Al Piemonte, the larger than life auto dealer and TV pitchman, worked his way up from the bottom.
And he always acted the part.
Despite the successes of his numerous car dealerships, Mr. Piemonte was personable and practical in his TV commercials for his Melrose Park Ford dealership, ads that aired in Chicago for more than 30 years.
Clad in his best and bright sweaters, and waving his hands around enthusiastically, Mr. Piemonte’s TV pitches were aimed at affordability.
He was honest about his used car stock. In a 1985 ad, Mr. Piemonte admitted he put away cars for customers who couldn’t afford much.
“They’re not going to be perfect cars. They’re going to have some dings and bangs, but they’re going to give you some transportation,” he said.
Mr. Piemonte, 83, of Lake Forest, died Christmas Eve after a short illness.
“He was a great automobile man and a great businessman,” said longtime car dealer Bob Rohrman.
He said Mr. Piemonte, who was known as “Big Al,” brought honesty to an industry sometimes perceived with negative connotations.
“When he sold a car, he did what he said he was going to do and what we all hope to do, and that is take care of the customer after the sale — and that’s being honest in car dealing,” Rohrman said.
Mr. Piemonte’s TV personality matched his real life persona, family members and co-workers said.
“He was larger than life and he was my greatest hero,” said Jeff Piemonte, one of his sons.
That enthusiasm was seen at the Ford dealership daily.
“He came to work every day. I never saw his office door closed. He would walk through the shop, through the showroom,” said Val Kholodovsky, general manager at Al Piemonte Nissan in Melrose Park.
Mr. Piemonte started in the car industry as a salesman. He worked his way up into management and then took over what would become his flagship Ford dealership in Melrose Park, his family said.
“He started from the ground up and he completely worked through the trenches,” Kholodovsky said.
The Piemonte dealership in Melrose Park has been at the corner of North and 25th Avenues for over 40 years.
Over time, Mr. Piemonte expanded his business and the type of cars he sold.
On top of the Ford dealership in Melrose Park, Mr. Piemonte owned several other dealerships, including a Nissan dealership in Melrose Park; a Chevrolet dealership in East Dundee; a Suzuki and Super Car Outlet dealership in Northlake and a Chrysler dealership in St. Charles.
“He was a giant in the car industry, but really a gentleman,” Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico said.
And to many in the Chicago region, Mr. Piemonte was, as the Melrose Park mayor said, “the guy in the sweaters — you saw him on TV.”
In the commercials, Mr. Piemonte spoke like a regular guy.
But he also was selling a dream.
“Have you always had a desire to own a sports car? How about a 1986 Mustang?” he asks in another 1980s ad.
“We have all types of colors, we have all types of transmissions, we have the hot rod Mustangs, we have the basic Mustangs, we have the convertibles. At Al Piemonte Ford and at Arlington Heights Ford it’s $100 down and $159 a month.”
Piemonte is survived by his wife, Rosanna Glitta, his daughters Mary and Alexandra; sons, Jeff, Patrick and Marco; and six grandchildren.
Visitation for Mr. Piemonte will be 3-9 p.m. Monday at Cumberland Chapels in Norridge. His funeral is scheduled for Tuesday at St. Patrick’s Church in Lake Forest, with Mass at 10 a.m.