- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2007

In 1918 General Motors bought the operating assets of the 7 year-old Chevrolet Motor Company, thus launching one of the most successful brands in automotive history. The brand was only three years old when, in 1921, Benjamin Ourisman opened a Chevrolet dealership at 610 H Street NE, in Washington. Things went very well from the beginning and the business thrived throughout the Depression, so much so that a second dealership — Mandel Chevrolet (named for his son) — was opened in Anacostia.

At the start of World War II, Ourisman Chevrolet was the largest auto dealer in the U.S. Once the war was under way, Mr. Ourisman was awarded the rank of Colonel in the Army. He was compelled to turn over the dealership’s building to the Navy for wartime use. When Mr. Ourisman returned from the war he had to apply to the federal government to get his building back from the Navy so he could re-start his business. The post-war years saw unprecedented demand for cars, massive delivery delays and other challenges, but Ourisman Chevrolet prospered.

Mandell J. Ourisman grew up in Washington and after college went into the car business with his father. He was only a few years out of Chevrolet School in Detroit when, in 1955, his father died. Mandell Ourisman took over the operation of both dealerships until 1962, when he merged them into one and moved the business to Marlow Heights, MD. In those days Marlow Heights was a semi-rural area with relatively little development and Mr. Ourisman tells of his first sleepless night after the business opened.

“At 7 the following morning my service manager called me to say that he had been contacted by the police. It seems there was a 2 mile-long traffic jam leading to the dealership. All these people were waiting to bring their cars in for service! We eventually hired a nurse to watch customers’ children while the parents were filling out forms, getting appraisals, etc.,” explains Mr. Ourisman. The dealership has blossomed into more than 20 businesses in 16 locations.

Mr. Ourisman’s three sons: John, Robert, and stepson Dan Korengold, now manage the dealership operations. John presides over Chevrolet, Mitsubishi, Honda, Hyundai and Mazda dealerships. Robert presides over Ford, Chevrolet, Honda, VW and Chrysler/Jeep/ Dodge stores. Dan Korengold manages Toyota, Scion and Dodge dealerships.

“We stress complete integrity at all times,” says Mr. Ourisman. “Every customer has to be completely satisfied, every time. We want them to come back and we’ll do whatever is necessary to reach that goal.”

Reflecting that philosophy is a huge body of charitable and cultural involvement on the part of the entire Ourisman family.

Mandell Ourisman lists former directorates of Riggs National Corporation; Landon School; Washington Heart Association; Young Presidents’ Organization; Corcoran Gallery of Art; Meridian International Center; Acacia Mutual Life Insurance Company; Charles E. Smith Residential Realty, Inc.; Economic Club of Washington and Past President, Police Boys’ Club.

Mr. Ourisman’s wife, Mary M. Ourisman, is the United States Ambassador to Barbados and 7 other Eastern Caribbean Countries. “I’m most proud of founding the “Betty Lou Ourisman Breast Health Center” at Georgetown Hospital, named after my late wife,” said Mr. Ourisman.

About That Theme Song

In the late 1960s Mr. Ourisman was looking at potential advertising strategies and decided to turn to TV. Few dealers were using TV to reach customers and Mr. Ourisman felt it would bring positive results. The campaign that followed imbedded itself in local memory. Anyone living in the region then remembers actress/singer Susan Gailey singing:

“You always get your way, at Ourisman Chevrolet!

It’s the number one dealer with the number one deal,

With all new Chevies, get behind the wheel.

We’ve got service, selection, and credit while you wait,

So come on down to Ourisman, and drive one home today,

You always get your way, at Ourisman Chev-ro-let!”

Mr. Ourisman tells of a recent trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, where he met Mrs. Gene Kelly, widow of the famous movie star. During their conversation Mr. Ourisman sang the opening line of “Singing in the Rain,” whereupon Mrs. Kelley responded by singing the first line of “You always get your way.”

She explained that she had lived in the D.C. area briefly back in the 1970s and remembered the commercials quite well.

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