Whether racing thoroughbred horses, bankrolling professional golfers or selling obscure imported cars, Kjell Qvale has never been afraid of a long shot.
The 84-year-old dealer, distributor and importer estimates that he has sold more than a million cars during 55 years in the car business, many with names you've never heard.
Things sometimes worked out brilliantly. For 35 years he was the Volkswagen distributor for the northwest United States. At his peak, Qvale was wholesaling 2,000 Beetles a month.
Other times they worked out disastrously - like when he tried importing the Jowett Jupiter many years ago. Or, more recently, when he underestimated the regulatory hurdles that went with building the Qvale Mangusta sports car.
But he waves off the failures.
"I don't worry about the mistakes I made," Qvale said in an interview at his British Motor Cars operations in San Francisco, a palatial former Packard dealership that now sells Jaguars and Land Rovers.
"I've done more right than wrong," he says. "I'm an eternal optimist who doesn't mind taking a chance - although that can be deadly."
Kjell Qvale (pronounced "SHELL kah-VOLLEY) has touched lots of people in the car business.
"The thing that separates Kjell is his intensity level," says Charlie Hughes, former president of both Land Rover and Mazda's North American operations. "He is a gentleman, but you don't get his successes without having a very tough side. Some of the things he did seem common sense now, but they were very risky when he did them."
Hughes recalls receiving a letter from Qvale every four or five months "pointing out the things Land Rover was doing that were positively daft, as well as his solutions, which were always extremely well thought-out."
Qvale's son Jeff now runs the daily operations of British Motor Cars. But Kjell is still an active strategic adviser. His other son, Bruce, has a rapidly expanding Honda-Subaru-Audi showroom on the other side of the bay.
"I'm too old to chase anything now, including women," Qvale says, his flinty blue Norwegian eyes giving off a sharp twinkle.
Qvale still arrives at work every morning at 8:30. He takes the steps to his second-story office two at a time. He plays three rounds of golf a week - only recently succumbing to using a cart.
He is hardly your typical 84-year-old. And he's not your typical car distributor, either. Selling cars has been just one part of a life of adventure and entrepreneurship. The auto business seems almost like a sideline compared to how his name reverberates in America's turf clubs. His record as an owner of racehorses may be better than his track record with car franchises.
And his early sponsorship of professional golfer Jim Colbert is well known in golf circles.