Michael Malamut was fixing neighbor’s cars while in high school to raise enough money to have one of his own. The local newspaper classifieds seeded that goal. Cheap cars could be fixed or lightly refurbished and sold for a profit.
Volkswagens were good targets because everyone wanted one in the ‘60s and there were few mechanics willing to repair them. Air-cooled Volkswagens led directly to early Porsche 356s and the profit margins improved.
College was Computer Technology, it included more car repair business for working capital. After graduation IBM offered a tour and a position in trouble-shooting and repair, but compared to fixing Porsches it didn’t pay enough. A better offer came from Bob Smith VW Porsche in Hollywood.
Malamut’s self-trained experience was not quite enough but he was offered a position in Foothill VW in La Canada preparing trade-ins for resale. That was his real experience. He had bought, repaired and resold VWs and Porsches for some time.
Bill Stubbs was the service manager and recognized the natural talent in his young mechanic. The concept of “diagnostics” was a new term for an old process, but took it into a more scientific realm.
Stubbs offered: “Want to go to school to learn diagnostics?”
AutoScan, the creators of a new device to diagnose engine function, was offering to train technicians. He considered the process: The diagnostic tech would submit a report to the service writer who would give the job to a line mechanic who would get the commission.
Malamut stayed with the trade-in repairs with the goal of having his own shop. He continued to buy and sell cars in the Los Angeles Times. On a memorable Sunday, a Porsche Speedster was offered without an engine for $600, a great car for the right price.
In exchange for two cases of beer, the Bob Smith engine shop assembled an engine from pieces of broken engines. The beautifully restored Speedster became Malamut’s signature suit.
A representative of U.S. Universal lubricants and acid neutralizing additives introduced a new unexpected venture. Malamut created a series of tests of his own, just to assure himself of the acid-reducing effectiveness of the products. Impressed, the rep arranged for the company executive staff to see and hear what Malamut had done and the enthusiasm by which it was explained.
A room full of smiles offered him a full-time job doing seminars and selling the products into fleet and dealership service centers. Malamut was soon top national salesman and was working with a team.
Aware of the new situation, his high school girlfriend (now his wife) wanted a new car. Her dad, coincidentally, was a Chevrolet dealer and made the purchase easy and friendly, a remarkable style of customer service.
Malamut offered his friends Jim and Helen, who showed such a gracious style in the business of selling cars at their Chevrolet dealership, a partnership that would allow Jim to sell any and every kind of car. Malamut stayed with U.S. Universal and his on-going success there.
The 1973 oil crises made the car business plan virtually impossible, dealers were cutting him out; back to the newspaper classifieds and an extended business in buying, refurbishing and reselling. From an expanding inventory of quality makes he created “Autoland.” It was a hit and the concept of renting fine used cars from the inventory was even more so — and “rent to buy” was a blockbuster.
Leadership in the renamed “CarsDirect.com” and “Internet Brands” fed the serial entrepreneur and insatiable innovator and allowed his own collection to pass 100 cars, including everything from the tiniest post-war family survival transportation to the most rare and best loved of the automotive enthusiasts’ world.
In search of a larger office space to house his growing administrative staff, it was suggested he simply purchase an office building. Additional office buildings and shopping centers across California and Texas quelled the entrepreneurial hunger to a degree, but not the appetite of the “Most Passionate Enthusiast” (an honor bestowed at the most recent Rodeo Drive Conocurs).
The compulsion to expand in the world of real estate now includes the vision of an elegant facility for restoration, storage, sales — and rentals — of historically important and simply enthusiast-loved cars. Stay tuned.
The Michael Malamut Collection is not a public museum, but it is available for car club groups and charity events. Book early and describe exactly what you expect of your visit: A guided tour with stories (every collector car has one and many are worthy of a book), tables with linen and fine dining among the cars, or just access and time.
This is an impassioned enthusiast’s collection of cars we all love. There are few priceless treasures; all are realistic temptations.
Photography by Larry Crane