Zoom Motors and the Road Ahead

Touch and Go

Paul Wellman

In the garage at Zoom Motors, the newest car dealership in Santa Barbara, a chrome figure reclines on the hood of a ’59 Nash Metropolitan convertible, contemplating the road ahead. She lies patiently atop wings, her mouth formed into an enigmatic, endless smile. These are the kind of cars on which hood ornaments served as the driver’s crosshairs, the target to shoot down the miles of highway as one sped along. At Zoom, the promise of yesterday is the currency by which it is buying its future.

Sitting brightly at the corner of Milpas and Gutierrez streets, the former ’50s Mobil gas station was a legendary eyesore for years, encrusted with weeds and old newspapers. Owners and operators Roger Gilbert, Andrew Knox, and Doug Reid saw the increasing need for a concierge service to be a source for special-interest and special-request vehicles. Their office decor is heralded by what is arguably the most striking car on the lot: a ’77 AMC Pacer station wagon. Yes, John Denver: Greatest Hits is in the 8-track. No, you cannot afford it. The Pacer’s orange trim matches the suntanned leather of the interior and a sticker on the windshield boasts that in fact the car is “Loaded.”

Surrounding it on the lot are newer, slightly more mundane models: VW, Jeep, Audi, Nissan, all fully restored if not already new. In the garage, a copy of the 1965 Williams pinball game “Alpine Club” sits in one corner, overlooking the cool of the Nash, a black ’39 LaSalle coupe, and a ’57 Mercury Monterey sedan. Outside is a ’68 Airstream Land Yacht, a recent acquisition for a buyer in Wales. Coincidentally, it’s the Airstream out of which Zoom Motors originally did business until the new location opened in February. In conversation with Andrew Knox recently, he spoke about the genesis of Zoom and his ideal for buying cars.

How do you explain your business? We founded Zoom on the principle of doing the used car industry completely differently; removing the high-pressure environment where people felt uncomfortable or pushed to make a decision. We wanted to provide an environment where we gave people the resources and knowledge to make decisions that were best for them. I just decided it made more sense to create our own reputation and look and whole conceptual business plan rather than building off an older model. There are three bays inside the building, and those bays are specifically for consigned vehicles that are classic, vintage, unusual cars. Our goal not only is to have a space and environment where we’ve got these unusual, classic cars, but to have a car for every person. So whether it’s someone who needs a high-fuel-economy econobox, or someone who has an exotic Porsche desire, we have a vehicle for every budget and demographic.

So, it is POR-sche, not Porsche? Oh yeah, it’s POR-sche. You get around someone who knows and really cares, and he’ll tell you.

That’s great! Now it’s settled. What are you driving these days? It depends on what I’m trying to accomplish when I’m driving. I think my favorite car overall has been a ’98 Mercedes E430 sedan. It was just a super vehicle and it got 33 miles per gallon. We’re driving this ultra-safe car with our kids and still doing well in fuel economy. I was just surprised at what a great car it was.

What’s been the most difficult car to find for the concierge service? It was an ’03 silver BMW 3-series sedan. The difficulty wasn’t in finding the car; it was buying the car at a competitive price. They’re so popular and they’re so expensive in the marketplace even before the consumer gets there that it was hard to find a car to give the customer the best deal possible. And we did it-it just took me six weeks.

The waves of nostalgia that hit when stepping inside the Airstream are triggered not by the normal memory cues of sight and sound. Rather, it’s a feast for one of the most underrated senses: the unassailable sense of smell. The odor isn’t entirely unpleasant. It’s just old. Anyone who’s done any amount of camping inside these machines will immediately remember it with one gentle whiff of the motor home’s dust motes gliding on curved air-the scent of the warm leatherette, the hot metal baking in the summer sun, or the shriveled and ossified air freshener in the bathroom.

What Zoom Motors sells are memories-either those of the cars they have so lovingly and carefully restored, or the future memories waiting in the reliable modern models that pack the lot.


Let Zoom Motors find you a classic or hard-to-get car by calling 963-3989, visiting zoomsb.com, or heading down to the showroom at 335 North Milpas Street.


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