James Mancuso was a dealer well ahead of his time.

He advocated and practiced customer service, customer satisfaction and fair dealing before those attributes became industry standards.

Yet while championing fair play for the customer, he also stuck up for his profession, bridling whenever anyone took cheap shots at dealers.

“He was very protective of dealers, but at the same time he was a critic when they would do things wrong and abuse the public,” says Chicago Tribune auto writer Jim Mateja.

Mr. Mancuso, a leader and legend of automotive retailing, died of Parkinson's disease at age 84 in Deerfield, IL, Jan. 16.

The accolades and poignant remembrances poured in upon news of the retired Chicago area dealer's death.

Mr. Mateja, an occasional contributor to Ward's Dealer Business, recalls in his column, “For years Jim Mancuso, the Skokie Chevy dealer and most cantankerous Italian we ever met, called each week to complain about our columns, especially those needling dealers. He'd rant, rave, scream and holler and then ask: ‘And how's the wife and kids? Please give them my best.’”

Mr. Mancuso apparently was practicing one of his stated principles of life: “Never, ever be rude — unintentionally.”

When Mr. Mancuso's son, Rob, graduated from Princeton, the father offered advice that could only come from a proud and avid dealer.

He told Rob, “There are places to go, things to see and people to meet. Forget all that. Let's sell cars.”

And they did, with another son, Richard.

Along the way, Mr. Mancuso launched all sorts of innovative practices.

He held regular clinics in the 1960s and ’70s to teach women how to buy cars and get their vehicles serviced.

He installed a “hot line” in the service department, which was an actual telephone booth with a phone hooked into a tape recorder for customers to make comments.

Rob Mancuso remembers one day when he was working in the F&I office and got a call back from a bank offering a much lower loan rate than the one he had already quoted a customer.

Says Rob Mancuso, “The customer had already agreed to the payment, and we had a healthy ‘back end’ profit on the deal… The customer had scraped together the down payment by working at landscaping plus a side job. And, while he agreed to the original higher payment, it was going to be a real challenge to make the payments.

“My dad asked me what I thought I should do. I told him I thought I should call the customer back, inform him of the new lower rate, and rewrite the deal with the lower payment and lower back-end profit. Dad smiled and told me, ‘You're no longer just a car guy, you're a Mancuso, and I'm proud of you.”

But behind such kindness also was an astute businessman. Mr. Mancuso pioneered customer satisfaction not only because it was the right thing to do, but because it was profitable, too. Miffed service customers who take their business to independent shops take their money along with them, he noted.

He once wrote a monthly column for this magazine. It was called “Mancuso on service.” In a 1995 column, he observed:

“Service customers are entitled to first class treatment every time they come to our dealerships to spend their money with us.”

He also said, “You can make a living selling the customer what he needs, but you can make real profits selling a customer what he wants.”

Then there's his observation on dealing with “the factory.”

He said, “Some of what General Motors tells you to do will be good for you. Everything they tell you to do will be good for them.”