Published March/April 2011

My First Car: Ron Popeil

The entrepreneur-inventor reminisces about his favorite vehicles

BYJim Prueter
His name is Ron Popeil, the silver-tongued entrepreneur-inventor who for more than 50 years has sliced, diced, and sold a collection of quirky, unforgettable inventions. Credited as the inventor of the television infomercial and the popular catchphrase “But wait, there’s more,” he has brought the world such iconic products as the Chop-O-Matic, the Veg-O-Matic, the Pocket Fisherman, the Popeil Automatic Pasta Maker, pantyhose – guaranteed not to run, and even a spray-on toupee called Great Looking Hair.
 
More than 12 million Showtime “Just set it and forget it” Rotisserie Ovens, his most successful product, have been sold at a price of “just four easy payments of $39.95, plus shipping and handling,” racking up sales of well over a billion dollars.  
 
We spoke with Ron at his Beverly Hills, Calif., home in, where else, the kitchen.
 
Highroads: What was your first car?
Ron: A used car – a green, 1948 Buick convertible. It was about the hottest thing I had ever seen in my life. I sold subscriptions to the newspaper to buy the car. I’ve never had a feeling about a car like that again.  
 
Highroads: How long did you keep the Buick?
Ron: About two or three years, then I went out and I bought a new Ford Fairlane. That was in the late 1950s. It was orange and white and I laugh at myself today for choosing those colors.
 
Highroads: What came next?
Ron: By the late 1960s, I was already a multi-millionaire, chairman of the board of my own company, which was traded on the American Stock Exchange. I did not like driving [so] the company bought a stretch Mercedes-Benz limousine and had someone driving me around Chicago. There were only two of these in the city; Hugh Heffner owned the other one.  
 
Highroads: So you never drove again?
Ron: Well that didn’t last long. For whatever reason, and I have no idea why, I bought a yellow De Tomaso Mangusta, an Italian racing car.  
 
Highroads: You don’t like to drive and you bought a high-performance Italian sports car? 
Ron: I don’t remember what I was thinking. What I do remember is that every time I came downstairs, there was a crowd of people standing around it. I would say to myself ‘I got to get rid of this car; it’s driving me crazy.’ So I sold it.
 
Highroads: And you bought another car?
Ron: Well, here was my thought process: I’m going to buy the ugliest car I can find. I went to a Mercedes dealer and on the floor was a four-door Mercedes, grey in color, with a touch of purple in it. I had never seen that color before. It was the ugliest car I had ever seen, but it still drew a crowd. The color was so unusual people would stop to look at it.
 
Highroads: What do you drive now?
Ron: I drive a 2002 Volkswagen Beetle. It’s a silver turbo model. I can afford to get any car I want, but I’m perfectly happy with my 8-year-old Volkswagen.
 
Highroads: Is there any car that you wish you had back?
Ron: Oh yes, definitely the Buick.
JIM PRUETER, an automotive writer based in Phoenix, has provided reviews and advice about cars for more than 20 years.
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