cost more than a new D Super 5 with all its factory options!
Neither of them seemed fazed by the price or the trade-in value, so we went ahead with the paperwork for a cash sale; no financing would be needed.
He insisted the car was registered in her name; she beamed at the suggestion. The lady chose her license plate from the list we had been issued from the Ministry of Transport and we agreed they would take delivery on the following Saturday morning.
In response to my request for a deposit, the gentleman happily pulled out his cheque book and started writing. He then paused and suggested that, instead of writing the deposit cheque now and another cheque for the balance on Saturday, why not have him give me one cheque for everything today, which would be dated for the next Friday?
That was a reasonable suggestion for those (more honest) times. We did accept payment in that way quite often, and so I readily agreed.
The couple left very happily. The lady looked adoringly at her partner as they drove away. I arranged for the car to be prepared and took the cheque and sales paperwork over to our accounting department.
The buyers arrived early on the Saturday. He seemed somewhat tired but she was glowing. I took her old car to the back of the lot – ready for a wholesale buyer to collect it on Monday – and brought the new one down to the forecourt. She inspected the new car, I went through the handbook and the controls with her, showed her where the spare wheel and jack were, how to check the oil, and so on. A very happy lady drove away, closely followed by her partner in a smart-looking BMW.
That weekend was like the run-up to Christmas for me, as I went over in my mind what I would do with the unexpected windfall of the commission from that GS sale. My happy musing extended as far as 9:30 AM on the following Tuesday, when the GM came over to my desk.
“Slight problem, Geoff. The cheque for the GS has come back from the bank. Call that guy, will you?”.
I called his office immediately. The receptionist told me he wasn’t there. I naturally asked when he would be back, to which she replied that he “really, really wasn’t there”: he and his family had flown out to New York City over the weekend; he had been transferred by his company from the UK to the US Head Office.
Feeling panic setting in, I quickly called the other number I had for them, the lady’s phone. I was reminded of the proverb about “Hell hath no fury”, etc., when she picked up. She also had just discovered her boyfriend had gone away suddenly.
After she calmed down somewhat, she told me the story: they had been having an affair for some time. He was supposedly leaving his wife and moving in with her later that week. The GS was to have been a celebratory gift. She had not heard from him since Sunday, but she eventually had found out she had been most cruelly and deceitfully dumped.
My request that she return the car, because we had not actually been paid for it, provoked a further hurricane of anger, so I ended the call and reported back to the GM.
“Leave it with me, Geoff.”, he said. He stopped me as I was leaving his office, and asked me to contact Citroën UK with the car’s manufacturing number and order a copy of its keys, which I did; the keys arrived the next day.
I never knew exactly what happened after that but, two days later, the local police CID Inspector and his sergeant dropped by while I was speaking with the GM. I wandered away at that point but still managed to pick up the gist of their conversation. The GS had been stolen from the lady’s driveway overnight, apparently. Our dealership was the prime suspect.
The GM expressed his disbelief and sympathy, disclaimed any knowledge of such skullduggery, and invited the police to look around for the car. They took a cursory look in the back lot, finding nothing. The Inspector took the GM to one side privately, after sending his sergeant back to their car. By hiding between two vehicles, I heard most of the conversation clearly:
“OK, Roy. I know you took the car, and I know why. I will give you 2 days to sort it out and get her to drop any charges; otherwise, it will get serious. OK?”
“Got it, Frank.”
I subsequently found out the GM and our Sales Manager had “liberated” the GS during the early hours by using the spare keys I had ordered. Legal? Definitely not. Justified? Possibly. The likelihood in the circumstances of getting either payment for the car or getting the vehicle back was so remote that desperate measures had been required.
I was then assigned the less than happy task of negotiating a resolution with the spurned lady. She had regained most of her composure by this point, realizing her lover had screwed everyone, not just her – which somehow made us comrades of a sort. Without acknowledging the dealership ever had a role in the disappearance of the car – which I learned had been safely parked overnight in a nearby farmer’s barn – I agreed with her we would make things work out for her:
Her Ford had been sold to the wholesale trade already, but we had several good, used cars that were of a similar value. We could offer her one of those instead, any one of which would be a superior car to the Ford, plus we would provide her with a special payment of a few hundred pounds to ease the overall situation for her.
She agreed to the proposal, and I dropped by her apartment later that day to nullify the original sale and the Citroën’s registration, etc. She collected her replacement car a few days later after withdrawing her complaint to the police.
The dealership came out of that one overall quite well, although all thoughts of my juicy commission had disappeared like morning mist after the sun comes up.
I tried everything to sell that darn GS to any likely buyer, despite whatever vehicle they initially wanted, but to no avail. It literally was the most expensive GS anyone had ever sold, at least as expensive as a D-Super.
Our Sales Manager finally sold that GS Club a few weeks later. I still felt too bad to check what he sold it for.
Another lesson learned well: never again did I agree to accept a post-dated cheque.
What happened to the devious guy who went to the States I never knew, but I suspect he likely caused chaos wherever he went; a compulsive con-man.
Quite entertaining. Very well written. An absolute capsule in time in the International auto industry.