16 January 2015

Edward Herrmann, Car Guy: 1943-2014

Edward Herrmann died at the age of 71 on Dec. 31, 2014, and the world lost a kind and multi-faceted man. My daughters knew him as the actor who played a curmudgeonly grandpa on the “Gilmore Girls” television sitcom. Students of the thespian arts admired his work in numerous movie, theatrical and television roles, including portrayals of Nelson Rockefeller in the 1995 film, “Nixon” and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in several productions. Those who harbor a passion for cars remember him as an avid collector of fine automobiles and an integral part of prestigious automotive events, including the Pebble Beach Concours d’Élégance, where he served as Master of Ceremonies since 1999.

I knew him best as Dodge’s advertising spokesman, the gracious man with whom I recorded countless commercials in the 1990s. Although the chit-chat at those studio sessions was wide ranging, it most often turned to automobiles, and I’m left with the feeling he would want to be remembered first and foremost as a knowledgeable and dedicated car guy.

Herrmann grew up in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, Mich. and was immersed in things automotive from an early age. In an interview for a 2010 NY Times article about his role at Pebble Beach, he said, “You ingest the automobile in the very air of Detroit. Or at least you did in the 1940s and 1950s. I just thought they were an essential ingredient of life itself. And the old cars especially.”

Those old cars became a key part of Herrmann’s life, and he owned many classics. In terms of concours success, the 1929 Auburn 8-90 Boattail Speedster that he purchased at the urging of his wife, Star, stands out. That automobile, which had once belonged to the daughter of E.L. Cord, won best of class at Pebble Beach in 2001. But perhaps most treasured by him was his 1932 Packard Coupe Roadster.

“My daughter grew up with the Packard,” he said in 2010. “It is a car that can’t be sold.”

Herrmann’s automotive taste was refined, but he was also a practical student of the industry. During his many years as Dodge spokesman he was both a critic and a champion of the brand and was involved in product discussions at high levels.

But as the automotive world mourns Edward Herrmann, it is his post at the podium on the Pebble Beach greensward that comes to mind. Elegant yet unpretentious, he spoke knowledgeably of the world’s most exceptional automobiles, providing insight and color as only a brilliant performer could.

As only a car guy could.

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