HOME Articles index | Media | Use of content | Contact us  

August 2013

Visiting Max Hoffman

By Robert McLellan
Foreign automobile
mogul Max Hoffman
Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz of North America

In 1959, my parents planned a Christmas holiday trip to New York City. It was a big event because we considered the annual Christmas shopping trip to the nearest big city, Richmond, Virginia, to be exciting. Plans were made -- the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the new Guggenheim Museum etc. But I had my own list. Through Road & Track, I knew all about Max Hoffman and his famous sports and foreign car dealership and it was at the top of my wish list. Visiting it was a giant step beyond anything in Richmond.

Max Hoffman, son of a Vienna Rolls-Royce dealer, formed Hoffman Motor Car company in 1947. He was an importer of foreign automobiles with well established overseas connections and was known to be a gentleman who could work deals with a handshake. European automakers depended on him to sell their cars, and American dealers depended on him to supply them with cars for their dealerships. Max even made proposals to manufacturers for designs and modifications to existing models that they should build for the highly profitable American market of the 1950s. Credit should be given to Max for the creation of the Mercedes-Benz 300SL "Gull-Wing". Hoffmann introduced the Volkswagen "Beetle", the BMW model line, Alfa Romeo's Giulietta Spider, and the Porsche 356 "Speedster" to the U.S.A. and provided Americans with many makes and model of cars that had never been seen on our shores. His success with Porsche made it his most popular make.

To showcase his automobiles in New York City, Max selected the celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright to build a 3,600-square-foot showroom located at 430 Park Avenue. The Hoffman Auto Showroom was designed in glass and steel with a circular and sloping ramp for the automobile display. Initially Max intended to use it for his Jaguar dealership, but by the time it was completed, he had moved to feature Mercedes-Benz and included many other foreign makes. It was opened in 1955 and was one of three of Frank Lloyd Wright's New York City masterpieces.

I returned to the dealership in 1970 while in the Army when stationed at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, just outside of New York City and again in 1972 with my wife to introduce her to NYC. Now the showroom no longer exists.


Courtesy of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, the Museum of Modern Art, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York

Wright’s vision for the Hoffman Auto Showroom

Courtesy of Ezra Stoller © Esto / Yossi Milo Gallery
The sleek showroom captured by the astute eye of Ezra Stoller, 1955.


Sorry... I Want a Ferrari

Click here to view video
  A look at the showroom in 1959 in the movie "Never Steal Anything Small" and starred James Cagney and Shirley Jones.  

Some of the cars that were featured at the Hoffman Auto Showroom in the 1950s

1956 -
ALFA ROMEO, Giulietta Spider: A 2 Seater Alfa Romeo - 1300 cc Car Styled by Pinin Farina

- AUSTIN, Austin A55 Saloon

1957 -
AUSTIN HEALEY, Austin Healey 100 Six

1959 -
AUTO UNION, Auto Union 1000 Coupe de Luxe: Beauty, Reliability, Performance -- Features of a Perfect Car

1960 -
BMW, BMW 700 Coupe

1957 -
BORGWARD, Borgward Isabella

1959 -
DAIMLER, Daimler Presents the V8 S.P. 250

1958 -
DKW (3=6), DKW Program - Auto Union

1958 -
FERRARI, Ferrari 250 Granturismo Coupe Pininfarina

1957 -
FIAT, Fiat 1100 Sedan

1959 -
GOLIATH (1100B), Goliath with Front Wheel Drive: The Imported Car for Discriminating Americans

1958  -
HILLMAN (Minx), New Hillman: The Finest of Them All

1959  -
HUMBER, New Humber Super Snipe

1955  -
MERCEDES-BENZ, Mercedes-Benz Type 220

1956 -
MG, MG: The Completely New -- MG A - The Smartest, Fastest, Safest MG Ever Engineered

1957  -
PANHARD, Panhard Dyna-PL-57

1958  -
PEUGEOT, 403 Peugeot

1957/58  -
RENAULT, La Dauphine by Renault

1954 -
RILEY, The New Riley: 1 1/2 Litre and Pathfinder

1955  -
ROVER (75 and 90), Rover: One of Britain's Fine Cars

1956  -
SIMCA, Vedette 56

1959  -
SINGER, Singer Gazelle: Saloon . Convertible . Estate Car

1957  -
STANDARD, The New Standard Vanguard Estate Car

1955  -
TRIUMPH, The Triumph T.R.2



July 24, 2013
Enjoyed your article on Max Hoffman. My Dad bought an Alfa-Romeo Giulietta Spyder from Hoffman in 1962. Heck of an operation.
Bill Cawthon

July 24, 2013

Hello Bill,
I am glad you enjoyed the article and really glad you took the time to tell me. Thanks. Any comments about the your father's experiences with Hoffman or the Alfa would be nice to add at he end of the article. Maybe a photo?

Best wishes,
Robert McLellan

July 25, 2013

Dad's been gone for nearly ten years and I don't recall a photo.

Dad had been working for Chrysler and took a new job in New York City. He had always driven a company car with Chrysler and, having just turned 40, was looking for something different. Really different. I guess these days we would call it a "mid-life crisis" car.

His new office was on 40th Street, not too far from the Hoffman showroom. He would bring home brochures for long-gone cars like the Daimler SP250, Jaguar (I really wanted him to get the then-new E-Type) and others, but wound up with a dark-blue Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spyder with a hand-signed, wood-rimmed Nardi steering wheel and real wire wheels. It was a beautiful car; I wish I had been old enough to drive it, but I had just entered my teens back then.

We lived in Southwestern Connecticut and there were plenty of twisty roads that were perfect for enjoying the Alfa's capabilities. riding in that car with the top down as Dad drove through the curves, getting the most out of the gearbox, was an exhilarating experience that I still remember.

Dad was a triple-degreed automotive engineer and began his career with Chrysler as a road test engineer, so he was able to handle most of the Alfa's needs but the car had a Lucas electrical system that actually burned out. A mechanic drove out from NYC for three days to fix the car and I am sure the repairs cost the equivalent of a king's ransom.

For all its excitement, the Alfa was a bit impractical for a family of five. There was what might euphemistically be called a back seat but was more a thinly padded shelf. He kept the Alfa for just two years and then sold it to get a new 1964 Chrysler Newport hardtop: better for the family but oh-so-hard on the soul of someone who loved to drive as much as my Dad did.

Best regards,
Bill Cawthon


Auto Maniacs Newsletter, August 2013



Editor-in-Chief: Mona Nath  ~  Technical Editor: Robert McLellan  ~  Photo Editor: Anil Nath

9111 Longstaff Drive, Houston, TX 77031-2711
Phone: (713) 772-3285 :: E-mail: Editor@McLellansAutomotive.com

Auto Maniacs — 2013