"A warm spot in our hearts for that great old name" ELLISVILLE, MO - Thirty years ago, what was to become the largest-volume Oldsmobile dealership got its start here in a trailer and with a $200,000 loan from GM's Motors Holding Division.

The new dealer kid on the block back then was Frank Bommarito.

He had started out as a kid car washer at McMahon Ford and then did the same thing at Vincel Pontiac, both in nearby St. Louis.

He eventually became a Vincel salesman, then sales manager at the busy Pontiac store, enjoying the popularity of the Wide Track and GTO cars, and had put together $20,000 to land Motors Holding seed money for the new suburban Olds point in Ellisville.

"Dad thought he would be lucky to sell 10 new Oldsmobiles a month," recalls his son, John Bommarito. "But he underestimated the loyalty of his customers at Vincel. He sold 80 new Olds his first month in business. The loan to Motors Holding was paid off in two years."

Recalling the story of the Bommarito Auto Group's founding, President John Bommarito became wistful. It was just after General Motors Corp. announced that the automaker would discontinue the Oldsmobile brand.

"It's sad for us," says Mr. Bommarito. "In the mid-1980s, when Olds was doing a million cars a year and Cutlass Supreme was the hottest midsize sedan, we were selling 400 to 500 new Olds cars a month.

"Sure, we began adding franchises in 1978, with GMC, and in 1979 with Mazda, but Olds had the reputation and the following with the Cutlass, 88 and 98. We hate to see it go."

In 1999, long after the Olds decline began, Frank Bommarito Olds-GMC again topped the Olds list on the Ward's Dealer Business 500, recording sales of 3,083 new units and 1,027 used.

The dealership's $138.9 million in gross revenues qualified it for 88th place on the annual roster, and Mr. Bommarito indicated 2000's showing would be even stronger despite the "terminal illness" rumors that have plagued the 103-year-old brand.

The Bommarito Group also is unusual in having added a second Olds franchise, dualled with Cadillac and Mazda in St. Charles, MO. At age 27, John Bommarito followed in his father's footsteps by obtaining Motors Holding financing to take over the second location, which made him the youngest Cadillac dealer in the U.S.

"Cadillac has been good for us and is gradually winning sales among younger owners," says Mr. Bommarito. "The Escalade and Seville do appeal to my generation. The matchup between Olds and Cadillac, don't forget, was a powerful combination throughout most of the 20th century."

In addition to Mazda, Bommarito was a charter Infiniti dealer and also handles Isuzu and Nissan. The showroom in Ellisville is being renovated, a step taken in accordance with the GM 2000 program that many Olds dealers agreed to in the belief Olds was not facing the guillotine.

"We'll be all right," declares John Bommarito, "with the other brands we have and more we're negotiating for. But Olds made it possible to grow to 18 acres of property and 170 employees alone in our flagship store - and that's hard to forget. There'll always be a warm spot in our hearts for that great old name."

Name: Frank Bommarito Olds-GMC

Owners: Frank and John Bommarito

Location: Ellisville, MO

WDB Top 500: 1999, 88th, $138.9 million; 1998, 247th, $90.1 million

Other categories: 1999, new-car and truck sales, 3,083; used-unit sales, 1,027; F&I, $2.0 million; service, $3.8 million; body shop, $2.7 million; parts, $4.8 million

Philosophy: "Empower the managers - and let them do it their way"