Jim Perkins still pushes the pedal
Ex-Chevy boss is driving force for Hendrick ventures
Jim Perkins heads two ventures at Hendrick Automotive. One reconstructs classic cars and race cars, and the other converts Camaros into street racers.
At 74, the former Chevrolet boss is taking North Carolina megadealer Rick Hendrick on a new entrepreneurial tear. Perkins heads a venture that will reconstruct classic cars and retired race cars for high-end enthusiasts. He also leads a second new venture that will convert new Chevrolet Camaros into street racers with throaty twin-turbo engines and modified performance specs.
The plan is to use Hendrick's ever-expanding motorsports resources to turn out the hot rods and market them around the country.
Perkins and Hendrick will unveil the Camaro business at the Specialty Equipment Market Association exposition, running Nov. 3-6 in Las Vegas. The project is a joint venture with East Coast engine designer Callaway Cars Inc.
Callaway is renowned in global hot rod circles for retuned packages such as the Sledgehammer Corvette, which clocked 0-to-60 mph in 3.9 seconds.
Perkins, who also helped create the Lexus brand during a four-year stint at Toyota in the 1980s, declines to reveal the price of the reconstructed classics. But they will be "substantially more" than $100,000, he says.
Factory good guy
"We think there's some interest out there for this among enthusiasts," says the Texan, who was held in high regard in General Motors dealer circles in the big-volume days of the 1980s.
Perkins ran all GM dealer relations at a time when Chevy alone had nearly 6,500 stores. He left to work at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. for four years, becoming executive vice president.
Perkins then returned to GM as head of Chevrolet in 1989 with a penchant for wearing cowboy boots and a zeal for touting Chevy's made-in-U.S.A. pedigree over its import challengers. He stoked truck sales, pushed Chevy to five NASCAR championships and six Indy 500 wins and was famous for handing out Chevy bow tie lapel pins featuring the word "Proud."
Perkins admits today that he can't seem to retire.
"I'm sort of like an old relative who comes to visit and won't leave," Perkins says from his office at Hendrick Motorsports in Charlotte, N.C.
Thankfully for Rick Hendrick, Perkins did not retire when he had the opportunity back in 1996. Perkins had joined GM as a warehouse stock sorter in 1960. And at 61, he retired from GM executive life and returned to his home in Fort Worth, Texas -- for all of 90 days.
Rick Hendrick brought him back as president and CEO of Hendrick Automotive Group, the nation's largest auto retailer at the time. Hendrick had built an automotive empire out of more than 100 dealer franchises and NASCAR programs.
But Hendrick, an entrepreneur himself with a history of bootstrapping his way to success, was battling both leukemia and legal problems in a federal investigation into payola at American Honda Motor Co. He brought in Perkins to figure out how to reposition the dealership group.
Perkins pulled Hendrick back from a plan to go public and sold some of the group's stores, getting to what he considered a more manageable 81 dealerships. He was succeeded as CEO of the dealer group in 2005 by longtime Hendrick manager Jim Huzl. Perkins became CEO of a newly created umbrella entity called Hendrick Cos.
"I've always loved racing," Perkins says. His office is on Hendrick's 100-acre, 12-building motorsports campus, close to the engine shop and in the same building as the Hendrick NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams of Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"There is a lot of brand consciousness with the Hendrick name," Perkins says. "Rick has a great opportunity to leverage that and broaden his business."
The Camaro venture will be a precursor to Hendrick Performance, the classics business that will be launched in 2010. That larger venture requires Hendrick Automotive to construct a building to do the work. Hendrick also is building a 55,000-square-foot public museum to house Rick Hendrick's car collection and NASCAR history.
Every two weeks, Perkins travels home to Texas. He also maintains a home in Paradise Valley, Ariz., which houses a fleet of vintage Chevrolets.
"I love to fish," he says of his off hours. "But right now, I'm having too much fun doing this."
You can reach Lindsay Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.