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German immigrant built Von Housen name: Funeral services are today for George Grinzewitsch, area Mercedes dealer.
[August 22, 2007]

German immigrant built Von Housen name: Funeral services are today for George Grinzewitsch, area Mercedes dealer.

(Sacramento Bee, The (CA) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Aug. 22--George Grinzewitsch, a teenage German immigrant who grew up to become a Northern California auto-selling icon as head of a local Mercedes-Benz empire, died Friday.

Grinzewitsch, founder of the locally based Von Housen Automotive Group, was 71.

His son, George Grinzewitsch Jr., said his father's death was sudden and unexpected, but noted that family members enjoyed a memorable outing together early last week: "The last thing we said to each other was, 'I love you.' "

Private funeral services will be held today for Grinzewitsch, who died of undisclosed causes.

Friends and acquaintances are invited to a "celebration of life" at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Del Paso Country Club, 3333 Marconi Ave.

The elder Grinzewitsch was remembered this week for his gentlemanly manner and his longstanding presence in the local auto-selling arena.

Richard L. Niello Jr., president of the Sacramento-based Niello Co., which operates a number of high-end auto dealerships in Northern California, recalled Grinzewitsch as not only a friend but "a great competitor. ... We always sort of vied for the same customer, but I never had anything but respect for George. I enjoyed his company, and he was respected throughout the community."

Niello, who earlier this year bought the Sacramento Jaguar store on Fulton Avenue from Grinzewitsch, characterized his colleague as "a true gentleman in the European fashion: sophisticated, very polite, genuine and kind."

"I'd definitely say that he had a tremendous impact on the (regional) automotive market, especially considering the (Von Housen) dealerships are celebrating their 50th anniversary," said Stacey Castle, executive director of the Central Valley New Car Dealers Association. "He built an incredible automotive empire, which his son has expanded with the same sort of vision."

Grinzewitsch came to the United States from Germany in 1954. Arriving in New York as a teenager, he eventually settled in Sacramento, where he had relatives. He attended classes at Sacramento City Junior College during the day and pumped gas at a local service station at night.

Despite the fact that he spoke little English and had limited knowledge of cars, Grinzewitsch talked his way into a job as a mechanic at Oxford Motors, a downtown Sacramento dealership owned by race car driver Sammy Weise.

Shortly after he began working for Weise, Grinzewitsch met Delia Roth, whom he married in 1959.

At the age of 21, Grinzewitsch became service manager at Oxford Motors and became involved with Weise's auto racing pursuits, both as a racing mechanic and an accomplished competition driver. While piloting sleek, high-performance sports cars, Grinzewitsch won a handful of professional auto racing titles in North America.

The younger Grinzewitsch said his father competed against some of the world's best road racers, including Phil Hill, who became America's first Formula One world driving champion in 1961.

In late 1958, Grinzewitsch left Oxford Motors and opened his own auto parts and repair shop with partner Carl Meyer. They named the business Von Housen, which in German means "from the better house."

That was the beginning of what would become the Von Housen Automotive Group, which grew to include Mercedes-Benz dealerships in Sacramento, Reno and El Dorado Hills, as well as local Jaguar and Saab stores.

Over the years, Grinzewitsch would oversee sales of foreign brands that included Land Rover, Peugeot, Morgan, Amphicar, Range Rover, BMW, Volvo and Lotus. Grinzewitsch also was involved in partnerships that ran Dodge and Chrysler dealerships in Sacramento, Reno and Davis.

In 1977, Grinzewitsch purchased a franchise that evolved into Sacramento Jaguar. The operation eventually expanded in 1995 into a gleaming new facility on Fulton Avenue, which was recently purchased by Niello.

In 1998, Von Housen opened the country's first stand-alone Mercedes-Benz Service Center in Rocklin.

In recent years, the company has shed some of its holdings. Today, the company owns Mercedes dealerships in Reno and El Dorado Hills, as well as the service center.

Von Housen's Mercedes-Benz of El Dorado Hills dealership, situated along the busy Highway 50 corridor, is considered a Mercedes showcase, with opulent interior furnishings.

The dealership is frequently used as a venue for fundraising events benefiting regional arts and other organizations, including the Boys & Girls Club of El Dorado County, Sierra Adoption Services, March of Dimes, Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California and area school programs.

As a top-tier Mercedes-Benz dealership, Von Housen has won multiple Mercedes-Benz USA awards recognizing outstanding sales, service, customer satisfaction and overall management.

In recent years, George Grinzewitsch Jr. had assumed more of the company's executive duties, although his father remained active in business operations.

George Grinzewitsch is survived by his wife, son and two grandchildren.

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