Dashboard for Big Mike 184Dashboard for Big Mike 184


Big Mike: Teflon Ted was nobody’s ‘fuel’ when it came to spotting buyers

Our popular mystery car dealer columnist remembers a dearly departed former colleague’s apparent sixth sense when it came to sussing out from the off who would buy

Time 7:20 am, July 8, 2023

Listen up well to this one, young’uns, because it’s from us old stagers that you stand to learn some of the finest tricks of the trade.

After all, when you’ve been in the motor trade for as long as I have, you’ll find you’ve got quite a repertoire of tricks. And we all had to learn them somewhere.

I recount this month’s tale with a degree of poignancy, because a few of us in the West Midlands motor trade have just had to say goodbye to a long-standing friend, colleague and rival who, sadly, has just been traded in to the giant car dealership in the sky.

Teflon Ted – so named because despite being subjected to 14 separate fraud investigations during the course of his lifetime, Revenue and Customs couldn’t make a single thing stick – was an absolute legend in these parts.

When I started in the trade he was a sales manager at the Austin-Rover dealership where I was lucky enough to cut my teeth.

At first, I thought that Ted was something of a clairvoyant.

I was only recently out of secondary school at the time, so I’d yet to learn some of the nuances of customer behaviour that told you whether they were going to part with their hard-earned or not.

Ted, however, seemed to have this incredible sixth sense to know instantly whether to try to ride a deal out or walk away from it within minutes of the customer arriving.

I could never understand it and nor could my fellow salesman Richard – we always used to have a wager of a couple of quid on whether a customer who turned up was a yea or a nay in Teflon Ted’s eyes.

His behaviour was sometimes bizarre, insofar as we’d get a customer turn up who both Richard and I would think was completely reasonable or, indeed, a proper hot prospect.

Pound coins via PA for Big Mike 184

Big Mike and colleague Richard would always have a wager on whether Teflon Ted had a customer worth pursuing or not

You know the type: well dressed, articulate, asking all the right questions, looking at all the cars and giving them a proper going over.

The kind of customer you think is fair game and who you’d be quite upfront about trying to sell something to. Yet Ted sometimes just wouldn’t bother.

Other times, you’d have a customer who didn’t look like they had two pound coins to rub together, let alone be interested in spending them.

Yet after half an hour at our dealership Ted would have them driving off the forecourt in a shiny pre-registered Maestro, oblivious to the fact that the car they’d just bought was probably more old-fashioned than the six-year-old model they’d just traded in.

But I eventually found out Ted’s secret. When I left that dealership after my first couple of years in the trade, I had a proper car dealer’s leaving do – the sort that starts around 4pm on a Friday afternoon and finishes in the early hours of Sunday morning.

I miss those days, and I’ll happily share some of the memories of them in future columns, but this one is for Ted…

On the night of my departure from the garage where Ted had been my mentor, I told the old boy about my belief that he had a sixth sense.

He winked at me and said: ‘Mike, nobody has a sixth sense. You tell me, young man, what’s the very first thing I do when someone comes to have a sniff around the lot?’

So I gave it some thought and realised that the first thing he ever did was disappear for a couple of moments before returning.

MG Maestro Turbo 1989-91 for Big Mike 184

Teflon Ted had a knack of getting customers to drive off in a car such as a pre-registered Maestro, oblivious to the fact it was probably more old-fashioned than the model they’d just traded in

‘You bugger off somewhere and then come back,’ I replied.

‘That’s right,’ said Ted. ‘I’ll go and have a look at their car before they’ve even had a chance to look at mine.’

Thinking that Ted did so because he liked to prepare for a deal and determine the value of a part-exchange versus his potential margin, I assumed he was just checking out what car they had and what stand-in value he might give for it before committing to a deal on which you’d still get worthwhile commission.

But that wasn’t the case at all.

‘It’s the simplest thing ever, Mike,’ he told me. ‘I check the bloody fuel gauge.’

Baffled, I looked at him quizzically.

‘Well of course I bloody well do. If it’s got more than a quarter of a tank then they’re wasting my time, because nobody’s going to trade in a car that’s still got a decent amount of fuel in it, are they?

‘If it’s running on fumes then there’s a very good chance they’ll be going to work tomorrow in something that’s parked on my lot, but if it’s got half a tank then they’re only here for a look. And tell me, how many times have I ever got it wrong?’

The answer, of course, was none. And now that Ted’s own tank has run dry, his piece of wisdom is something I carry with me every day of my working life.

This column appears in the current edition of Car Dealer – issue 184 – along with news, views, reviews, interviews and much more! Read and download it for FREE here!

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Car Dealer has been covering the motor trade since 2008 as both a print and digital publication. In 2020 the title went fully digital and now provides daily motoring updates on this website for the car industry. A digital magazine is published once a month.

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