These Deals Will Blow You Away

Should Local Buyers Watch Out for "Katrina Cars" ?

When Sandra and Mike Groody wanted to buy a car a few months ago, they found Maroone of Delray Beach and thought: Our vehicular problems are over. This was no fly-by-night outfit but part of the largest auto dealership in the state, with all of the integrity and reliability that such a status implied. Its public spokesman was, for gosh sakes, living legend Dan Marino, the football demigod of South Florida. "They were the car experts," Mike Groody says. And they had what the Groodys were looking for.

The sales staff at Maroone of Delray saw the Groodys and apparently thought: Suckers!

The Groodys, with five kids, three of them adopted, as well as a teenaged mom and a baby whom they had invited to live with them, wanted a Chevrolet Suburban. They needed a Suburban. Hurricane Wilma had shaken up their lives like Ping-Pong balls in a blender. Their house had been rendered unlivable, their cars were damaged, there were a million appointments and activities to keep up with, and they were temporarily living la vida chaotica in a hotel. The ample Suburban would serve as the family car for nine people.

Sure, Maroone General Manager Terry Leeder told them. They had the black model, just like the Groodys wanted. The child-proof leather seat covers they were asking for? Those could be installed in less than two days. Come on up.

When the Groodys went to pick up their vehicle on January 1, they signed the papers, then waited. And waited. A small hitch had developed. The vehicle was in some sort of security lockup, and the staff member with the keys had gone home. The next day, the Groodys say, they called and were told by a Maroone salesman that leather seats were being installed. Two days later, still no car. That leather was taking more time than expected. The service staff had also discovered a few scratches on the body, and they were fixing those.

Two weeks later, Maroone was still stalling. The Groodys finally got their car on January 21.

The next day, Mike Groody stepped out of his house and looked at his car in full sunlight. There was a different shade of paint on one door, and there were spidery marks all over it, as if the body had been buffed with steel wool. Groody, who is an insurance adjuster (he does homes, not cars), wasn't going to take a repainted car, whose value would have been $5,000 less than one with original paint, according to an expert he contacted. The Groodys wanted a new car, but they say Maroone refused to give them one.

Groody called General Motors, which checked the records of the Suburban and found nothing reported to them (as required by federal law) about new paint. On the other hand, there was the matter of a new fuel injection system and injectors having been installed while the Groodys waited. "Sounds like it could be a Katrina car," Groody says the GM man blurted out before buttoning up. Groody demanded to know where the Suburban had come from. Sorry, said various GM functionaries, they couldn't divulge that information.

The Groodys complained to Delray Beach Police, who referred them to the state Attorney General's Office, telling them that their complaint was a civil matter. The Groodys' own expert, a Palm Beach-based auto broker who asked that his name be withheld, used a laser micrometer to measure the thickness of the paint, and he checked the electronic systems. His opinion was that the condition of the Groodys' Suburban was consistent with that of a "hurricane car." Like thousands of other cars that were immersed in rain and seawater during Katrina and Wilma, it had probably been recycled through a state where laws are not rigorous about identifying prior damages on auto titles, lawyers and brokers consulted by the Groodys said.

The Groodys are probably in the vanguard of what promises to be a long procession of dissatisfied car buyers, says Jim Butler, president of the Florida Automotive Recyclers Association.

"Introduce brackish or saltwater into an automotive electrical system and over a period of time, it'll cause problems," Butler says. It may take up to two years before car radios start conking out, air bags fail to deploy, antilock brakes lock up, and other systems fail, he says. But it's inevitable.

Maroone's Leeder referred Tailpipe to Mark Cannon, vice president for communications of AutoNation, Maroone's parent company and the nation's biggest car dealer (cofounded by Fort Lauderdale billionaire H. Wayne Huizenga). Cannon had no detailed knowledge of the Groodys' car, but he said the company would investigate. "That's what we're here for," Cannon said. "To get a happy, satisfied customer." Cannon did not deny that the SUV may have been storm damaged.

After Tailpipe talked to Cannon, the Groodys say Maroone made them an offer just before press time: they'd buy the SUV back for the purchase price (less $900 for the mileage the Groodys put on it) if the Groodys took back everything they'd told this auto part for this story. Tailpipe can't wait to see how this one turns out.

Ask Nasty

Nasty: He's a South Florida original, a biker visionary, and a regular columnist for the local motorcycle mag Wheels on the Road. And now, Nasty answers your most urgent questions about life, love, and the call of the open road.

Q: My son's bar mitzvah is coming up next month, and I've been having problems finding a good place to hold it. Any suggestions?

A: Try Nothin' Fancy Bar & Grill at 4645 Gun Club Rd. in western Palm Beach County. Secure bike parking is in the rear next to the outside tiki bar. Live bands almost every night help keep this place rockin'. Nightly lingerie shows are an added plus. Cold beer and hot, very hot, bartenders are the order of the day. The stunning Jackie, who works on Sunday, is the best biker bartender in all of South Florida, and you have got to see how she cleans the bar top. She and another hot bartender each get at opposite ends of the bar and crawl on their hands and knees wiping down the bar top as they go. When the two girls meet and have to pass, there is usually fondling and kissing, and on many occasions, whipped cream is squirted onto breasts and other body parts. Then some licking ensues until the two pass and continue on down the bar. Oh my! Hot! Hot! Hot!

Biker fun and games abound nightly. Games such as the camel toe contest and the famous Pornapalooza games are must-sees. Smitty manages the place and is always planning a special event. In true biker fashion, almost anything goes. It is also the place where I collected a record 13 pairs of panties in one night for my collection. That is why this bar is "Nasty Approved."

Grace! My Idol!

The woman singing to the empty hospital auditorium last week, is an old-school songbird, a Broadway belter, the sort who will turn an ordinary note into a field trip up the chromatic scale and back. The other day, the 'Pipe watched Grace LaPidussqueeze "Come Back to Sorrento" like a wet towel, wringing out every little drop of pathos the song could render. This was during her audition for a talent competition titled "Senior Idol," sponsored by Holy Cross Hospital. Nearly a hundred 65-and-overs sang for three judges, who selected a dozen finalists for a May competition.

For anyone who grabs the remote when Fox TV trots out a passel of 20-something Stevie Wonder imitators for the Clearasil crowd watching American Idol, a performance like LaPidus' was like morning sunshine. The song was a favorite of her late husband's, Edward, who died two years ago after 55 years of marriage. The lines, "But you said goodbye to me/Now all I can do is grieve" rang truer than any frothy pop sputum.

Judge Maureen Kohler said she looked for stage presence and trusted that if she got goose bumps, the singer had the goods. Indeed, LaPidus, who used to sing in clubs in upstate New York, carried herself with a beguiling confidence. "I like most of Ethel Merman's songs. I'm kind of an Ethel Merman type," she said after her performance, winking.

Seymour Blyman, 78, spent years designing women's lingerie in New York City before retiring in 1993 to Pembroke Pines. He started singing because he had nothing else to do. He joined a group in Century Village, three songsters who fell a little short of Carreras, Domingo, and Pavarotti. "Goulet, when he was young," Blyman said. "That's my man."

Blyman sang "All the Things You Are" with an un-Goulet-like quaver in his voice.

"Do you remember what show that was in?" he asked his friend Martin Bass.

"No," Bass replied. "Hey, I'm old. My memory's not so good. I'm better at tennis."

"Cabaret," Blyman remembered. (Sorry, Seymour, way wrong. It was from the Jerome Kern 1939 flop Very Warm for May.)

"A lot of people are up there who shouldn't be, at least in the early rounds. But you notice that they have professionals to help them with their voices. I wish we had something like that."

"But you know what?" Bass asked. "At our age, we do pretty good."

Alas, not good enough, according to the judges. Neither LaPidus nor Blyman nor Bass made the cut. But stick with it, kids. There's always next year.

BOLO Knife

In this corner, we have Diop Kamau, formerly known as Don Jackson, an ex-police detective in California who now heads the Police Complaint Center, a watchdog group that's been making life tough for South Florida police stations recently ("Calling All Cars," Jeff Stratton, March 23). And wearing the red trunks (or at least, seeing red) is Dick Brickman, retired detective head of the Broward County Police Benevolent Association, who's sick and tired of Kamau and his sting operations.

After the PBA posted a BOLO ("be on the look-out") bulletin for PCC investigator Greg Slate and Channel 4 reporter Mike Kirsch (whose photo is still included in the online bulletin despite a cease-and-desist action by CBS-4), Kamau called Brickman at home and gave him a chance to explain himself. Tailpipe got a copy of the tape.

"Why did you do it, Dick?" Kamau asks repeatedly. Brickman denies any involvement; he doesn't even know what a BOLO is, he insists. Then he figures out the connection to the Channel 4 report and unleashes a torrent of invective at Kamau. "I don't have to explain anything!" he shouts, after calling Kamau a scumbag. "Go ahead and get a whole law firm!" When Kamau asks again why he posted Kirsch's personal data, Brickman says icily, "Why not?"

The PCC has filed its own criminal complaint against Brickman, alleging that he illegally obtained and posted the personal information in the BOLO. —As told to Edmund Newton

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