80 Years and Still Selling
San Rafael's Jack L. Hunt Automotive really is your grandfather's car lot
Brothers Brad Hunt and Jack Hunt III, carry on a San Rafael automotive tradition started by their grandfather in 1927.
Would you buy a used car from this man? Many people do. One buyer was country music superstar Tim McGraw. “A few years back, McGraw’s manager was driving through San Rafael around midnight,” says Jack L. Hunt III, “and he saw this bright red ’54 Corvette sparkling in the showroom.”
Early the next morning, he called Hunt to ask the price. “He told me the buyer would be a ‘music guy,’” says Hunt, “and that the price—it was just under $30,000—sounded ‘just fine.’ An hour later, the manager came by with a cashier’s check.” The car was immediately trucked to Oregon, where McGraw, seeing it for the first time, gave it as a present to his fiancée, country singer Faith Hill.
Not all Hunt’s sales are as colorful and quick, he concedes, “but I always manage to have fun doing what I do.” His grandfather, the original Jack L. Hunt, started selling cars on Fourth Street in San Rafael in 1927. “He was a Chrysler Plymouth dealer who eventually turned the business over to my dad, Jack L. Hunt Jr., and Dad built this showroom in 1950.”
In one typical visit to that 60-year-old glass-enclosed showroom, parked front and center is a sky-blue 1956 Cadillac Coupe deVille with a snow-white top and just over 36,000 miles on its odometer. “There’s at least $10,000 worth of chrome on this beauty,” says Hunt, eyeing his merchandise with admiration and pride. “We’re asking $38,500.” On one side of the Caddy is an orange-and-yellow 1954 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 with a custom sunroof; on the other, a 1927 Franklin four-door with an aluminum body and wheels with wooden spokes. “These are really fun cars,” Hunt says.
By that, he means his vintage wheels aren’t meant to measure up to Pebble Beach Concourse perfection. “These cars are for people to drive—maybe not every day, but at least to a picnic in West Marin, [or] maybe to cruise around town on weekends or take part in a community parade.”
Cars—old and new, in a wide variety of shapes, styles and sizes—just seem to gravitate to Hunt. “Thanks to my dad and granddad, I’ve been close to Marin auto sales all my life,” he notes. Recently his inventory has included several Ford Mustangs and T-Birds from the late 1960s and early ’70s, VW Beetles from the ’60s, a rare ’56 Lincoln Premiere convertible, and a two-door 1967 Sunbeam Tiger with a 289-horsepower V-8 engine.
“One day, I saw this guy with a fancy long-lens camera taking pictures from across Fourth Street,” Hunt recalls. The photographer’s subject: a brand-new Mini Cooper sedan parked in Hunt’s showroom, a car made famous in the movie The Italian Job. Later that day, the mystery photographer’s administrative assistant phoned, inquiring about availability and price. “As for the car’s many unique features, the caller said, ‘Oh, my boss knows all about it,’” Hunt recounts. He told her the price—$24,000—and said the Mini could be ready the next day if a check was delivered that afternoon. The phone call ended without a deal. “But the next morning, I found a cashier’s check that had been slipped under the door,” Hunt says with a big grin. “It was signed: ‘Richard Thalheimer, founder, Sharper Image Corporation.’”