Europe’s gateway to the American car market
Maximillian Hoffman is credited with single-handedly establishing the imported vehicle business in the United States. Born in Vienna, Austria in 1904, Hoffman was an avid racer who used motorsports as his ticket into the car business. He was the middle European sales representative of marques like Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Alfa Romeo, and Volvo before Nazi influence spread across Eastern Europe in the late 30’s. Fearing for his well-being as a man of Jewish descent, Hoffman moved to Paris and later immigrated to New York City in 1941.
Halfway across the world with no contacts to speak of, Hoffman had to make a living as a costume jewelry designer until he finally saved enough money to open Hoffman Motors in 1947. Hoffman’s first client was Jaguar, for which he was the exclusive importer from 1948 until 1952. Hoffman also was the exclusive importer of Volkswagen from 1949-1953, but was unable to make the Beetle a commercial success due to competition from domestic makes and stigma’s associated with buying German products. Undeterred, Hoffman was able to secure exclusive U.S. importing rights to Mercedes Benz in 1952 as well as Porsche. Other notable brands exclusively imported through Hoffman Motors include Alfa Romeo, BMW, Fiat, and Austin-Healey. Hoffman’s success was the result of his innate ability to know what his customers wanted. Also, because he was the entryway for many European brands into the growing U.S. market, he was in a position to make manufacturers listen.
It was Hoffman that suggested Mercedes-Benz make a street version of their 300 SL “Gullwing.” When Mercedes denied his request, he convinced them he was serious by placing an order for 1,000. His power of persuasion helped give birth to revered cars like the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, Porsche 356 Speedster, and BMW 2002. Hoffman is also credited with sketching the now famous Porsche crest. Hoffman retired from the auto business in 1975, having given many of the world’s greatest car brands their foothold in the United States thanks to his superb salesmanship, elegant taste, and ability to anticipate consumer demand.