ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) — In 1951, car companies began offering the new innovation of automatic transmissions on their vehicles.

That’s also the same year that Sterling Mestad began selling Ford cars and trucks in downtown Rochester.

While most of those 1951 cars were retired many years ago, Mestad is still selling, and he has no plans to quit any time soon.

So why is the 81-year-old Mestad still showing up at Rochester Ford at 7 a.m., 60 years after his first day of work on Jan. 3, 1951?

“I enjoy it,” says the soft-spoken Mestad. “My job is to visit with people. I’m very lucky to be doing it.”

In his younger days (his 70s), he was the top seller at the dealership, and Mestad is still closing deals today. He is selling cars to the great-grandchildren of his first customers.

“There are a lot of people who come in here and say they will only talk to Sterling,” says Chad Toll, Rochester Ford’s sales manager.

However, these days, Mestad tends to pass his customers on to others on the sales team.

Rob Gregory, the sixth dealership owner that Mestad has worked with in his 60-year career, says he’s certain the mild-mannered salesman could be the top seller again, if he wanted to. During his heyday, he’d close more than 300 deals a year.

“He’s one of the nicest men I know. He’s the kind of guy you just like being around,” Gregory says. “With his daily discipline, he is such a good role model for the other sales people.”

So why have people bought so many cars and trucks from him for six decades?

“I have no idea,” Mestad says with a laugh.

Press him a little more, and it comes out that he has simply worked hard.

“I made a lot of calls on businesses. I’ve always been a self-starter,” he says. “And you don’t do it in just 8 hours a day.”

For many years, Mestad worked six days a week. Even now, he shows up at the dealership an hour before the sales office opens. When he was drafted and sent to Korea, Mestad spent his furloughs on the lot, selling.

In those days, the unveiling of the new models in the fall was a big event. Mestad says paper was put up in the showroom windows to prevent people from getting at early peek at the new cars.

“Nowadays with the Internet, the customers know as much or more as we do about new models,” he says.

Mestad remembers when Universal Ford was the first car dealer to move out of downtown to the U.S. 52 frontage road in northwest Rochester, now known locally as “Auto Row.”

“I thought they were crazy, but it turns out they were the smart ones,” he says.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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