Go See Cal

Dale Fehringer

© Copyright 2015 by Dale Fehringer


Photo of Cal with his "tiger."

If you want a car or truck, go see Cal.

If you want to save a buck, go see Cal.

Give a new car to your wife,

She will love you all your life.

Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal.

Anyone who lived in California in the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s is probably familiar with that TV ad jingle, which was sung to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” Behind the ads was a car dealer named Cal Worthington, typically dressed in a cowboy hat. Worthington’s ads always started with the line, “Hi, I’m Cal and this is my dog, Spot.” That was a parody of a competitive car dealer who appeared in ads with a German Sheppard named Storm. But instead of a dog, Worthington appeared with exotic animals such as a whale, elephant, or tiger. The ads turned him into a cult celebrity, and gained him appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and other TV programs and movies.

Worthington’s ads saturated California TV airwaves for decades, and a generation grew up knowing their problems would be solved if they went to see Cal. He sold a lot of cars — more than a million of them by his count — and at one time in the 1960s he owned 29 dealerships from San Diego to Anchorage.

Calvin Coolidge "Cal" Worthington had humble beginnings. He was born November 27, 1920 in Bly, Oklahoma, a small town that no longer exists, one of nine children in a dirt-poor family that moved around the southwest to find work. His family lived in a small house with no plumbing, little food, homemade clothes, and no shoes.

He dropped out of school at 13, worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression, and enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942. They trained him to be a pilot, and he found he loved flying. During World War II, Worthington flew B-17 Flying Fortresses on bombing missions over Germany, and earned a Distinguished Flying Cross and the rank of Captain. After the war, he tried to become a commercial pilot, but lack of a college degree disqualified him, so he sold his car and used the money to buy a gas station in Corpus Christi, Texas. That venture didn’t work, but he sold used cars on the side and established his first car dealership.

Eventually, Worthington moved to California, bought a Hudson dealership in Huntington Park, and began making radio and later TV ads to sell his cars. He was the top-selling Dodge dealer in the U.S. through the 1960s, but his business was hit hard by the oil embargo of the 1970s. To supplement his income, he sold motorized pogo sticks and delivered traffic reports to radio stations from a helicopter that he piloted. He rebounded in the 1980s, selling cars and acquiring ranches, developing shopping centers and an office building, and making appearances on TV and in movies. He became rich and famous.

But his personal life was less successful than his business life. He was married four times, and each marriage ended in divorce. He shrugged it off and told the press he didn’t do anything well … he just stuck with it.

He continued to fly most of his life, often piloting his own planes to his car dealerships or to film TV commercials. “I never liked the car business,” Cal often said. “I just kind of got trapped in it after the war. I didn’t have the skills to do anything else. I just wanted to fly.”

Worthington died September 8, 2013, at age 92, at his ranch in Orland, California. He was called an advertising genius, which I’m sure he would deny. More likely, he would probably say he had just done his “thing,” found a way to make a living, and entertained us in the process. 

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