Gary Daniels was 24 when hard-nosed European car distributor Max Hoffman made him a BMW dealer.
Daniels was ahead of the curve. It was 1974, and BMW of North America wasn't even established until a year later.
These days BMW is among the most coveted franchises in the United States -- the most coveted, according to a recent report by Presidio Group, a San Francisco financial services company that brokers dealership sales.
But back then BMW was making its first strides toward the top rank of world automotive brands, and you could pick up a franchise without much trouble.
Daniels, now 62, owns BMW and Mini of Allentown in Lehigh Valley, Pa., where defunct steel factories and textile mills have been replaced by massive hospitals and headquarters for corporations such as Crayola. Last year he sold 463 new BMWs and 347 new Minis.
But before he got in on the ground floor with BMW, he just concentrated on the floor.
Daniels learned the car business at his father's Daniels Cadillac store in Allentown, starting at age 14 by sweeping up and cleaning out shop drains. He eventually moved into the parts and service department and then onto the sales floor.
During college he grew infatuated with the Spartan but sprightly BMW 2002. That was not unusual for young car cognoscenti of the era, the kind who devoured car magazines. The lightweight 2002 had agile road manners and surprising performance.
At the University of Denver, Daniels took on some extracurricular work for his business professors and in the process learned how to do statistical analyses of consumer questionnaires.
In his senior year, Daniels developed his own questionnaire to ask university students what car make they most desired. BMW came out on top, even though the brand was still relatively unknown in the United States.
"I came home and did a presentation for my father," said Daniels. "My father, who was a dyed-in-the-wool GM man, thought it was a folly."