A SHORT, UNHAPPY LIFE
As the regional economy boomed in the late 1960s, the Chrysler Corporation decided that a market existed for a new auto dealership in north Seattle. In May 1968, Northwest Chrysler Plymouth opened at 13733 Aurora Ave N. Its owner, Ralph Williams, became a local celebrity advertising his cars on television commercials which also prominently featured his dog, whose name was Storm. Unfortunately, some of the cars Ralph Williams peddled never were on his lot. Customers were told upon arrival that the cars had already been sold, while the same commercials were still being aired one month later.
Within two years, complaints started coming in to the state attorney general’s office. Despite emphatic denials featured in the dealership’s commercials, one customer later testified that the dealership had refused to honor a 12-month warranty on a used car which he had purchased which conked out on his way home from the lot, forcing him to sell it two months later for a quarter of the original purchase price.
Another customer had traded in a Corvair for a used Valiant which would not start the next morning. The dealership would not fix it, so she spent $350 on repairs. She finally returned it to the dealership after six weeks worth of chronic problems, but lost her Corvair, the $493 down payment, and her first monthly payment.
Another customer returned a car which vibrated excessively at freeway speeds. After repeated refusals from the dealership to take it back, the salesman relented and offered another car in exchange…which wound up having the same problem. The customer took it to a mechanic, who discovered that all four tires had cuts and embedded glass in them and the shock absorbers were completely shot.
Agents of the state Department of Revenue appeared at the dealership on December 30, 1970 tacking lien notices all over its windows. By the next day, the agents were taking inventory of all of the dealership’s assets. It was revealed that Ralph Williams owed $143,347 in back taxes.
Storm’s short-lived career as a television personality was over since the dog was more ethical than its master. Meanwhile the state’s lawsuit against Williams for deceptive business practices continued. A plan was set up in which Williams would pay his delinquent taxes and also pay into a trust which would serve as restitution for the customers he had bilked. But Williams just refused to pay, and was held in contempt of court. Never having lived in Washington state, he could not be extradited, claiming that the court had no jurisdiction over him (Williams lived in California). It was already December 1974, and just the copying costs for all of the documents for the case had exceeded $15,000. Chrysler had also filed a separate suit against Williams for unpaid bills.
After a lengthy appeals process, the State Supreme Court upheld the rulings against Williams in July 1976, but by this time much of the money was uncollectible since none of Williams’s business enterprises existed anymore. He had moved to Texas, whose courts refused to enforce the payments. By this time, Williams’s former defense attorney was also suing him for unpaid legal bills.
The litigation lasted more than three times longer than the dealership had been in business under Williams’s tutelage. Despite the bad publicity, the dealership re-opened under different ownership in 1971 as Aurora Chrysler Plymouth.