Mel Farr, NFL superstar and local businessman has died at his home at the age of 70.
Farr was selected by the Detroit Lions as 7th pick in the first round of the 1967 draft and won rookie of the year honors in his first season.
His impressive NFL career stretched 69 games, all with the Lions. During that time, he rushed for 3,072 yards and scored 26 touchdowns on the ground, and also caught 146 passes for 1,374 yards and 10 scores.
After his NFL career came to an end in 1974, Farr partnered with former teammate John Cook to buy a failed Ford dealership in Oak Park, Michigan, which Farr eventually bought outright in 1978, thus creating Mel Farr Ford.
The 1980’s proved to be a tumultuous decade for the auto industry and threatened the livelihood of Farr’s once profitable dealership. The financial crisis sent Farr to Washington, DC, where he lobbied then President Jimmy Carter for aid in the form of Federal loans for auto dealers.
His appeals were successful to the tune of $400 million in low-interest Small Business Adminisration (SBA) loans that were made available to Farr and other minority business owners in 1981. The $200,000 Far secured from the loan was enough to help his dealership stay afloat.
Throughout the 80’s he continued to grow his automotive empire, and in 1989, Mel Farr automotive grossed $52.1 million across its three dealerships. He became a local part of pop culture for his catchy TV commercials featuring him in a suit and cape.
The exponential growth of the company continued through the 90’s, and in 1998, Black Enterprise magazine named Mel Farr Automotive Group the nation’s largest black-owned company, with a revenue of $568.4 million, Automotive News reported in 2002.
By the late 90’s, Mel Farr Automotive Group had grown to a network of 10 franchises, which combined employed over 800 workers, most of them in the Metro Detroit area.
Outside of his sports and business legacy, Farr was committed to the city of Detroit and to improving the opportunities for blacks and other minorities in the auto industry, serving as a board member to numerous organizations, including the Better Business Bureau of Detroit and Southeast Michigan, the Metropolitan Detroit YMCA, and many more.
In the very late 90’s and early 2000’s, Farr was forced to sell dealerships and dismantle his business after defaulting on $50 million in debts owed to Ford Credit. Around the same time, Farr came under fire for installing electronic devices that would render cars unusable if customers did not make payments. Consumer lawsuits were settled by June 2000, but Farr’s auto dealership revenue was plummeting, and he began to sell them off to pay debts.
Despite his troubles, Farr’s legacy as a Detroit athlete and businessman stands as one of the most impressive in the city’s history.