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Max Hoffman: Million Dollar Middleman – CAR MAX

Photos courtesy of Veloce Publishing

Book Review

Max Hoffman: Million Dollar Middleman – CAR MAX

Max Hoffman: Million Dollar Middleman

CAR MAX

At the end of World War II, Austrian émigré Max Hoffman, living and working in New York, began cultivating his automotive contacts in Europe, intending to import, distribute and – of course – sell various upmarket makes as those companies resumed auto production. As you’d guess, the process required jumping through numerous hoops, given that those countries had been decimated by war, while in this country we were busy building bureaucracies. Against those odds, Hoffman succeeded. And the brands he became associated with, known to but a handful of enthusiasts prior to the war, became household names after in the decades after it.

That success is documented in author Myles Kornblatt’s MAX HOFFMAN: MILLION DOLLAR MIDDLEMAN, with approximately 160 informative pages and pics telling the Hoffman story largely from the perspective of his hardware. 

Born in 1904 outside of Vienna, Austria, Hoffman benefited from timing. While the formation of Henry Ford’s operation in Dearborn was probably not on his radar, the proliferation of automobiles and motorcycles in Europe would have been, and the competition among motorcycle riders and/or automobile racers enthralled any number of young men. (Or, at the very least, would have enthralled those not killed in what would later be known as World War I.) Beginning with an AJS single, and moving into auto racing aboard an Amilcar, Max followed a career path similar to Enzo Ferrari’s trajectory, albeit more than a decade later. Retiring from racing in 1934, Max was associated with an automotive importer based in Austria before opening his own company, representing – on a regional basis – Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Alfa, Talbot, Delahaye, Hotchkiss and Volvo. Notably, half of those brands can today be found somewhere other than a museum. 

Hitler’s move into Austria dictated Hoffman’s move to Paris, a stay abbreviated by France’s declaration of war on Germany and its subsequent surrender to Germany in 1940. The good news preceding almost six years of global devastation? Max landed in America with both his health and contacts intact.

A year after the Allied victory Hoffman was back in Europe, attempting to sign agreements with OEMs just then getting back to production. Sticking a new-as-tomorrow Delahaye on his Park Avenue showroom in early 1947 created a stir, as did a succession of relatively unknown names in the following months. Austin, Lea-Francis, Lagonda and Simca are referenced, and Kornblatt suggests that Max’s New York headquarters would have been a first stop for Donald Healey on his barnstorming tour across the U.S. Of course, a few years later Healey would enjoy real success in his partnership with Austin. 

The most significant chapters of Kornblatt’s book focus on single marques, beginning with Jaguar, and followed by Hoffman’s work on behalf of Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen (a notable ‘miss’), Porsche, Alfa Romeo and BMW. In most instances, as a distributor the Hoffman Motor Car Company imported the vehicles, established a dealer network, advertised the features and/or benefits of ownership and – not incidentally – established a profitable business model. 

After a few years, the various manufacturers to whom Hoffman was associated wanted more than a bigger piece of the action; instead, they wanted all of the action, and were willing to pay Hoffman significant monies to terminate their distribution agreements. While it lasted, Hoffman’s operation was a wild, woolly (and immensely profitable) ride, while car enthusiasts enjoyed automotive performance they could have never imagined just one generation earlier.

If you have a collection of old Road & Track issues, you’d have little need for Myles Kornblatt’s MAX HOFFMAN: MILLION DOLLAR MIDDLEMAN. And I have that collection. But the magazines are in hard-to-access boxes, while Kornblatt’s book is located oh-so-conveniently on my coffee table. For $50 U.S. it can be on yours.

Published by Veloce, more info on this Max Hoffman (auto) business bio can be found at www.veloce.co.uk. Thanks to Veloce for my review copy.

Boldt, a contributor to outlets such as AutoTrader.com, Kelley Blue Book and Autoblog, brings to his laptop some forty years of experience in automotive retail, journalism and public relations. He is a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, The Washington Automotive Press Association and L.A.'s Motor Press Guild. David is the Managing Editor of txGarage, a regular panelist on the AutoNetwork Reports webcast/podcast, and the automotive contributor to Dallas' Katy Trail Weekly.

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