California’s flashiest car dealership is officially gone for good

California’s flashiest car dealership is officially gone for good

The Worthington Ford dealership in Long Beach, Calif., is seen Sept. 9, 2013. The dealership has been sold and will no longer bear the Worthington name.

The Worthington Ford dealership in Long Beach, Calif., is seen Sept. 9, 2013. The dealership has been sold and will no longer bear the Worthington name.

Jeff Gritchen/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Californians looking for a car will no longer be able to “go see Cal”: The last Worthington dealership is no more. 

Generations of Californians grew up with Cal Worthington, the cowboy hat-wearing pitchman who became a local TV sensation. Commercials started with “Cal Worthington and his dog, Spot!” That dog was no ordinary pooch — Worthington would appear with a leashed tiger or another exotic animal. Sometimes he was accompanied by a chimpanzee wearing human clothes. 

The ads were usually shot at the Long Beach dealership he purchased in 1963. At the height of his car empire, he owned 23 locations in five states. That Long Beach dealership, the last to bear his name, has officially been sold, the Los Angeles Times reported

Grandson Nick Worthington told ABC7 the decision was “very sad,” particularly for longtime employees. “It’s a part of everyone’s childhood and life growing up here,” he said. “It’s hard to close that book for everybody.”

The Times reports that the iconic Worthington sign will come down by March 1; the new owner, the Nouri/Shaver Automotive Group, is changing the dealership’s name to BP Ford.

Car salesman Cal Worthington poses for a portrait with his

Car salesman Cal Worthington poses for a portrait with his “dog Spot” in 1976 in Long Beach, Calif. 

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

There are few TV pitchmen in California history as indelible as Cal Worthington. He was born in Oklahoma in 1920, growing up amid the horrific poverty of the Great Depression. When World War II broke out, he enlisted and became a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot. Worthington flew dozens of missions over Germany, eventually earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. 

He returned to the United States as a war hero but still struggled to make ends meet. According to Worthington, he caught the sales bug when he sold his own car for $500. He moved to California in the late 1940s and began buying car lots. He also continued flying recreationally, piloting his own private jet to visit his many dealerships. 

His ads turned him into a household name in the 1970s. He borrowed exotic animals, like tigers, elephants, hippos and more, from local circuses for the spots. The Worthington jingle, with the phrase “go see Cal,” was an unavoidable earworm.

Worthington died at the age of 92 at his ranch in Orland, California. The company has been under the management of his family in recent years.

“It may be the end for us in automotive. We’ve been really big in commercial real estate and agriculture for a while now,” Nick Worthington told ABC7. “My grandfather actually started that shift, so we just continued that.”

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