Dealer Dave Mungenast Sr. holds mostly import franchises, but his success story is all-American.
He started his career as a motorcycle mechanic in 1952, bought a Honda motorcycle store in 1965 and acquired his first new-car dealership, a Toyota store, a year later.
Along the way, he has acquired three other new-car franchises in the St. Louis area and one in nearby Alton, Ill., and raised a family, all while working as a stunt man in Hollywood and racing motorcycles.
Another chapter of Mungenast's story unfolds next week. As 1998 chairman of the American International Automobile Dealers Association, he will preside over the association's 21st annual Automotive Congress in Washington, May 18-19. About 800 dealers with import franchises are expected to gather to discuss and learn about policies, legislation and trade practices affecting their businesses. The event will culminate with the dealers meeting with legislators on Capitol Hill.
AIADA represents 10,000 import-nameplate dealers.
'I've had an interesting life,' said the seemingly tireless man who has crammed the achievements of two or three lifetimes into his 63 years. Mungenast is president of Dave Mungenast Automotive Family (Honda-Lexus-Acura-Toyota-Dodge) in St. Louis and owns a motorcycle and boat store. Mungenast Automotive sold about 3,200 new vehicles in 1997.
'I feel that I owe the industry a big debt. I'm fortunate to have started as a mechanic and ended up where I am today.'
Mungenast said his top priority as AIADA chairman is to continue to urge members to build relationships with local politicians.
That strategy came in handy for AIADA in 1995, when U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor proposed slapping 100 percent tariffs on 13 luxury cars. Mungenast said dealers reminded legislators that dealership employees and their families would be hurt most by the sanctions.
While there is no issue as pressing as the trade sanction was in 1995, Mungenast said dealers - import and domestic - should not let their guard down.
For instance, environmental laws have made waste disposal more costly for dealers to operate, and more stringent estate taxes have made it harder for dealers to pass their businesses on to their children, he said.
Mungenast was appointed a member of U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Richard Gephardt's economic development committee about seven years ago. Mungenast said he disagrees with Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat, on most political matters but that it is important for dealers to have a dialogue with all legislators.
'I'm a loyal supporter of Dick for what he does for the people he represents,' Mungenast said. 'But he needs to see the point of view of people supported by international-nameplate companies.'
IMPRESSED BY HONDA
Mungenast got his first glimpse of how the Japanese do things when he bought his Honda motorcycle store in 1965. During a trip to Japan that year, he visited Honda's plant and saw that the company built cars as well as motorcycles.
Mungenast was so impressed by the workmanship and design of the cars that he decided he would like to sell Japanese cars.
He got his chance a year later when he was awarded a Toyota franchise.
Mungenast rented a building for $325 a month and spent $2,200 on parts and a sign. He obtained a $10,000 line of credit that allowed him to floorplan six new Toyotas.
'People would come in and look at the car and ask where it was made,' Mungenast recalls. 'When I said Japan, they'd say 'no way.' '
That changed a few years later. The OPEC oil embargo in 1973 created long lines at gas stations and a hot market for small imports. 'By that time, the Japanese had more or less established themselves as making a quality product that got good gas mileage,' Mungenast said.
HOLLYWOOD STUNT MAN
While building one career as a dealer, Mungenast was pursuing another - as a Hollywood stunt man.
Drawing on his experience as a parachutist and underwater demolition expert from his stint in the U.S. Army Special Forces, combined with his love of motorcycles, Mungenast worked as a stunt man in about seven movies between 1975-84. His stunts included riding a motorcycle into the ocean, out of a flying airplane and down a flight of stairs. He was in three movies with Burt Reynolds, including Hooper in 1980, in which Mungenast plays a motorcycle cop who tickets Reynolds' character.
Mungenast says his stunt-man days are over, but he still loves to ride his motorcycle. He recently finished a 1,300-mile off-road trip.
'It keeps me in shape and clears the mind,' he said. 'I love it.'