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Area auto dealer Ed Mullinax dies in Florida at age 85

  • Dragon-Ranch-restaurant-1-jpg

    Ed Mullinax poses inside his Dragon Ranch restaurant on Leavitt Road in Amherst in 2012. Mullinax, a car dealer who revolutionized the industry, died Saturday in Florida at the age of 85.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE FILE

  • Mullinax-Ed-jpg
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Ed Mullinax, the man who ushered in the concept of “one-price upfront” selling to the dealership industry, died Saturday in Florida surrounded by family.

He was 85.

From American-made, horse-powered vehicles to pure horsepower, Mullinax employed his business savvy in multiple ways and became known in Lorain County and Northeast Ohio for his massive Amherst Township dealership and the familiar radio jingle, “Ed Mullinax is a Friend of Mine.”

Automotive News included Mullinax on its “50 Visionary Dealers” of all-time ranking in 2009.

Looking back on his father’s legacy, Jerry Mullinax, who now co-owns the Mullinax Auto Group with his brother, Larry Mullinax, said his father was an innovator and pioneer in the business that changed the way people buy cars to this day.

“A lot of dealers are finally going to that idea and my dad started it in 1975 because he knew the customer just didn’t like that process of negotiating and haggling to get the best deal,” he said in a telephone interview from Florida. “He told the sales staff to ‘price the car and live with it.’ ”

Ed Mullinax built his Ford dealership from the ground up, expanding it from its humble beginnings as a small dealership and turning it into a powerhouse in the Ford empire — becoming one of the largest Ford dealership by the late 1990s.

“His way of doing business worked for him,” Jerry Mullinax said.

The successes eventually caught the attention of Republic Industries Inc. and in 1996 Republic purchased Ed Mullinax Inc. and its four dealerships in a deal reportedly worth $100 million in stock options.

The acquisition led to the establishment of AutoNation, a nationwide chain of retail car dealerships with more than 300 locations across the country.

Jerry Mullinax said the move allowed his father to turn his attentions to two new endeavors: harness racing and golf. The former paid homage his propensity to play the ponies when he had the time.

“My dad loved to gamble,” Jerry Mullinax said. “When he was a kid he worked as a valet at Northfield Park, moving the jockeys’ cars around. When he could he loved to read the programs, pick the best horses and beat on the winners. He enjoyed that his whole life and because he wanted to beat the odds.”

Murray Brown, Mullinax’s racing business partner for the last 15 years, said the Ed Mullinax, whom he affectionately called “Mr. Ed,” was more than just a business partner.

“He was the dearest and closest friend I have ever had and I can say he was as close to being a perfect person as anyone I have ever met,” he said. “He was just a kind, wonderful and compassionate man. I would compare him to Will Rogers who said he never met a man he didn’t like. Well, I don’t think Ed ever met a person who didn’t like him.”

The two men crossed path about two decades ago. Brown was the then-general manager for the Standardbred Horse Sales Co. and Mullinax was a buyer and seller of the strong racing horses. One particular sale resulted in a check for more than $80,000 being cut and sent to Ed Mullinax. Months later, the company’s controller urged Brown to find out why it had not been cashed.

“I think he said he just misplaced it,” he said. “Our friendship just grew from there. He was one-of-a-kind. You could be one of the wealthiest men in the world or grooming a horse down at the race track. He would go to lunch with you.”

Ed Mullinax owned many standardbred horses, including the 2005 winner of the famous Little Brown Jug race that takes place right outside Columbus in Delaware County. He also owned a winner named Dragon Again that shared the same moniker as the 27.14-acre golf course in Amherst Township that Ed Mullinax purchased for $2.1 million in January 2005.

The 18-hole Dragon Ranch Golf Club is a wooded course with narrow fairways, undulating greens, many bunkers and plenty of water, especially on the back nine. When talking about the golf course and restaurant in 2012, Ed Mullinax said it was hard, but fun work, fitting right into a philosophy he held dear: work hard, play hard.

Jerry Mullinax said his father, born from humble beginnings in a small town in Georgia, never forgot where he came from. His Southern roots gave way to Ohio branches that blossomed strong.

“He loved to talk to people and he thought that everyone was interesting no matter who they were or what they did,” he said. “Ed Mullinax was never in a place where he wasn’t someone’s friend. He wasn’t loud or boisterous, but you could drop him anywhere and within an hour he was friends with everyone in the room.”

Through all of his successes, Ed Mullinax could have made his home anywhere yet he remained loyal to Amherst, said former Amherst Mayor Dave Taylor.

He was a snowbird flying off to Florida to beat the winter’s cold, but always making his way back home — to the same modest Amherst house Ed and his wife, Janet, purchased decades ago to raise three kids.

“He was very much pro-Amherst,” Taylor said. “He supported the city and the schools and was very involved with the Amherst Quarterback Club.”

The club is a parent-run booster club for the Amherst Comet Football team.

“He always promoted the city of Amherst so we are thankful for that,” Taylor said. “He was very proud of this city.”

Former Amherst Council President John Dietrich said he has known Ed Mullinax since he started the dealership, using a trailer as a makeshift office until he could build a building and showroom.

“He was a loyal individual,” he said. “If you were his friend, you were his friend for life. He liked to help people. He took care of his employees.”

When asked what stood out in his personality that made him a sound businessman, Dietrich said Mullinax surrounded himself with good people.

“He had a good business sense and he didn’t make any decisions until he talked to people and got their opinion,” he said. “He took chances — some of the time they didn’t work out, most of the times they worked out really well for him.”

The Mullinax name still lives on in the automotive world through his sons, Jerry and Larry Mullinax, the heads of the Mullinax Auto Group which has seven Ford stores in Florida, Washington and Alabama.

“My father accomplished a whole lot, especially in our industry. Everyone knows the name Ed Mullinax and what he accomplished,” Jerry Mullinax said. “The thing I am most proud of is my father was always the same guy. He died the same guy he started off as.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.


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