Car companies are understandably resistant to naming their merchandise after people, but doing so is certainly not unheard of. Several companies have attempted to sell cars by harnessing the power of famous figures. For example, Ford and Chrysler did it with Carroll Shelby, Chevy blessed us with the 2002 Monte Carlo SS Dale Earnhardt Signature Edition, and Citroen gave it a shot with the Picasso model. Then there are the industry titans who applied their children’s names to company products. In 1901, Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft paid homage to Mercedes, daughter of company principal Karl Benz, by naming one of its cars after her. Henry Ford forever condemned his son Edsel’s name by applying it to what many regard as one of the all-time worst cars.
Though automotive history is peppered with vehicles named for famous people with selling power and the offspring of company owners, we’ve been able to find only a single example of a car named in honor of a car dealer. For the 1986 model year, Chevrolet offered the Malcolm Konner Commemorative Edition Corvette. Just 50 were made.
For more than 20 years, Malcolm Konner owned and operated a high-volume Chevrolet dealership bearing his name. Located on busy Route 17 in Paramus, New Jersey, Malcolm Konner Chevrolet aggressively pursued Corvette sales. In the 1960s, the dealership ran an ad that proudly touted itself as “New Jersey’s Headquarters for new Corvettes.” By the mid-1970s, Malcolm Konner Chevrolet was consistently selling more new Corvettes than any other Chevy dealership in the country. While that obviously endeared it to many at GM, the dealership’s relationship with Chevrolet ran much deeper than high sales numbers.
“Because we sold and serviced so many Corvettes,” explains Malcolm Konner’s son RJ Konner, “we were an invaluable resource for Chevrolet. They had a technician or engineer at the dealership 80 percent of the time to troubleshoot and help evaluate problems that came up in the field.
“But my father’s connection with Chevrolet was more than a business relationship,” Konner continues. “The automobile industry has changed dramatically in the past 20 or 30 years, with a steady turnover of people at the car companies, but before that people tended to stay in their jobs, or at least stay with the same company, and that longevity led to lasting relationships. We knew just about everyone at Chevrolet and they knew us, and in many instances we had real friendships with them.”
For evidence of this, we need only look at the huge and extravagant car shows that Malcolm Konner Chevrolet staged beginning in the 1970s. GM loaned iconic vehicles from its collection, including the Stingray racer, Mako Shark I and Manta Ray, and Corvette luminaries such as Zora Arkus-Duntov, Dave McLellan and Larry Shinoda were normally in attendance.
“Zora and his wife Elfie were frequent guests at our house,” remembers Konner. “They were wonderful people. They were warm, funny, and even in his old age, Duntov was a wild, unpredictable guy. My parents were very close to him and Larry Shinoda.”
After nearly 40 years in the car business, Malcolm Konner’s career came to a sudden end when he died unexpectedly while on a Chevrolet-related trip to Italy in 1983. Following Konner’s death, his family was looking for ways to honor the man who was not only a beloved husband and father, but also a highly respected and very benevolent member of his community. “Chevrolets in general and Corvettes in particular were a very important part of my father’s life,” recounts Konner, “so we were thinking about doing something to memorialize this.”