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  • Automotive Essence

Mike's Search for "CJ" - His1969 Mustang Mach 1 Cobra Jet 428

Mike & CJ at one of many car shows they've been to during Mike's recent retirement

There is no time like the present to begin collecting the stories of those close to us and find out how a car may have shaped who they are. But where do we begin? There are several folks close to Jared and I, and many others who are well-known and intriguing to us, how would we decide who to speak with first. After considerable thought, we arrived at a decision - we would start the series with Mike Parent, he has been an advisor for us at Automotive Essence since his entire career has been devoted to implementing sales incentive programs to so many automotive brands. He is also a family friend of mine; in fact, Mike was the Best Man at my parents’ wedding. And last but not least, Mike is a guy who really appreciates cars.

The timing seemed right to start the series with Mike after he recently completed a lengthy quest to acquire his dream car “CJ” a 1969 Mustang Mach 1 Cobra Jet (“CJ”) 428. The Automotive Essential channel “Collect” is all about learning what makes some cars and brands more likely to be collected. Speaking with Mike was a logical first stop for the Collect series “Buyer’s Bliss”. At the time of this interview, significant restoration was underway for CJ to improve reliability and enhance performance, but it already looked stellar, catching the attention of many people on days when Mike would go for a drive around Morristown, New Jersey. As you will see Mike has owned many different cars over the years and has had an entire career in the automotive industry. For those of you catching up, please take a look at the “Buyers Bliss Interview: An Introduction” to learn more about the objective of this series.

Mike's 1969 Mustang Mach 1 Cobra Jet 428 "CJ"

Mike & my dad both began their careers working at Ford Motor Company working with dealerships in Northeast US, which had a significant impact on Mike’s interest in cars and likely his Ford fan roots. Since then Mike spent much of his career in the sales incentive environment primarily serving automotive manufacturers as clients most if not all of his career. Most Halloweens, Mike would travel to visit my family and during these visits I would always want to know what car Mike was currently driving. But I regrettably didn’t ask more about why certain cars were chosen beyond the fact that more often than not the brand of car in Mike’s garage mirrored the automotive brand of his client at that time. I came to realize that I didn’t know more about Mike’s automotive motivation, and that time is slipping by me fast as Mike recently retired.

I felt compelled to learn how Mike and many others have been impacted by the automobile before these stories are lost both of closed brands, but also while folks important to us are still with us. This would fit well with the Automotive Essence methodology in regards to the Collect channel. Brands may learn through these stories why a car is worth collecting and what inspires someone to work so hard in finding the car of their dreams.

AE: What is your favorite car you've ever owned (year, make, model, trim, color combination)?

Mike: I thought it might be beneficial for us if I provided some advance comments to your questions below as well as some additional background on the cars I have owned so you have some context for my answers. Given that I drove many (many!!) cars during my ten years at Ford, but owned none of them I have left these off of this discussion focusing only on cars I purchased. So, to recap the cars I have owned:

  • 1965 Galaxie 500 2 dr fastback (first car bought in 1969)

  • 1972 Mustang Mach 1(first new car when I started working full time at Ford))

  • 1979 Mustang Ghia (this car from Ford I bought when I left Ford)

  • 1983 Audi Coupe GT (Audi was a client then)

  • 1986 Porsche 944 (Porsche was a client then)

  • 1992 BMW 325is 2dr coupe (BMW was a client then)

  • 1999 Volvo C70 2dr coupe (Volvo was a client then)

  • 2005 Mercedes CLK 500 2dr coupe (you guessed it! Mercedes was a client then)

  • 2010 Mercedes E550 2dr coupe

  • 2016 Ford Edge (with CJ as my fun car I felt I needed a more practical other vehicle…particularly one with AWD for winter driving [living in NJ])

As you can see my purchases were driven heavily by which automotive clients I was working with at the time, but fortunately I called on high end European automotive clients so got to drive very nice cars which I was all very happy to own at the time.

My 1969 Mustang Mach 1 Cobra Jet 428 is, frankly, in a totally different category than the cars listed above so it needs to be looked at outside of these other purchases. Clearly this has been my most impactful purchase fulfilling my #1 retirement bucket list item. I have never had a car which I received so much positive feedback on whenever I go (plus along the way to and from places). The downside is it is a very expensive car to maintain and has spent a lot of time in the repair shop (where it currently is again needing a new radiator and extensive transmission repairs) so that has dimmed a little bit the incredible fun and joy I have had owning it. But, overall I am still very glad I made this purchase and trust I have these mechanical issues all sorted out allowing me to drive it increasingly more miles in each of the coming years.

Therefore, my responses below do not take CJ into account as no other vehicle purchase I have made in my lifetime comes anywhere near the impact CJ has already had on me just in the few months I have owned the car.

So… to answer your question, of the cars listed above (again not counting CJ) I guess it had to be the Porsche 944 which was Gold with a dark brown interior and 5 speed manual transmission.

Mike & his 1986 Porsche 944

Why did you want that car?

Mike: Calling on Porsche-Audi as my major automotive account (they were a combined automotive operation back then) I got to drive the 944 at a dealer event and fell in love with the car and committed to myself at that show I would own one someday & I did!!

What was your one favorite feature of the car (design, technology, performance, convenience), why?

Mike: I really liked the low-slung look of the car and it was a very well balanced vehicle mechanically and ride-wise. The appeal and prestige of the Porsche brand also played a big part in how I viewed the car.

Do you believe that a vehicle is an extension of your personality? If so, what does your favorite car say about you?

Mike: Yes, although at first I almost felt I was not worthy of such a nice car, but soon got over that feeling! I like well-styled cars that are taught, efficient and confident...hoping that I also mirror those traits.

Did you let go of the car? Why? What would have been needed for you to keep it?

Mike: I had it for six years and maintenance costs were escalating, plus I was then no longer calling on Porsche as they had moved. But, in calling on BMW at the time, they were pressuring me heavily to buy a BMW. At that point I had no real option other than trading in the Porsche on a BMW.

Mike & his 1992 BMW 325is 2dr coupe

If you were given the opportunity to replace that car with any other car, for free, would you take that offer? If not why not? If yes what car would you choose and why?

Mike: Again, my purchase decisions back then were heavily influenced by specific automotive clients I was doing business with at the time and so my options regarding cars to buy were in reality very limited.

Describe your prized moment with your favorite car?

Mike: I had the car for less than a week and was wondering if I should have spent that amount of money ($26K which at the time was a lot for a car) on a very impractical car. Then the first time I filled it up with gas a good-looking girl in a car across from me at the gas station came over and told me I had a really cool looking car. At that point I knew I had made the right decision in buying the Porsche!!!

What is one word that comes to mind when you think of your favorite car?

Mike: Sporty

Mike Parent with his 1983 Audi Coupe GT

Why cars?

Mike: In response to your question of “Why cars” for a career for me it is a fairly involved story but I will try to not make it into a novel.

  • Coming of age in the early 60’s my interest in cars was something all of my friends and myself shared. We would for example sneak into dealer lots when they were closed on Sundays in the early fall when the new models were just being shipped to get an up close look at them before their formal introductions.

  • I started buying the "car buff" books who were popular at the time (Motor Trend, Car Life, Car&Driver) to keep up on what was happening product and marketing-wise. In fact, I once had a letter to the editor of Motor Trend published back in the mid-60’s and years later found the issue at an automotive flee market so I have it back in my car magazine collection.

  • I was particularly interested in Ford since they were getting heavily involved in all types of racing (NASCAR, Indy Car, Drag & LeMans)

  • My interest in working in the automotive industry in general and Ford in particular was sealed with the introduction of the Mustang in April 1964. There were cover stories in both Time & Newsweek the week the car came out featuring Lee Iacocca, who is considered the “father” of the Mustang. I found these issues on eBay not too long ago and have them back in my possession. I also went to the Ford exhibit at the 64/65 NY World’s Fair multiple times which further solidified my interest in working for Ford.

  • So at 14 years old I already knew what I wanted to do career wise and therefore wrote to Ford (my mom typed the letter for me) inquiring about working for them and surprisingly they responded back with several booklets on sales & marketing careers at Ford including their College Co-op program which led me to apply. I was accepted to Northeastern University in Boston and also accepted into the Ford Co-op program where I worked at the Ford Division NY District Sales Office when I started my full time career after graduation (and that is where I meet your father).

While I had envisioned spending my entire career at Ford that did not happen….but the good thing about working at BI for the balance of my career after Ford, was the fact I could stay engaged with the automotive industry with clients including VW, Porsche, Audi, Volvo, Subaru, BMW, and Mercedes.

So there you have it. Do you think it has the makings of a major motion picture (ha!) and if so I wonder who should play me and who should play your dad!!

Finally, a somewhat random question, what's your favorite car "hack" (cleaning trick or maintenance trick)?

Mike: I always keep my wheels very clean and my tires shined as I think having good looking wheels and tires really enhances the look of any car, but particularly the cars I had as I always ordered the nicest wheel/tire package available.

CJ on display and honored in Mike's garage

I recall most of the cars Mike has listed and can remember where I was when he answered my question “what car are you driving now?” as I asked him over the years. It was Halloween when I was in third grade in Bloomfield Hills, MI when Mike told me about his gold 944. The thought in my mind then was how that particular Porsche model was so unique from the 911 in terms of design. In fact it really stands out to me whenever I see one still today that my friend Mike had one of those!

There are so many people who have been in my life and influenced my interest in cars. Mike certainly is one of them. He is a great friend and such beneficial supporter to Jared and I as we have been working through this Automotive Essence endeavor, which has become a labor of love for us the past 10 years. Just a quick side note, when Jared and I were roommates in college at The University of Iowa we needed something to put up on one very large wall in our 5 bedroom apartment. My roommates and I were worried that there wouldn’t be anything we would want or could find to fill the space. Just a couple months in to living there just before my 21st birthday, a package arrived in the mail and it was from Mike Parent. Enclosed in the package he had sent me a folded Porsche flag that was significant in size.

This Porsche flag as mentioned in a previous post, is one of the key items inspiring our initial research soon becoming the Automotive Essentials methodology. This Porsche flag hung from the 1983 Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance where Porsche was the featured marque and at the final night dinner Mike set up for Porsche, it was hanging over the stage where luminaries such as Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, Jackie Icyx (who had won LeMans that year), and even Ferdinand Anton Ernst ("Ferry") Porsche's son (grandson of founder, Ferdinand Porsche) were in attendance. Mike had to rescue it after the dinner as some of the attendees at the dinner where trying to jump up and tear it down for their collection.

And wouldn’t you know this same flag fit the space on that college apartment wall perfectly! I still have the flag, though it is much harder to find a proper place to hang it living with my wife Kathleen, than it was living with 4 engineers in college.

We set out for our first Buyer’s Bliss interview thinking we would learn why “CJ” is so desired by Mike as a long-term collection piece and we learned that it is a car that represents his career roots and an era that cars affected his life most when American muscle cars ruled the streets. But CJ didn’t fill an empty parking space in Mike’s heart and mind as it relates to cars because Mike has had a fair share of cars he has enjoyed. It turns out for Mike it isn’t just one car involved in his life, but one life - his life - involved with cars.

Thank you Mike,

Jared & Jim

Do you have or know someone with a great car story send us an email we'd love to hear it and draft a story to share it.

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